Palaeolithic and neolithic age implements have been found around Englefield but the first reference to Englefield comes in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which tells us that the Danish army came to Reading and three nights later two of their earls led a raiding party towards the west where they were met and defeated by the Saxons under the local Elderman Ethelwulf at a place called Englafelda. The site of the battle was immediately to the north of where Englefield House now stands, on the rise overlooking “Wimbletons” and the approach from the direction of Reading. This was the opening skirmish in the long war between Danes and West Saxons that eventually saw Alfred established as king in Wessex. This engagement is now dated as having taken place on New Year's Eve 870 but as the Saxons (logically) marked the turn of the year on Christmas Day it appears in the Chronicle for the year 871. Englafelda is variously translated as “Englishman’s field” or “field of the Angles” and it is sometimes suggested that it gained this name on account of the battle (the victory of the English on the field of battle) but this does not stand up to investigation. The Saxons had many completely different words for "field" according to what sort of a field it was and feld is specifically a flat open space without forest or hills and is, of course, found in many other place names where it always has this meaning. Englafelda, therefore, means the open land settled by the Angles and refers to this particular part of the Kennet valley between two ridges of high ground and pre-dates 870.
A book, A Tour Round Reading, by W Fletcher and E J Nieman, printed in Reading in 1841, extracts from which were reproduced in the parish magazine in 1907, has an alternative derivation from “Inglefield”, supposedly after the Saxon word for a fire, referring to the signal beacons lighted in the area to give warning of the approach of the Danes in 870. During a visit of the Newbury Field Club to Englefield in 1873 the Rector offered the “ingle” version but a Mr Godwin dismissed that in favour of Englafelda. In fact the word "ingle" first appears in the 16th century as a derivation from a Scots Gaelic word meaning a domestic fireplace. The Saxon root word for fire is fyr and that specifically for a signal beacon is béacen.
The name has been variously rendered as Inglefelle (11th century), Englefeud (13th century) and Inglefield in the 18th century. No doubt these variations owe much to the evolving English language and lack of standardised spelling but also to the difficulties in rendering the spoken word into the written one, especially given the difference in education and accent between the speaker and the hearer. In many cases the speaker, especially if illiterate, would not have known that the person writing down his words had invented a new spelling. Even in 1915 the next of kin address on the Army enlistment papers of William Percy Smith is given as Inglefield. The same thing is also seen in the evolution of other local place names such as Wigmore Wood and Mayridge Farm.
In modern times Englefield village owes much of its attraction to the secluded location, not on the road to anywhere and surrounded by its own generous green belt of farm and woodland. This is a rare combination in the 21st century and we owe it to the ownership of all the land and property by a single, benevolently disposed, family. This control was only established in the second half of the 19th century for Enclosure began early in Englefield by private agreement and there were many farms under different ownership. Even in 1846 there were still some 13 other smaller landowners in the parish.
Although Englefield today is in a backwater with no through road this too was only achieved, after many years of trying, in 1855, when the road to Chalkpit Farm was extended on to Bradfield. Together with the road over Common Hill completed in the early years of the 19th century and the new turnpike from the Bath Road to Tidmarsh in the 1820s this meant that there were now satisfactory alternatives to the earlier roads that ran through Englefield and these were blocked up. Thus the village was able to withdraw into the background, relatively unaffected by the huge growth in traffic that took place in the 20th century.
The village itself was also transformed, with the houses being almost completely rebuilt in the 19th century. These new houses were not in the same place as the old ones and the village shifted to its current location along the long and somewhat straggling street.
© 2021 Richard J Smith