Early history

The origin of the name Nettlebed is unknown. There are various theories. One is that Roman soldiers in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD rubbed nettles on their limbs to keep warm on marches. Another well known fact is that nettles yield a thread which can be made into a linen cloth. Many homes at the end of the 18th century had sheets and table cloths made from nettles which grow in abundance around the area. Nettlebed remained part of the manor of Benson until the late 13th century hence it was not mentioned in the  Domesday Book which was a record of the ownership of manorial land.
Saxton’s map of 1579

Nettlebed has been an inhabited area for centuries and many middle Stone age implements found in earthworks in a Highmoor trench are now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. At Digberry farm there are little-known remains of a Roman encampment with squared ramparts reaching as high as fifteen feet in places. Grimm’s Ditch, which passes by Nettlebed, was probably a tribal boundary. In the 17th century a Palaeolithic floor was found on Nettlebed Common.

Nettlebed was of some importance in ancient times because of its position on the point where the Henley –Oxford road intersects the Chiltern Ridgeway. Later it became a noted staging post. Legend has it that many Kings and Queens stayed at the former Red Lion in the High Street.

Karl Philipp Moritz, a German pastor travelled though England mainly on foot in 1782. On his journey from London to Oxford and further north he had intended to stop in Henley but decided it was too fine for him. He was obliged to walk on and reached Nettlebed in the dark. Many foot travellers were not always well received in those days but he was made so welcome in the village he stayed for another day and night and resolved to return to his “favourite” place. His account of his time in Nettlebed runs into several pages in his book “Travels in England in 1782 “ which is available online in English and in German and well worth reading.

Nettlebed was fortunate in having a rich supply of the clay suitable for brick making that ran in a vein through the Chilterns. 

The clay has been in use for 800 years by potters and brick makers for making  pots, pans, clay-ware and many household utensils. Bricks were made until the 1930s. The remaining 18th century kiln was adapted for burning lime. This is a scheduled building and thanks to hard work and financial help has been restored and is now the responsibility of the Oxfordshire County Council Archives Department. The earliest kilns were built by John Soundess and a Mr. Godwin at the place now known as Soundess. Michael the Flemyng was one of the earliest brick makers at this kiln. From the book “Stonor” (Thomas Stonor was the Lord of the Manor at Nettlebed) :- “almost immediately after his marriage (1415) Thomas began adding to the buildings at Stonor. It so happened at that particular time there was a settlement of Flemish brick makers just across the valley at Crocker End near Nettlebed, engaged in making what were said to be the first bricks to have been made in England south of the Humber, since the departure of the Romans. And so in 1416 – 17 we find Thomas purchasing 200,000 “brakes” (the first recorded use of the word) and employing the Flemings [Flemish people] to build the present clock tower beside the chapel at Stonor” Also recorded in 1677 – ” about Nettlebed, they make a sort of brick so very strong that whereas at most places they are unloaded by hand, I have seen them shot out of carts and yet none of them broken.”

England’s world renown for table glass developed only after 1674 when George Ravenscroft evolved a new formula and with this was able to make “the finest and noblest glass”, then called flint glass, and now known as lead crystal. This glass was made in Henley after certain sand sent from Nettlebed enabled Ravenscroft to change his formulas and produce the beautiful examples of glass still in existence. A goblet with his seal c1675 produced from Nettlebed sand is pictured here.

Token coinage was issued in Nettlebed in the 17th century after the English Civil War.

Joyce Grove

In more recent times inhabitants of Nettlebed worked in the village, there being many forms of employment. The big house – Joyce Grove – gave work to many people; gardeners, grooms, house servants etc and the kilns and potteries needed many men to keep them producing bricks. Many people were also employed in farming, forestry, brewing and wood turning for the furniture industry (chair bodging).

Joyce Grove

The Fleming family’s involvement with Nettlebed began in 1903 when Robert Fleming, the Scottish banker, bought Joyce Grove, where a house had stood on it’s present site for many centuries, together with 2000 acres of farmland, woodland, common, pottery and brickworks and many of the cottages. He came to an agreement with the village cricket club under the new Nettlebed and District Commons (Preservation) Act 1906 to remove their ground close to the entrance of Joyce Grove in return for a new ground on three acres of land reclaimed from the nearby clay excavations, including a pavilion. In 1908 he commissioned the architect C E Mallows to design a completely new house in the Jacobethan style in red brick with Bath stone dressings. Robert Fleming died in 1933 and in 1938 his family gave Joyce Grove and it’s grounds to St. Mary’s Hospital, London. It was used for training nurses and as a convalescent home during the Second world War. It is now a Sue Ryder Care Home. In 1909 Robert Fleming established the merchant bank Fleming and Company. Many of the Fleming family are laid to rest in Nettlebed churchyard.  Col.Peter Fleming the well known traveller and writer and his wife Dame Celia Johnson are amongst them.

The current members of the Fleming family live locally, run the Estate and take an active part in village life.

Fleming’s grandson was the renowned travel writer Peter Fleming whose younger brother was the celebrated spy novelist Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond books.

Peter Fleming married in 1935, the actress Celia Johnson, who starred in the classic British film “Brief Encounter” of 1945.

Nettlebed Village Club

Nettlebed Village Club

Nettlebed Village Club was known until recent times as the Working Men’s Club. The building has changed little since 1913 when it was officially opened. It was also designed by C E Mallows in his more familiar Arts and Crafts style and is said to be one of the best examples of the genre in Oxfordshire. The building contained a wide range of village activities including a rifle range, skittle alley, billiard room, cinema, dance floor and bar. The latter was only allowed to be used by women on Christmas Eve!! Today the club has a lively member’s bar and the two halls are used for a wide range of village activities.
Village Club and Hall History

Nettlebed was also very well provided for in times gone by. It was not necessary to leave the village for goods and services. The White Hart Hotel is now the only remaining hostelry. In the past there were also the  Nags Head, Red Lion, Cross Keys, Bull, Sun Inn, Fox and Hounds and Carpenters Arms at Crocker End. Shops included cobbler, two bakers, butcher, cycle, petrol and repair garage, grocer/haberdasher, hardware, pharmacy, cafe/post office, blacksmith and farrier as well as men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and shoes. Nowadays there is a very good village shop and post office, a petrol station and a car repair workshop. Water arrived in 1927, electricity in 1935 and main drainage in 1961 for most homes. The latter provided by a treatment works built by US Army engineers during WW2 and later linked to the village.

The present church of St. Bartholomew was designed by J.Henry Hakewill (1811-1880) of London and built in 1846 on the site of  the original 12th century church. Remains of the first church can be seen forming the base of the tower of the present building.  A stone font, said to be 12th century Romanesque, stands near to the south door. A ring of six new bells were cast by Mears of Whitechapel all dated 1846. In the year 2000 these bells were refurbished at Whitechapel and hung in a new steel frame. Nearly £30,000 was raised locally for this project and the bells were installed under supervision by local volunteers. In recent years stained glass windows by John Piper have been added in memory of  Colonel Peter Fleming and Doctor Robin Williamson, both of whom contributed so much to the welfare of the people of Nettlebed and were concerned with the continuing development of village life. They drew on the traditions and history that have made Nettlebed a welcoming place to newcomers and longer term residents alike. The entrance gate to the church is the village war memorial.

Windmill on Windmill Hill

John Ogilby’s map of 1675 shows a windmill. A windmill is marked on some 18th century maps and mentioned in 17th century records relating to the lands including Nettlebed, though not particularising the site. Pictures of the windmill The hill above the village, on which a windmill stood for over four centuries, was also the site of one of the beacons intended to warn the nation of invasion by an enemy. The last windmill, which was a smock mill construction, accidentally burnt down in 1912.

This windmill was visible from the downs near Brighton, and from it, views of immense distance were reported, the dome of St. Paul’s, the Crystal Palace and even the Isle of Wight. Windsor Castle was easily visible from ground level. To the emigrant son of a former Nettlebed miller the pastoral industry of Australia is indebted for the introduction of sheep shearing by rotary machine.Windmill Hill has been described as the most important of the mound like Chiltern outliers.
Hover mouse or tap here to read a poem about the windmill fire

Schools

For many years there has been a school in Nettlebed. In the early days a Dame School in the High Street.

From an entry in the vestry minutes dated March 24th 1845 it was resolved that a Parochial School room be built Mrs Bennett having offered a subscription for the same. The school was built in 1846 (later known as the Church Hall and now used for retail) and enlarged again in 1887. It was taken over by the school Board in 1888 enlarged again in 1897 and taken over by the County Council in 1902.The next school was opened on 26th October 1928 in a new building (now demolished for the houses in Old School Green). The school was originally for juniors and seniors, but in 1959 was changed to a primary school and took in children from Bix and Assendon.

A private school for boys was established in 1666 by Thomas Cole. Samuel Wesley the elder was said to have been one of Cole’s pupils. The school closed in 1674.

There is no record of any other private school in Nettlebed until the 19th century when the existence in 1808 of two boarding schools, one for boys and one for girls is reported in a Return of Schools. About these establishments nothing is known. The Post Office Directory of 1847 records a Gents boarding and Day School with Henry Sotham as Master.

It has long been considered that a schoolroom was located at Eversleigh House in the High street.

My grandmother always referred to it when she visited her cousin May Goodall, who lived there as a tenant of the Fleming Estate, in the early part of the 20th century. – Jeff Reynolds – old school photos.

A completely new school and community centre was built in 2005/6 to replace the existing buildings further back on the same site. It includes a community hall and facilities and an all weather pitch. Eleven new houses including three social housing units are being built on the site of the demolished 1928 buildings.

A lady from Whitley Bay sent us the following snippet  about the school in the 19th Century:

“I wondered if you would be interested to know that one of the early schoolteachers  at that school was my 3x Great Grandmother, Mary Ide, who later married William Green in Nettlebed Parish Church (October1859).”

Their daughter, Mary Ellen Green wrote a letter many years later to her grand daughter, and this is what she had to say about her mother the schoolteacher at Nettlebed school, it might be assumed that she must have been there circa 1858 to 1860: Hover mouse or tap here to read her words.

Although our research into the family is incomplete, it appears that William Green died between the 1861 and 1871 census and we know of no other children of the marriage. Mary Green (née Ide) returned to her birthplace in Sussex with her daughter who subsequently married and had many children.

Very Old History

Millions of years ago the Chilterns were some 150 metres lower and where Nettlebed is today was under the Thames. We now have an important geological site on our commons close to Windmill Hill which is registered as a Geological Site of Special Scientific Interest – SSSI. Please follow this link for more information – Nettlebed SSSI

Compiled by Jeff Reynolds c2004 – Edited by Malcolm Lewis 2013