The land on which Atherton Crescent now lies (bounded by Salisbury Road, Church Way and Atherton Hill) is shown on the Enclosure Award Map of 1819 as being owned by Matthew Loder Smith, "late Thomas Robinson's Allotment".
The field belonged to "Lady" Harriet Atherton in the late 19th century.
The field was renowned for its crop of barley - a photograph in the Photo Gallery shows the Macklin family and helpers harvesting the record crop in 1909. The six acres of barley produced 88 sacks. The Macklin family also cultivated fields around the waterworks situated at the top of the Salisbury Road which stretched back to Sanden Close.
Lady Atherton is said to have offered the field to the town as a cemetery in 1909. The story is a little more complicated!
The only Lady Harriet Atherton in the records is that of the Dowager Lady Atherton, a major benefactor of Lowestoft High School for Girls but this person is not “our” Lady Atherton.
Hungerford's "Lady" Atherton was actually plain Harriet Atherton who was born in Ramsbury and christened there on 19 May 1815. Her father was Joseph Atherton. However, newspaper reports (The Reading Mercury and Reading Chronicle) confirm that she well known for her acts of benevolence to the poor.
On 25 Jan 1883, Harriet Atherton founded the Burial Ground Charity in Hungerford, and on 12 May 1883 it was reported that she bequeathed a piece of land for a cemetery in Hungerford and two houses to provide an income for a Wesleyan minister. On 19 May she bequeathed £3000 to a “Worn Out Ministers and Ministers Widows Auxiliary Fund.” Since Harriet Atherton died on the 7 May 1883, this bequest must have taken place after her death.
Examination of her will proven on 9 Jul 1883 records that she left over £21,300. In today’s money, this is over 2 million pounds so Harriet Atherton was a millionairess. In her will we learn that the three executors were Richard Killick, a grocer in the High Street, Robert Hofland Newton, the miller at Eddington and Henry Gibbons, the iron founder.
These executors became trustees of the funds left in her will and a newspaper report on 21 Jun 1890 in the Reading Mercury mentions the sale of property and land on behalf of her trustees to take place in The Three Swans Hotel with A.W. Neate handling the transaction. The land included 42 acres of arable land at Lambourn and a further 60 acres at Baydon. The property included a farmstead, consisting of a cottage, barns, stables, sheds, gardens and orchards.
So what was the source of her wealth? This was probably inherited from her father Joseph (who died in 1846) the miller of Eddington Mill and her two uncles Nathan Atherton (died 1853), a solicitor from Calne and James Langford (died 1868) the miller at Dun Mill.
A map of Charnham Street and Eddington dated 1810 shows that the Athertons owned most of the land called Bell Mead which was the land between The Lamb and the rivers Kennet and Dun. It is not surprising that No’s 7 and 8 Charnham Street, where Harriet lived which were built sometime in the 1860’s were known as Atherton Villas. Harriet Atherton died at home in Charnham Street on 7 May 1883.
So the plan for a cemetry was not followed through and Atherton Crescent, the fine curved line of houses set well back from the main Salisbury Road, was built in 1919-1921.
Up until the late seventies, all the houses were owned by the council and all were uniformly white in colour. However, since Margaret Thatcher’s “right-to-buy” scheme under the Housing Act of 1980 which gave secure tenants of councils and some housing associations the legal right to buy their homes at a substantial discount, most of these houses are privately owned and have adopted their own personalities.
(With thanks to Dr Jimmy Whittaker for additional material sent Sep 2018)
- Macklin family gathering 88 sacks of barley in Atherton Field, 1909
- Photograph said to be of Lady Atherton
- "The Crescent, Hungerford" c1923 [?Collier, "Hungerford 28", MERL] (DM)
- Atherton Crescent, c1925
(Adapted from an article kindly sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker, Sep 2018):
Not long before she died, Harriet Atherton founded the Burial Ground Charity in Hungerford on 25 Jan 1883.
This scheme was set up by a deed .The property of this charity, under the control of The Hungerford Charities Trustees consisted of 5 acres of land in Hungerford (now Atherton Crescent). This was let out to the Macklins who farmed barley there at £12 10s. a year. In addition a fund of £411 5s. 3d was invested in stocks and shares of the East India which produced a yearly income of £12 6s. 8d.
Under the terms of the scheme, one part of the net income was to be used the maintenance of part of St. Saviour's churchyard at Eddington purchased out of monies belonging to the charity, and the other part was to be used for the maintenance of any additional burial ground that may be acquired.
Even though the land had been deeded in 1883, it was not until 1895 that the Parish Council requested that the land be officially handed over to them following a meeting in August 1895. At this meeting, the council was approached by Messrs Alexander via the Hungerford Charities Trustees to find out if they could buy the land for allotments. The council said they had no intention of selling the land since it had been left by Harriet Atherton for the benefit of Hungerford. Miss Atherton had originally left the land for the creation of a cemetery which had been refused by the Government Authorities.
On 23 Dec 1907, this charity was then officially regulated by the Charity Commissioners as was the charity of the Town and Manor of Hungerford.