One of the critical elements in the rare survival of Englefield is that at a critical time the estate came into the full ownership of a single family so by the time the great demand for housing and commercial land came in the 20th century, Englefield did not suffer the piecemeal development it might have if the many small freeholders had retained their ownership up to then. Had that been the case they might have been tempted to sell off their small uneconomic parcels of land land for development. Even if they had not developed their land separately, a multiplicity of owners would still have obstructed the homogeneous growth of the estate and its function as a social entity. As it was this did not happen.
But the mere fact of single ownership was not enough: the owners might, in any case, have developed or sold the land themselves. That they didn’t is testimony to two things. Firstly, they were rich enough (and prudent enough) to maintain the estate they accumulated without the need to sell bits from time to time and secondly that none squandered their money in the way that pauperised so many landed families and left later generations dispossessed. They also managed to avoid the destructive effects of punitive death duties, introduced in 1894 by Sir William Harcourt. When the nearby Nuneham Courtney estate came unexpectedly to Sir William in 1904 he found it in a somewhat run-down state and remarked to his agent, "I appear to have inherited a bankrupt estate". To which the agent's reply is said to have been, "And whose fault do you think that is, Sir William".
In 1912 the Rector reproduced material from a lecture given by Mr Keyser of Aldermaston Court in which it is claimed that the Englefield family had already settled here as early as the reign of King Edgar in 803. This information appears to come from a report of the Newbury Field Club in 1873, which is an exact copy of an entry in a book of 1720 that purports to be “an historical and genealogical account of baronets from their first institution in the reign of King James I”. This account, however, is so historically confused as to be unacceptable as evidence. It mentions Hasculfus (Ansculf) de Englefield about the time of King Canute (1016-1035), Harold I (1035-1040) and Hardicanute (1040-1042) who died in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). This Hasculf it is said purchased a hide of land in Englefield from Hasculf de Pinkeny. A book published in 1910, being an account of four Visitations of Berkshire continues the lineage (based on Ashmole's work) through Guy Englefield at the time of William the Conqueror, Hely Englefield and then William Englefield at the time of Henry I (1100-1135).
The Domesday survey shows that in 1066 the larger of the two manors was held from the king by Alwin and the smaller one by Wulfmer, possibly a kinsman. The Phillimore edition of the Domesday survey produced under the general editorship of John Morris between 1975 and 1992 says that after the Norman conquest land at Kingsbury, Middlesex and land at Englefield was taken from Alwin Horne and given to William Fitz Ansculf de Picquigny (William son of Ansculf from Picquiny - later anglicised as Pinkney) who had a castle at Dudley in Worcestershire and holdings in 12 other places including Bradfield, of which Englefield was then a dependency. The smaller estate was given to Stephen as lord with William Fitz Ansculf as the tenant. Alwin Horne is believed to have fought at the Battle of Stamford Bridge under King Harold in September 1066 and in October that year went with him to Hastings, where he was killed. It is clear from the Domesday survey that the name William Fitz Ansculf de Pinkney only appeared after 1066 and it is in any case unthinkable that the same family would have held the land both before and after the Conquest.
The tenant in 1086 was Gilbert and although it cannot be proved that he was the ancestor of the later Englefield family, it is possible. One supposition is that William Fitz Ansculf gave the estate to his relative, Gilbert, in return for a pledge of service. According to the Victoria County History the first record of the Englefields is in a twelfth century charter by which Ansculf de Pinkney granted a hide of land in Englefield to Guy, a son of Ansculf Englefield, the Englefield name perhaps being adopted to distinguish him from Ansculf Pinkney. This looks suspiciously like the 1720 version - just a century later.
The estate was probably in the hands of the family then called Englefield by 1166 and continued in their ownership for almost 400 years, until the accession of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. A turbulent 100 years followed, during which the estate seems to have changed hands several times, with the ownership even being retained by the Crown for some time. Confusing the issue greatly at this time is Sir Edward Norreys who certainly had a house and land at Englefield where he entertained the Queen but was never an owner of the main estate. Even when the estate did get a settled owner, John Paulet, in 1635 it still remained in effective limbo until about 1650 owing to the Royalist Paulet's imprisonment by the Commonwealth.
Ever since then the estate has remained in the same, much extended, family although descent has not often been a straightforward matter of father to eldest son.
© 2021 Richard J Smith