Created By: West Berkshire Archaeology Service
The path you are following and the bridge you have just crossed were once the main route to Shaw House from the London to Bath Road for 200 years! Because this was the way that most visitors would approach the House, it was important to its owners to make it grand and impressive to show off their wealth. They did this by lining it with long avenues of trees and by building a very fashionable water garden.
The Speen Manor map shows two long rectangular channels of water in the grounds south of Shaw House. In 1733 the Duke of Chandos employed John Hore (1680-1763), one of the earliest English canal engineers, to join the channels into one broad canal with a new semi-circular pool scooped out of the north bank of the River Lambourn and a cascade water feature. The basin and canal could still be seen on the 1808 Ordnance Survey Drawing of East Ilsley and on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1880-81 the canal is marked as a fishpond.
Although these water features had started to silt up and become overgrown by the early 20th century, they largely survived until the A339 dual carriageway was built in the 1970s, linking Newbury to the M4 motorway. (Here is an aerial photograph taken in 1952: www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW041720.) The southern end of the canal was filled in and levelled in the 1960s, and trees and bushes were allowed to grow up in the way of what had been the most important view of Shaw House and St Mary’s Church from the south. The House and Church are now hidden from a big part of the grounds in which they were originally built. The drive is still partly lined with trees, but since Western Avenue and the A339 cut it off to traffic, the path can now only be used by pedestrians and cyclists, and is not what it was in its heyday.
Either go diagonally across the grass towards the river (beware of the bumpy, uneven ground and molehills) or go back up the path, turn left before crossing the bridge and follow the path along the south side of the river.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Shaw House and St Mary's Church Conservation Area