News

Tree falls near toll bridge, blocking river (Updated)

Shortly after 5 pm yesterday, Monday, a large tree fell from the island into the navigation channel downstream of Whitchurch lock, partially blocking the route for boat traffic. 

Walking across the bridge this morning, Jane MacCaw came across two boaters surveying the scene who said that they had had a narrow escape.  After leaving the lock in their boat yesterday they had heard a loud cracking noise ahead of them as the huge tree crashed down into the water.  They turned their boat around and headed back towards Streatley, after reporting the situation to the Environment Agency. 

Shortly after speaking with the boaters, she saw a narrow boat, which was travelling upstream, successfully push its way through the remaining gap to reach the lock.

Update, Wed 10th July:  This morning the Environment Agency began to remove the fallen tree, using a workboat.  The Fire Service turned out in support.  Boat traffic was able to pass without difficulty by mid-morning.  Photo here.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 09th July 2024 13:35

First pilgrims are on their way

This Friday Whitchurch will be visited by a group of pilgrims who will be walking the inaugural pilgrimage along St Frideswide’s Way.  This new pilgrim route runs along the River Thames and joins with the Camino Ingles and its route to Santiago de Compostela.  The group of pilgrims will be on their four-day journey from Oxford to Reading, stopping in churches and sacred sites along the way.  The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, will bless the walkers as they set out from Christ Church today, Wednesday.  The pilgrims will arrive here in Whitchurch at around 5.30pm on Friday 28th June, where they will be offered tea and cake in the Old Rectory Stables by the Friends of St Mary's and St John's. 

There is more on the new pilgrimage route, which is named after Oxford’s patron saint, here.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 26th June 2024 09:27

Award for the Scearces

At the Annual Village Assembly this week the Whitchurch Award for 2024 was presented to Richard and Susan Scearce of Manor Road for their much appreciated activities in the village over many years, especially in connection with the Village Hall and the Church. Nominations for the annual award, which is administered by the Whitchurch Society, had been invited from all residents and the trophy was presented by parish chairman Jim Donahue (picture). 

Jim emphasised the teamwork of the couple in their many efforts for the good of the community, describing it as a true partnership of unsung heroes. 

Richard has been active as the caretaker/manager of the Village Hall for ten years.  He has also been involved in many activities at St Mary’s Church, including being Steeple Keeper. Sue has been involved in numerous community events and helps run the weekly Community Coffee Mornings in The Old Stables. The Afternoon Teas in the Village Hall also benefit from their help. 

The Rev James Leach said that Richard and Sue exemplified the spirit of humble, behind-the-scenes service and the Church is very grateful for their kindness.  He said the Coffee Mornings are an expression of their love for the community. 

There are more photos of the Assembly in the Photo Gallery.

Date/Time : Saturday, 15th June 2024 17:12

Burglaries in the High Street

Police are appealing for witnesses after burglaries earlier this week at two houses in and near the High Street.  They occurred during the night of Monday 10th/Tuesday 11th.  The suspect in each case entered the house looking for car keys.  Searching inside, the suspect stole watches and cash.  The suspect also stole a black Mercedes A180 Sport Edition car.  In both cases the occupants were asleep.  One of the houses is in Duchess Close. 

For more details see the Thames Valley Alert issued this morning. 

Anyone with information is asked to call 101, quoting the reference number 43240272712 or 43240272545. 

There is crime prevention advice in the Alert, which includes securing windows and doors and storing car keys in a safe place.

Date/Time : Thursday, 13th June 2024 09:21

D-Day exhibition in Pangbourne extended

An exhibition on local involvement in preparations for D-Day has been open for several days in Pangbourne Library.  The original closing date of next Monday 10th is being extended to Friday 16th.  Note the library’s opening hours

The photo above shows the Royal Engineers training earlier in the war, with Whitchurch bridge in the background. 

A further photo and two quotations give a flavour of the exhibition, which is organised by the Pangbourne Heritage Group.

Date/Time : Thursday, 06th June 2024 13:36

Polish community garden celebrated

After several years of planning and work on the site at Manor Road, the completion of the Polish Church Memorial Garden was celebrated recently by a gathering that included many of the large team of people who had been involved, including the only former resident of the refugee camp still living in Manor Road, Anna Szczeponek.  

There are pictures of the event in the Photo Gallery.  

John Bradon, chairman of the Whitchurch Society, comments:  

“On Friday 17th May we had a very pleasant celebration of the end of the community project to create a garden at the site of the Polish Church, which was reported in this Henley Standard article. 

It was a chance to thank everyone who has helped, to see the new interpretation board which tells the story of the site, and to reflect on what this story and the site mean to us. 

In addition to those mentioned in the article, helpers on the day included Pete and Sally Woolhouse, who completed some extra planting, and Anna Szczeponek, Jean Marc Grosfort and Doreen Gow who produced the delicious Polish-themed food." 

The interpretation board includes a QR code enabling visitors to connect directly to the page on this website that describes the wartime and post-war history of the site.

Date/Time : Monday, 27th May 2024 12:51

St Mary's Youth Club up and running at The Old Stables

When Judi Green and Debbie Leach discussed starting a St Mary's Youth Club for ages 11 to 13 in The Old Stables on Friday evenings, they were not sure how many would come.  But now the Fridays have had to be divided into two separate age groups to meet the demand.  The latest poster is here

Debbie says: 

“We've been really busy and inundated on Friday evenings.  We've had between 23 and 35 on any given night. 

We have been so grateful for donations of Basketball and Netball hoops, and balls, and of a Table Tennis table and a Snooker table.  This has kept the young people active and having great fun.  It is such a bonus to use the outside courtyard of the Old Stables. Inside the building we have a Tuck Shop which is run by the older kids, and craft activities. 

We have received some generous donations from individuals in the community which has enabled us to buy a Table Football or ‘Foosball’ in Youth lingo!  And we are planning some events for the Youth Club, like a Disco, and Ice Cream one evening. And we have also been given biscuits and cakes which has been very popular with the growing kids! 

At present we have not charged for entry to the Youth Club, as we want it to be available to everyone.  We are holding an Art Cafe on Saturday 20th July to raise funds to cover our costs.” 

There are some photos of the children’s work in the Photo Gallery.

Date/Time : Sunday, 26th May 2024 17:05

Testing the Thames water quality

A number of local volunteers gathered at Pangbourne Meadows recently to learn how to test the river water quality, as part of a training event organised by Thames21, a group campaigning for cleaner rivers. 

The work is part-funded by Mend the Gap, the organisation that on behalf of Network Rail manages projects designed to compensate for the visual harm done to two National Landscapes (Chilterns and North Wessex, previously known as AONBs) by the electrification of the Great Western main line. 

Thames21 says that “Water quality testing has been instrumental recently in helping Wallingford Beach to gain bathing water status, and the long-term hope is that the results from this testing will help support a bathing water status application for Pangbourne Meadows. In the meantime, this citizen science project will enable local residents to better understand their river and the challenges it faces.” 

Two more photos from the training session: here and here.

Date/Time : Sunday, 26th May 2024 16:01

Save Our Pre-School! Updated - BBC News article

A major fund-raising campaign has been launched by a committee of parents at the Whitchurch Pre-School with the aim of funding a new building to replace the present one, which has been in use since 1998. 

Fund-raiser Rebecca Bell says that routine roof maintenance over Easter revealed that further patching repairs would not be enough, and a new building is clearly needed. Another winter in the current building is not an option.  There are two photos of the school here. There are currently 28 children enrolled. 

In a letter delivered to village households this week, the chair of the Pre-School, Emma Gammin, says: “We need your help whether you’ve attended the pre-school yourself, sent your own children, would like the option to in the future, or just want to support young families in the village.” 

The school is run as a charity and a special Giving Page has been set up, to which contributions are requested.  Already this has attracted a total of £2,000 from over 25 individuals in the community, towards a target of £40,000. 

Fund-raising activities planned include ice-cream sales at the Whitchurch Hill fete on 25th May, and regularly at the school itself, and a charity pub quiz at The Greyhound. 

Applications are being prepared for grants from such organisations as the National Lottery and Oxfordshire County Council. 

The Pre-School is seeking help from members of the community not just for their donations but also for expertise in fund-raising, grant applications, planning, procurement or construction.  They would like to hear from anyone willing to share their skills or experience.  

The members of the committee are Emma Gammin, Tim Suitor, Rebecca Bell, Becky Galea, Abi Eadie, Miriam Rose and Leigh Gorton.

Here is the appeal poster.  The school’s own website also has information.

UPDATE, 14th May:  BBC News has visited the school and published this article today: “Pre-school faces closure without new building”.

Date/Time : Sunday, 12th May 2024 18:28

Action against Asian Hornets

The British Beekeeping Association have asked if we could watch and share this video, to help protect the nation’s honeybee population as Asian Hornet numbers grow just across the Channel. Traps are being placed across the country to create a grid to track and monitor invading insects. 

Sally Woolhouse reports on action being taken in Whitchurch: 

WoTHabs has purchased eight Gard ‘Apis Sentinel traps which will be deployed as widely as possible across the parish. Each trap will be the responsibility of one or more people. They will be put in their chosen locations from April until the end of May, and then put out again in September until the end of October. They will be fitted with the red cap at each end of the trap with the intention of catching Asian hornet queens only.

All those who are looking after the traps, and others who are interested in following progress, will keep in touch primarily using the WhatsApp group, WoT Hornets. The administrators of this group are John Bradon, Gill Goodwin and Sally Woolhouse. All updates, such as when to remove the traps or re-instate them, will be sent through this group. We will keep in close touch with John White, the Pangbourne beekeeper, who sought the community's help with this initiative, and consult him when necessary. 

For more on the Asian Hornet, here is a BBC article.

Date/Time : Monday, 29th April 2024 12:04

Hardwick Road closure – now cancelled

‘Road closed’ signs went up on Hardwick Road this morning to enable Thames Water to start its excavation for water supply work.  But by 11.00 am there was no sign of Thames Water or its contractor at the site and traffic was still passing through.  The closure is booked for three days, Monday 22nd to Wednesday 24th.

Update, 6 pm:  It appears that Thames Water has decided against doing the planned work.  The ‘Road closed’ signs were taken off the road at around 4 pm this afternoon.  Traffic has been able to pass freely along Hardwick Road all day.  Many people are likely to have made lengthy diversions unnecessarily.  Whether this is a postponement or a cancellation is not clear.

Update, 10 am, Tuesday 23rd April:  All the signs have been removed completely and the road is open.  The work is no longer listed on the national roadworks register.  This is the second time this year that Thames Water has made an unannounced late cancellation for this road closure, after delivering notification letters each time, in advance, to many local addresses.   

Date/Time : Monday, 22nd April 2024 11:19

Peter Smith has died

We have to report the sad news that Peter Smith, who lived in Eastfield Lane with his wife Diana, has died at the age of 80, after a period of illness.

He was born and educated in Oxford, reading History at the University.  He then taught at Rugby School before being appointed Headmaster of Bradfield College in 1985.  He retired to Whitchurch in 2003.  He was involved in village life as Chair of the Whitchurch Society for 14 years and was a familiar figure at the annual Art and Craft Exhibition, presenting awards to winners.  He was also a governor of the Primary School for a number of years.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 17th April 2024 19:48

Toll bridge re-opens

Work on road repairs and resurfacing on the toll bridge and its approach embankments has now been completed, including road markings. 

After a three day closure to traffic, the bridge was re-opened at around 6.30 pm this evening, Thursday 11th April.

Date/Time : Thursday, 11th April 2024 18:49

Star Pubs still aiming to re-open Ferryboat

There has not been much activity recently at The Ferryboat, leading to doubts about the owners’ enthusiasm for re-opening it.  However, the Business Development Manager of Heineken Star Pubs confirmed yesterday that work is continuing.  He said that there is still work to do on the electrical supply as the power company had not completed the job.  Also, the interior of the pub has suffered considerable damage from waterpipe flooding, which they are planning to repair. 

It seems that Albert Tenkorang from The Waterside at Woodley is still lined up to run the pub, but no information was available on a time scale for re-opening. 

The photo above shows the pub last December when the footpath was excavated to install a new electricity supply.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 12th March 2024 12:16

Meeting on Hardwick’s future packs village hall

Miriam Rose, daughter of the Hardwick estate’s owner Sir Julian Rose, outlined her family’s vision for the future of the 900-acre property at a meeting yesterday evening in Whitchurch village hall.  So many people came that for the later arrivals there was standing room only - see the Photo Gallery. 

Miriam described how the burden of inheritance on successive generations of her family had led to their decision to hand it over to a charitable trust that would own and run it for the future. 

A key item for discussion was the Stud Farm with its livery stables (photo), a matter of great concern to the family which lives in a flat there, and a disappointment to those who keep horses there, who were well represented at the meeting.  The vision for the future of the estate includes the phasing out of horses in favour of food production, with crop rotation, on the paddocks where horses now graze.  There would be a variety of new uses for the buildings at the Stud Farm, which include an eighteenth-century timber barn.  Workshops, a farm shop with café and toilets are expected to be provided. 

Kanada Gorla, a professional facilitator who moderated the meeting, invited comments.  Concern was expressed about the financial prospects of the charitable trust and the need to build up a substantial capital reserve.  Questions were asked about the road access and parking and whether there will be a ‘Clarkson’s Farm’ effect. 

Miriam said that the decision to transition from horses to agriculture had been a painful one and she sympathized with the family affected, who had been given two years notice. The paddocks contained the best quality agricultural land on the estate.  There might be some scope for horses to continue to graze on the land to the north of the drive. The family’s overall aim was to create a sustainable and resilient mixed community and to increase public access to the estate. 

Asked whether Hardwick House itself, currently privately let, would be transitioned to a more public use, Miriam said that seemed unlikely.  Of the 27 other houses and cottages on the estate, 23 are currently let at affordable rates and some of these sources of income might be reviewed. 

Among those attending the meeting was Caroline Newton, prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for the Henley and Thame constituency, who was recently chosen to succeed John Howell, the current MP, who is stepping down at the next general election. There is a photo of Caroline in the Photo Gallery.  

Miriam invites anyone who would like to be kept informed about ongoing plans for the estate to send their email address to her at miriam@hardwickestate.co.uk

Some of the plans are already outlined in a Hardwick Friends Newsletter of July 2023, which continues to be available on this website under About the Village and can be viewed here

Date/Time : Friday, 01st March 2024 13:40

Otters wreaking havoc in garden fishponds

In Swanston Field, at least three garden ponds have been raided in recent weeks by a hungry otter hunting in the dark.  Large numbers of brightly coloured koi carp have been taken.  Some of these are over twenty years old, much loved by their owners and expensive to replace. 

It seems that a family of four otters is now established in the Whitchurch reach of the Thames, with their holt or den at some distance downstream of the bridge, on the Oxfordshire bank. 

The photo shows an otter, just visible swimming beneath the light on the left, at 9.30 pm on 19th February, about to catch some prey in one of the Swanston Field ponds. 

One pond owner says it appears that after a long period without otters the situation is returning to how it was many years ago and the pleasure of having wild animals returning to their natural habitat must be balanced against the downside risk.  The risk seems to be greatest in winter and especially when the river is in flood.  Owners of stocked garden ponds may want to take extra precautions.  There is advice from the Wild Otter Trust

For more information on otters in the Thames and the Pang, see Whitchurch Nature Note No 8, January 2021, pages 3-4. 

Date/Time : Wednesday, 21st February 2024 19:14

Military History Society celebrates its first five years

Jerry Cockeram, who lives in Manor Road, is delighted to be celebrating the fifth anniversary of the British Modern Military History Society which he and his brother Andy (pictured) started with others in 2019.  The Society grew rapidly and soon moved to the village hall at Woodcote where its monthly live talks often attract full houses.  There are also monthly talks on Zoom.  In the five years, over 75 talks have been given, three books of collected wartime reminiscences have been published and thousands of pounds have been raised for military charities. 

For the full story, read the Society’s press release

The current programme of talks is here

Date/Time : Wednesday, 21st February 2024 11:58

Reports of boa constrictor sightings

Three separate sightings of what was thought to be a boa constrictor, on or near the Thames, have been reported by phone to our parish clerk Jane Yamamoto in recent days.  One report described it as a large-mouthed snake-like creature. 

Another said it had appeared to be going towards the Lock, but with that closed, they thought it might head towards the Mill Pond. 

Jane reported it to the Environment Agency, who referred her to the RSPCA. The RSPCA said this is now happening quite often, especially with a cost of living crisis and some people no longer wishing to keep their pets.  The RSPCA will try to rescue an escaped or abandoned snake, but only if its location is known. 

If anyone does see the snake, the phone number for the RSPCA is 0300 1234 999. 

The image above is an artist’s impression of a boa constrictor, a large non-venomous South American snake.  Wikipedia says it is a popular in the exotic pet trade and they are fed mice, rats and chickens, usually becoming quite tame.  They are said to be strong swimmers but prefer dry land.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 20th February 2024 17:23

Tea Hut to be demolished

After consultation with the Whitchurch Cricket Club the Parish Council have obtained permission from SODC to demolish the Tea Hut on the Village Green, which is in a dangerously decrepit state.  The exact date of the demolition will be confirmed but will probably take place during the school Easter Holidays to minimize disruption to the car park.  Please see the message board with details of free furniture available which is currently in the Tea Hut.

Date/Time : Monday, 19th February 2024 10:34

Join the Annual Litter Pick on 16th March

The Green Team is organising an annual litter picking event throughout the village on Saturday 16th March, meeting at 2pm at the Hardwick Road end of Muddy Lane.  Please come along and help us tidy up the village!  Litter bags, hi-vis vests and picking sticks will be provided, but please bring your own gloves.

This is part of the Keep Britain Tidy - Great British Spring Clean and is being supported by SODC.

For any queries, contact Jill Bradon at 0118 984 1574 or by email.

Date/Time : Friday, 16th February 2024 10:47

Parking scheme approved (Updated with Statement)

At a meeting in Oxfordshire’s County Hall this morning the Cabinet Member for Transport Management approved the parking scheme, including resident permits, proposed for the High Street. 

Two residents had obtained permission to speak and they requested more parking opportunities near the Picture Gallery, especially in view of mobility problems.  The traffic officer addressed the residents’ concerns and said that special parking permission could be obtained by those with mobility problems. 

Parish councillor Diana Smith outlined the lengthy consultation process that had taken place.  Parish council chairman Jim Donahue emphasised the benefits of the scheme for pedestrian safety. 

The meeting's chairman said that all such schemes are subject to review after a period of use and changes can sometimes be made later.

Update, 25th January, 7 pm: Jim Donahue issued a statement on today's decision, seeking to reassure residents who have concerns about the scheme.   

Date/Time : Thursday, 25th January 2024 11:48

Otter back again in Whitchurch

An otter was seen in the Thames yesterday.  Nick Plumridge, who spotted it and took a photograph, says: “Definitely part of a group I would say, as it was calling out whilst swimming.  I spotted it first looking for food around the tollhouse millpond wall.  It then swam across the river to the central island and then under the bridge and disappeared along the bank on the Whitchurch side.”  

Date/Time : Monday, 22nd January 2024 18:57

Final details for decision on parking scheme

  In advance of the public meeting to be held in County Hall at 10 am on Thursday 25th January, Oxfordshire County Council has published the papers for the meeting, which can be seen here.  

The pages relating to the proposals for Whitchurch (Agenda Item 7) can be found between p195 and p279.   (Recommendation and summary pp195-200; Street plans pp201-202; Survey results pp203-204; Comments for and against pp205-279.) 

Two recent changes to the scheme that was presented for consultation last year are mentioned on p195.  These increase the parking near the Picture Gallery from 3 to 5 spaces and reduce the length of the parking bay south of Manor Road by 5 m. 

The meeting can be watched, without participation, on a Live Stream Link.  Opportunities to speak are detailed on p2. 

Date/Time : Friday, 19th January 2024 15:03