The Saxons and Normans

RomanSaxon and NormanMagna Carta BaronsMagna Carta


The area passed under Saxon rule about AD 571 when once again the invaders chose the gravel terraces of the Thames and Colne for their settlements. An 8th century scramasax, housed in Reading museum, was found at O.S. 000 728. 

Recent excavation has brought to light at O.S. 992 746 the Royal township of Kingsbury (old Windsor), inhabited for more than 300 years from ad 750 by successive Saxon Sovereigns and their Court. The buildings were made of wood but evidence of them as well as of  tools, coins, pottery, etc. was found together with an artificial waterway.

Wraysbury is situated immediately opposite the site of the Saxon Palace and formed part of the Royal Hunting Grounds, access being provided by means of a ferry at O.S. 994 746.  It was a common occurrence for servants, horses, etc. to be loaded onto ramps and brought across the river for the chase; both deer and wild boar were hunted. Some courtiers also had large residences in Wraysbury.  It was the proximity of the village to the Saxon Court which established its significance at this time.

A description of Wraysbury at the time of Edward the Confessor in 1041  showed that the King owned both the manor and lands. They were held by Edmund, a thegn (a title abolished at the Conquest). At that time there were sluices and fish markets, fish garths - weirs  in the river for catching fish - and fisheries in the locality.  The eels were said to be excellent, also the salmon, the last of the latter being caught here in 1820 and weighing 4 lbs.






Saxons and Normans

Magna Carta






20th century


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Pointing to a well established community, the entry in the Domesday Survey of 1086 concerning Wraysbury, reads as follows:-

"In Stoke Hundred M. Robert Gernon holds Wirecesberie . It is assessed at Twenty hides. There is land for 25 ploughs. In the Demesne there are 5 hides and on it are 2 ploughs and 32 villeins with 8 bordars have 15 ploughs and there could be 8 ploughs more. There are 7 serfs and 2 mills worth 40 shillings yearly, meadow sufficient for 5 plough teams and hay for the beasts of the Court. Woodland to feed 500 swine and 4 fisheries in the Thames worth 27 shillings all but 4 pence. In all it was and is worth 20 pounds."

Obviously agriculture, fisheries and the mills formed the basis of the life of the village.  In total, apart from the Lordís family, there were 57 local inhabitants (32 villeins, 18 bordars - cottagers, and 7 serfs or servants).



With the conquest, Norman replaced Saxon, the wooden Palace of Kingsbury was replaced eventually by the stone Castle of Windsor, but Wraysbury remained as a place of residence for noblemen and as the Royal Hunting Ground across the river.

The name "Wiresesberie" quoted in the Domesday Survey may be derived from the words "Weir" meaning a dam and "Bury" a fortified place.  Although it is more likely that a Saxon landowner by the name or "Wyrarad" gave the name "Wyrardisbury" which, until very recently, has continued to be used in conjunction with the title of the local parish council.  There have been more than 30 different spellings of the name but always with the same pronunciation as at present and since the War this has come to be the acceptable form.  Christiana de Mariscis made a deed of gift to the Priory of Ankerwycke (29 E.1 1300) in which the name was variously written as "Wyresdysbury", "Wiredesbery", "Wyrardesbury", "Wardesbury" and "Wraisbury" and in a grant to Lord Wyndsore (31 Henry VIII 1540) it was written as "Wyredysbury".

Robert Gernon, who was Lord of the Manor at the time of the Domesday Survey, was a Norman Baron related to William the Conqueror.  He granted the Saxon Church of St Andrew at Wraysbury to the Abbey of St. Peter Gloucester.  William, thought to be his son, took the name of Montfichet and succeeded to the Manor in 1125.  His son Sir Gilbert Montfichet founded Ankerwycke Priory, a Benedictine nunnery O.S. 003 727 about 1160. By 1194 the Abbessís seal was used on all documents.  One of the Prioresses died of the black death in 1347.
The Priory was dissolved with the dissolution of Religious Houses by Henry VIII in 1537.  Within the grounds are the remains of this building and also of small lakes in which carp were kept.  A private ferry ran between here and Runnymede.

Ankerwyke Priory 1843

In addition to the vital crossing point between the Royal Palace and Wraysbury, another ferry was found at SU 9925 7362 which formed a link with the "Bells of Ouseley" - formerly a coaching inn.  It is thought that this is on the site of an ancient inn, perhaps even as old as the Saxon ferry and that the name "Bells" referred to the ferry bells which were rung when the ferry was required;  although more likely explanation is that it is named after the bells of Osney Abbey in Oxford which were brought downstream at the dissolution and disappeared into the mud at this point .An entry in the marriage register of St. Johnís Church, Egham, dated the 13th January 1676, gives details of a Henry Vahan whose address was given as the "Bells of Osel".  By 1745 an engraving of William Oram showed the title as "The Five Bells of Osely".  It gained its present name in 1785  with the landlord named as William Haines, whose son ran the ferry.  A coloured illustration by Earnest Haslehurst in 1906 shows the ferry with a chain ramp which permitted the transport of horses, cattle and even vehicles.  The Haines family had links with Old Windsor and Wraysbury for 300 Years.  Mary Haines, carrying on a boat-building business, lived at Wharf House (SU 9924 7389) until just before the last War.  The Wharf was situated on the north bank and used extensively for unloading copper and other commodities .  Just outside Old Wharf Cottage, built on the site of the Wharf, is a milestone giving the mileage to London as 23 miles.

There are sinister associations which linked the great loop of the Thames round Ham Fields (SU 999 753 - 999 759) with the footpads and highwaymen who once haunted the Bath Road in the neighbourhood of Colnbrook.  This part of the river was used by them to dispose of the corpses of those whom they robbed and murdered.  It became known as "Colnbrook Churchyard".

The boundary of the River Thames within the Parish of Wraysbury is situated just west of the City Post (TQ 028 717) and London Stone (TQ 028 717) which marked the upper limit of jurisdiction by the City of London over the river and its navigation.  The original London Stone inscribed with the words "God Preserve Ye City of London A.D. 1285" was moved to the Staines Museum in the 1980s and replaced with a replica. For seven centuries the Lord Mayor of London was rowed up from the city to the London Stone where a toast was drunk to the City of London and money was distributed.  The last recorded occasion was in 1957.  The real significance is the fact that at a point just beyond this, i.e. in Wraysbury, smuggling was a much easier matter.  This may well also account for the original siting of the copper wharf, because copper and iron could be landed here without the payment of the Mineral Tax.


1Lib. Censual, tom. i. fol. 149.
2Magna Carta also prohibited any weirs that interfered with navigation; this tenet still holds good.
4Victoria Country History - Vol. 1, page 259






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