Cold Ash

Anglican church and parochial organisation

Cold Ash lies within the deanery of Newbury and the archdeaconry of Berkshire, which transferred from Salisbury diocese to that of Oxford in 1836. The parish church of St Mark was built in 1864-65 and consecrated as a chapelry of Thatcham. The living was a perpetual curacy. At 500 feet above sea level this church is the highest in Berkshire.

Other churches

A Primitive Methodist chapel was in existence in Cold Ash by 1850, when a Sunday school was opened. A Wesleyan chapel was also noted by the VCH (1924).

Ashmore Green opened a Baptist chapel in 1866, used until 1961.

Schools

Both a schoolmaster and an infant teacher were enumerated at Cold Ash in the 1851 census.

Casseys directory of 1868 refers to land set aside for a school by the enclosure commissioners. The erection of the village school was completed in 1873. This old village school building was replaced in the late 1970s by a modern building across the road.

In 1930 a preparatory school and kindergarten was founded at Ridge House, now replaced by housing.

Today there are two primary schools in the village: St Mark’s Church of England and St Finian’s Roman Catholic. Downe House girls’ school is described below.

Other local history

Hatchgate Farm at 250 acres appears the biggest farm in the 1851 census. Other farms and their dates of mention are: Chalk Farm (1851); Poplar Farm (1910); Burdens (1911) Hill View Farm (1930s); Westrop Farm (1953)

Several tile makers were enumerated as living on Cold Ash Common in the 1851 census, as was a brickmaker. Kiln Road still exists.

The 1851 census mentions an innkeeper, but not the name of his inn. Former inns included the Pheasant on the Ridge and the Fir Tree on Hermitage Road, both now private houses. Survivors are the Castlethe Spotted Dog.

In 1886 Miss Agnes Bowditch set up a convalescent home in her house in Hermitage Road, and later built a children’s hospital, specialising in respiratory illnesses, in the grounds. 61 children were treated here in the first two years. Fresh air was part of their treatment, and beds were on open balconies. The Children’s Hospital, as it was known, was supported by the great and good of the area, and enlarged over the decades. In later years it took children from London hospitals. The building was eventually taken over by the NHS, and was closed in 1964. The site is now a cul-de-sac named Sewell Close. The BRO holds some records.

A separate institution, sometimes confused with the Children’s Hospital (and definitely in competition with it for local donors), was Hill House, later renamed St Mary's Home. This was opened in 1886 by the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society as a certified industrial school, its mission to rescue girls from impoverished backgrounds and from “immoral and vicious circumstances”. They were trained for domestic service. As such it ran until 1932, later becoming a wartime nursery and eventually a home for handicapped children, before closing in 1980. BRO has some papers, and a dedicated website describes the institution’s role in what later became the Children’s Society.

Cold Ash’s most egregious resident of recent centuries was the Rev John Mackenzie Bacon, who arrived in 1876, not as a parish priest but as astronomer, meteorologist, balloonist and local philanthropist, subjects on which he wrote and spoke regularly. A Fellow of the Royal Society, he lived at Sunnyside until his death in 1904.

Cold-Ash-Bacon-house-c1900

By 1912 a new house, St Finian’s, had been built on The Ridge. It became an orphanage/school for poor Roman Catholic girls, and in the 1930s was given to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary as a novitiate house. The name of the convent was changed to St Gabriel’s in 1929, (although the school continues under the name of St Finian’s). Now called the Cold Ash Centre, it was converted in the 70s to use as an adult retreat and conference centre.

Another religious group, the Order of Silence, built premises off Hermitage Road in 1913. Members dressed according to their status within the community, and spent their time in silence as they participated in spinning, weaving, dress-making, boat-making, cooking and gardening. There were 25 members of staff, and lectures were open to visitors for half-a-crown (12.5p). The School of Silence left Cold Ash in 1921, and the buildings became Downe House School for girls. This private boarding school, founded in Kent in 1907, has remained in Cold Ash ever since.  

Additional information