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 in 871 the Danish army came and occupied Reading and two of their earls led a party towards the west where on 31 December they were met and defeated by the Saxons under Ethelwulf at a place called Englafelda, variously translated as “Englishman’s field” or “field of the Angles”. The Chronicle was not begun until some 20 years later so it is not clear whether this place was already called Englafelda before 871 or whether it gained that name on account of the battle. The site of the battle was immediately to the north of where Englefield House now stands, on the crest of the rise overlooking “Wimbletons” and the approach from the direction of Reading. This was the opening skirmish in the long war between Danes and Saxons that eventually saw Alfred established as king in Wessex.
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” after the Saxon word for a fire, referring to the fire beacons supposedly lighted in the area to give warning of the approach of the Danes in 871. 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. The name has been variously rendered as Inglefelle (11th century), Englefeud (13th century) and Inglefield in the 18th century so the Fletcher and Nieman version may well be a back-formation from the 18th century common form. 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.
The Domesday survey shows that in the last year of the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) Englefield consisted of two separate manors containing 26 households in total, a comparatively quite large settlement, with a taxable value of 11 geld units - a very large value compared with other manors.
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 undeveloped 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.
© 2017 Richard J Smith