Wantage (//) is a historic market town and civil parish in the ceremonial county of Oxfordshire, England. Historically part of Berkshire, it has been administered as part of the Vale of White Horse district of Oxfordshire since 1974. The town is on Letcombe Brook, about 8 miles (13 km) south-west of Abingdon, 24 miles (39 km) north-west of Reading, 15 miles (24 km) south-west of Oxford and 14 miles (23 km) north north-west of Newbury.
Wantage was a small Roman settlement but the origin of the toponym is somewhat uncertain. It is generally thought to be from an Old English phrase meaning "decreasing river". King Alfred the Great was born at the royal palace there in the 9th century. Wantage appears in the Domesday Book of 1086. Its value was £61 and it was in the king's ownership until Richard I passed it to the Earl of Albemarle in 1190. Weekly trading rights were first granted to the town by Henry III in 1246 Markets are now held twice weekly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Royalist troops were stationed in Wantage during the English Civil War.
In the 19th century, Lord Wantage became a notable local and national benefactor. He was very involved in founding the British Red Cross Society. In 1877 he paid for a marble statue of King Alfred by Count Gleichen to be erected in Wantage market place, where it still stands today. He also donated the Victoria Cross Gallery to the town. This contained paintings by Louis William Desanges depicting deeds which led to the award of a number of VCs, including his own gained during the Crimean War. It is now a shopping arcade. Since 1848, Wantage has been home to the Community of Saint Mary the Virgin, one of the largest communities of Anglican nuns in the world. Wantage once had two breweries which were taken over by Morlands of Abingdon. In 1988 the town was thrust into the headlines after a Brass Tacks programme entitled "Shire Wars" exposed the drunken violence that plagued the town and surrounding villages at that time.
Wantage has a town council consisting of 16 councillors, 11 of whom (as of 2011) are Conservatives with the remaining five councillors being made up of four Liberal Democrats and one Labour councillor. It is also part of the district of the Vale of White Horse.
Until 1974, Wantage had two local government councils: Wantage Rural District, which had its headquarters in Belmont, Wantage and Wantage Urban District, which had its headquarters in Portway. These bodies were both abolished as part of the Local Government Act 1972 and became part of the Vale of White Horse District Council.
The Wantage constituency is currently represented by Conservative MP Ed Vaizey. Vaizey was first elected in the 2005 general election and was re-elected again in 2010 and 2015. The nearby towns of Didcot, Faringdon and Wallingford are also part of the Wantage constituency. At the time of the 2010 general election, the Wantage constituency had a total electorate of 80,456.
Wantage is at the foot of the Berkshire Downs escarpment in the Vale of the White Horse. There are gallops at Black Bushes and nearby villages with racing stables at East Hendred, Letcombe Bassett, Lockinge and Uffington. Wantage includes the suburbs of Belmont to the west and Charlton to the east. Grove to the north is still just about detached and is a separate parish. Wantage parish stretches from the northern edge of its housing up onto the Downs in the south, covering Chain Hill, Edge Hill, Wantage Down, Furzewick Down and Lattin Down. The Edgehill Springs rise between Manor Road and Spike Lodge Farms and the Letcombe Brook flows through the town. Wantage is home to the Vale and Downland Museum. There is a large market square containing a statue of King Alfred, surrounded by shops some with 18th-century facades. Quieter streets radiate from it, including one towards the large Church of England parish church. Wantage is the "Alfredston" of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure.
Bus services link Wantage with Oxford and other nearby towns and villages including Abingdon, Didcot, Faringdon and Grove. Stagecoach in Oxfordshire provide the main services between Wantage and Oxford with up to three buses per hour Monday to Saturday and up to two buses per hour on Sunday's and bank holidays, operated under Stagecoach's luxury Stagecoach Gold brand. Route S8 links Wantage with Grove, East Hanney, Marcham, Abingdon and Oxford, along with a late-night service on Friday and Saturday evenings with buses running to Oxford until 2am and buses from Oxford to Wantage until 3am. Route S9 provides a more direct service between Wantage, Grove and Oxford. There are also up to two buses per hour between Wantage and Didcot via Harwell Campus which are operated by Thames Travel. Thames Travel also operate the Faringdon to Wantage service which runs up to every 60 minutes, and a local service to Grove.
Wantage does not have a railway station; Didcot Parkway, 8 miles to the east, is the nearest station, with services towards London, Bristol and Cardiff. The Great Western Mainline is just north of Grove (2 miles North of Wantage) where the former Wantage Road railway station used to be. It was closed during the Beeching cuts in 1964. The Wantage Tramway used to link Wantage with Wantage Road station. The tramway's Wantage terminus was in Mill Street and its building survives, but little trace remains of the route. One of the tramway's locomotives, Shannon, alias Jane, is preserved at Didcot Railway Centre. Oxfordshire County Council have ambitions to re-open the former Wantage Road railway station and has stated that the station is a priority in their Connecting Oxfordshire plans. It is hoped that the station could be served by a direct service between Oxford and Bristol. The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) published their Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network report and outlined Wantage and Grove as one of the top seven places where a new station would be feasible and provide economical benefits to the area.
There is one state secondary school in Wantage, King Alfred's Academy, and approximately ten primary schools. The secondary school converted into an academy in 2011 and is currently rated Outstanding by Ofsted.
A former independent preparatory school, St Andrew's, established in 1926, closed permanently in 2010.
In October 2013, the Vale Academy Trust was created when King Alfred's Academy, Charlton Primary School and Wantage CE Primary School came together to form a partnership. The trust was founded by local heads, governors and other stakeholders in hope of creating quality partnerships among the schools to ensure higher quality education for the area. Since the trust was formed in 2013, three other primary schools in the area have joined.
The Vale Academy Trust announced plans in September 2016 to build a brand new free school in Grove for children from the ages of two to sixteen. The school is planned to have a capacity of up to 1,000 students and is hoped to open in 2019 in preparation for large scale housing developments that are planned for Wantage and Grove.
Wantage has been the site of a church since at least the 10th century and the present Church of England parish church of Saints Peter and Paul dates from the 13th century, with many additions since. SS Peter and Paul also contains seventeen 15th-century misericords.
King Alfred's Grammar School was designed by the architect J. B. Clacy of Reading and built in 1849–50 but incorporates a highly carved Norman doorway from a demolished chantry chapel that formerly stood in the churchyard.
In recent years four or more significant housing developments have been constructed. At least one development (including the new health centre) has been on a greenfield site adjacent to the A338 road towards Oxford. The other three, however, have been on brownfield sites, converting a scrapyard next to the Letcombe Brook.
In 2006, a commercial development began construction with a Sainsbury's supermarket as a focus. This supermarket is double the size of the previous one and was intended to have a significant impact on the town by drawing more visitors from outlying villages. The impact was projected as being positive, aimed at preventing the town becoming a commuter town and retaining some commercial activity. An action group, Wantage Rejuvenated, is being sponsored by the town's chamber of commerce to try to bring business back into the area and inject new life into the town.
There was activism in the town regarding development 2011, with a campaign to stop the demolition of a building close to the town centre by Vanderbuilt Homes, who initially gained permission to convert an early Georgian bank of shops into a mixed commercial and residential block. Vanderbilt applied to have the buildings completely demolished, prompting a local petition and campaign for the application to be refused at the discretion of the Town Council, as although the building is old, it is not listed.
Another area of development which has provoked local protest has been on the north of the town, where a 1,500-home estate is proposed, increasing housing in the town by 35%. Residents have raised petitions and the local MP, Ed Vaizey, has raised concerns, especially about the ability of local road infrastructure to cope. The town is served by the A338, A4497 and A417, which are single-carriageway roads. The proposed Wantage development is one mile from a similar mass of 2,500 homes proposed for the village of Grove and which will use same road network.
In 2014 Wantage was nominated for the Government's Great British High Street Award whereby Wantage won the award for Britain's Best Town Centre beating several other towns nominated for the award.
Wantage & Grove Cricket Club's first recorded match was in 1863. The club has three thriving teams and play in Charlton, Wantage.
On 12 September 2014, cyclists competing in the 2014 Tour of Britain passed through Wantage during Stage 6 of the event. The participants entered Wantage via the B4494 road and left via the A417 towards Harwell and then on towards the end of the stage at Hemel Hempstead.
Corallian Cycling Club was founded in 2016 and organises regular sociable cycle rides from Wantage Market Place.
Wantage is twinned with:
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