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A Brief History of Newbury

by Crista Sanderson, Feb 2019

The land where Newbury is today has been discovered to have been inhabited during the Mesolithic period in the stone age, between 9600 bc and 4000 bc. 

However, in its current form, Newbury was founded during the Norman Conquest in the 11th century, as a new borough (hence the name). 

Its economy was primarily dependent upon the cloth trade and one of the most famous cloth merchants of the time was Jack of Newbury. In the 16th century, he was the proprietor of what was potentially the first factory in the UK and the tale of the Newbury coat: He was challenged to create a gentlemen suit by the end of the working day from wool taken directly from a sheep at the beginning. This event was immortalised in a novel by the Elizabethan writer Thomas Deloney. 

Newbury was the site of two battles during the English Civil War, appropriately named the First and Second Battle of Newbury respectively. The civil war caused a disruption to trade in the town and left Newbury and its citizens very impoverished. However, the rise of bath as a popular tourist destination for wealthy individuals from London saw the economy of Newbury boosted, as it lay about halfway between the two destinations and became an obvious stopping point. This lead to the development of coach stops and especially inns. One of the most reputable was the ‘George & Pelican’, which could stable up to 300 horses. 

Unfortunately, the Great Western Railway effectively slaughtered the coaching industry and Newbury became a backwater market town, with a primarily agrarian based economy. 

Newbury couldn’t catch a break in the proceeding world wars. In 1943, a German bomber followed the Great Western Railway line all the way to Newbury and dropped eight high-explosive bombs over the town. There wasn’t enough time to sound the warning alarm and 15 people lost their lives in the raid, with a further 41 people injured. 

During the 1980’s, Newbury’s luck began to turn. A British electronics firm called Racal decided to locate their new telecommunications company to Newbury. This company would go onto become what we know today as Vodafone UK. 

This has led to Newbury being seen as something of a regional tech centre and have since enjoyed general economic prosperity.

Newbury is something of a dark horse; its rich history and the turmoil it has previously endured have helped shape it into the prosperous and resilient town that it is today!