Coleshill is a village on the road to Highworth, situated on the top of the next hill after Badbury Hill and a little under 4 miles south-west from Faringdon. The 2011 Census recorded the parish’s population as 156. The village lies on the hill beside the River Cole, which drains into the Thames just below Lechlade. The village is part of the Buscot and Coleshill Estate, which totals some 7,500 acres comprising of 11 farms, 290 acres of in hand woodland, and 550 acres of woodland let to the Forestry Commission. The estate, including the villages of Buscot, Coleshill and Eaton Hastings is now almost entirely owned by the National Trust (only 4 houses are in private ownership), a total of 151 cottages. (Colleshylle c.950: OE/Latin collis ‘hill’; OE/Anglo-Saxon hyll ‘hill’; or maybe just a hill farm occupied by the Cole family.)
c.1910. Looking up through the village. The whole village at this time was owned by the Lord of the Manor, Lord Radnor, which meant that no alterations could go ahead without his permission and was known as a ‘closed’ village. Most of the cottages were built to house the estate workers – the photo below was taken in the estate yard near Coleshill House.
1890-1910 Coleshill Estate staff in the estate yard.
1952. Coleshill House was built around 1660 for Sir George Pratt and designed by one of Inigo Jones’ pupils. The house had 365 windows, one for every day of the year. After WWII, the house became famous for the role it played in the training of people in subversive roles against a likely invasion by the Germans. It was a top secret establishment set up on the orders of Winston Churchill, Many people came here in secret, meeting at Highworth Post Office before being sent on a circuitous route to get to the house. Recently, an operational bunker was excavated and can be visited to see the conditions in which the secret army was supposed to work. More about Churchill’s Secret Army…
September 22nd 1952. Coleshill House on fire. The house had been handed over to the Ernest Cook Trust and was being completely re-decorated on the outside by a local firm of builders. A painter left a blow lamp burning on an attic window sill and went for his lunch; the lining of the window caught alight and set the house on fire. There was great difficulty in getting water to the fire because of its situation and the house was completely destroyed. Luckily, however, most of the interior furnishings were saved by the efforts of the local people and firemen. The only injuries sustained were to firemen who were burnt when molten lead dripped off the roof. The last fireman to leave the building was Faringdon’s leading fireman, Sid Taylor. The picture shows a big turntable ladder at the top directing the hoses down into the centre of the building. The roof is completely gone and onlookers from the estate are just sadly looking at the remains of the house. Unfortunately the building wasn’t insured so it was demolished in 1958 and never rebuilt. I am told that the cellars survive and if you walk around Coleshill Park you can see the footprint where the house was, which is outlined by large bushes now.
1. The English Place-Name Society search page – https://epns.nottingham.ac.uk/search
2. Photos and text scanned directly from The Changing Faces of Faringdon and Surrounding Villages – Book 1 p100-101 by Rosemary Church, Jim Brown, Millie Bryan and Beryl Newman. Robert Boyd Publications 1999 – now out of print.
Researched and compiled by Ian Lee, July 2021.