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Radley in Oxfordshire
by Joyce and John Huddleston

River Thames at Radley

The village of Radley lies just north of Abingdon on the River Thames, about five miles south of the city of Oxford. The area was once used for hunting by the monks from Abingdon Abbey.  Across the river you can see Nuneham House at Nuneham Courtney.

In 1974 Radley moved from the county of Berkshire to Oxfordshire, coming under the Vale of the White Horse District Council. The village divides into the central area, Radley College, Sugworth Lane and the mobile home parks, Thrupp Lane and Wick Hall, and Lower Radley.

Most of the houses - built mainly after the war - are in the central area of the village along with the Post Office and the popular Bowyer Arms. After a period without a shop, Radley Village Shop – a community co-operative staffed primarily by volunteers – opened in May 2007. The Village Hall, which was built in the 1970s and extended in the late 1990s, is used by many village organisations and for private functions.  Next to the Village Hall on Gooseacre are the playing fields and play area.

River Thames at Radley

The Parish Church of St James the Great is on slightly higher ground to the north-west. It was built on the site of an earlier Norman church which burnt down in about 1290. The church is mainly in the Perpendicular style with considerable woodwork. In the chancel next to the alter is the splendid tomb of Sir William Stonhouse (died 1631) and his wife, Elizabeth. Some alterations were made in the 15th century and extensive restoration work took place during 1902. In 2008 death watch beetles were found to have caused extensive damage; with considerable financial support from the village, the church has been refurbished with a new stone floor, new pews and new chairs in a lighter oak with carved emblems of St James.

During the Civil War the church was fortified and held by the Royalists. In 1643 the church was attacked by soldiers loyal to Cromwell and the north aisle and transept destroyed.  They have never been replaced. The burials of several soldiers killed in the skirmish are recorded in the parish registers and the panelled altar tomb near the porch is said to contain the remains of one or more Royalist officers and troopers. The story of the timber-framed vicarage is told in Occasional Publications No. 1 from Radley History Club.

Church of St James the Great, Radley

Radley Parish Church

The church tower holds six bells - five cast in 1754 and the Tenor in 1897 ( to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee). The timber-framed  vicarage was built in the late 13th century, with alterations in the 15th and 20th centuries. Like the church, it is a grade II listed building. Henry VII is reported to have stayed at the vicarage while hunting in the area.  The modern Church Room - between the church and the vicarage - is used after services for meetings and private functions. The parish is part of the United Benefice of Radley and Sunningwell.

Next to the church is Radley Church of England (Controlled) School, which opened in 1871 on a site given by Miss Mary Bowyer – a member of the family who once owned Radley Hall (see below). The children at this small village primary school are taught in a 1960s building with a modern extension. The school has extensive playing fields and a view across the fields to the other side of the river. The original school building is still used by the school as a library and ICT centre. It stands next to the School House, a much older half-timbered cottage - once the home of the head teacher. Radley History Club has published a book on the history of the primary school.

School House and old school building ar Radley
School House and Old School Building

Radley College, the famous boy's boarding school, occupies land on the north-west of the the village. The school was founded in 1847 – as St Peter's College – in Radley Hall, a Georgian style house built for Sir John Stonhouse in the 1720s. The Grade II listed building – the Mansion House – forms the main school building. The Radley Oak (purported to be some 400 years old) is found near the College lake in Radley Park, at the edge of the golf course.  The Memorial Arch at Radley College remembers the old boys and staff of Radley College killed in action. The names of Radley villagers who died in the two World Wars are engraved on two plaques on the north wall of the nave of the church. 

Sugworth Lane, which leaves Kennington Road north of Radley College, takes you to the adjourning parish of Sunningwell. It runs alongside Radley Large Wood and then out into open countryside before crossing above the busy A34 to meet the 'old' road from Abingdon to Oxford. Bigwood, Pebble Hill and Woodlands Park - three of Radley's four mobile home sites – nestle in the trees between Sugworth Lane and the neighbouring parish of Kennington.

memorial arch at Radley College

Radley College Memorial Arch
Bluebells in Radley Large Wood

The railway line between Didcot and Oxford runs through Radley behind the Bowyer Arms. The main station buildings were demolished in the 1960s and the station is now unmanned. The former branch line to Abingdon, which closed to passengers in 1965, goes off just south of the station. 

A popular walk takes you across the railway bridge through Lower Radley down to the towpath at the Radley College Boathouse. This route is part of the circular walk taking in Sandford Lock, Sandford Lane, Radley Large Wood, Radley Small Wood, central Radley and Lower Radley.

Lower Radley forms a circular loop of scattered houses. Some of the houses are thatched with half-timbered walls. As you walk round the loop, you pass the village green and the way down to Radley College Boathouse and the River Thames.  

Bluebells in Radley Little Wood

Large amounts of gravel have been removed from Lower Radley. Most of the larger pits have been filled with pulverised fuel ash (PFA) from Didcot Power Station. Other pits have been filled with water. A long campaign by Save Radley Lakes helped to stop two more lakes being filled with PFA. The Friends of Radley Lakes are now helping the Earth Trust to develop the area around Thrupp Lake as a nature reserve for all to enjoy.

Radley's Clerk of the Green Cloth is elected every two years by villagers. The title was revived in 1988 by royal consent as a fund-raising scheme – each elector must make a minimum donation when voting and candidates have to pay to stand.  The role is purely ceremonial.

On the outskirts of the village, an archeological dig at Barrow Hills in 1983-1984 unearthed a Roman with 47 graves and several cremations. A Saxon village was found next to the burial ground. Excavations at Barrow Hills, Radley, Oxfordshire by Alistair Barclay and Claire Halpin (ISBN 0947816895) describes the dig and its findings.  

Peacock Cottage, Lower Radley
Peacock Cottage, Lower Radley

Sources:
Radley Village Plan, Radley Parish Council (1984)
Radley: Ancient Barrows to Modern Parish
, Patrick Drysdale (1985)
Millennium pictorial map of Radley, Radley History Club (2000)
The History of Radley, Radley History Club (2002)

Copies of The History of Radley and The History of Radley CE Primary School are available from Radley Village Shop and Radley Post Office. See Radley History Club's website for information on how to buy these books by post and for details of its other publications.

You will find much more information about the village including a pictorial map and photographic tour on Radley village's own website.

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