Wantage

King Alfred was born in 849 AD in Wantage at a time when it was an important Saxon centre. The towns buildings are mostly 17th and 18th century with narrow cobbled streets and passages.

The Church of St Peter and St Paul, part of which is 13th century contains tombs of the Fitzwarren family into which Dick Whittington - four times Lord Mayor of London - married. Wantage lies at the foot of the Downs and there are numerous racing stables in surrounding villages. Nearby is the historic, probably pre-Roman, Ridgeway track running from Ashbury to Streatley on the Thames. The Downs are also the site of the famous White horse carved into the chalk hillside.

Wantage is also in the heart of an area of high technology close to AEA Technology, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Culham Laboratory, Esso Research Centre and the Williams Motor Racing Centre in Europe's second largest village, Grove.

Wantage has a thriving social life with many clubs and local organisations. Music is important with a brass band in the first division and an operatic society. A month long festival of music and arts is held in June and July. There is a Dickensian Evening before Christmas when shops open late and the Town Mayor and Town Crier lead the townspeople and visitors around the town.

John Betjeman, Poet Laureate, lived in the town for many years and wrote a number of poems about Wantage and the surrounding areas for example "Wantage Bells" and "On Leaving Wantage". A Betjeman Memorial Park with a statue of the poet and several displays of his better known works occupies a wooded area a short distance from Wantage Church.

King Alfred already has a statue, commissioned by Lord Wantage, and designed and carved in 1877 by Count Gleichen, (a cousin of Queen Victoria) it stands the town centre. On the base of the statue the following words are found:

Alfred found learning dead and he restored it
Education neglected and he revived it
The laws powerless and he gave them force
The church debased and he raised it
The land ravaged by a fearful enemy from which he delivered it
Alfred’s name will live as long as mankind shall respect the past

Winston Churchill, not usually reputed for his modesty, when being told that he must be the greatest Englishman that ever lived is supposed to have replied "No! The greatest Englishman that ever lived was King Alfred".

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