THIS IS AND THE FOLLOWING PAGE (Notable Visitors), WE DETAIL PERSONS OF INTEREST WHO HAVE EITHER LIVED IN OR VISITED THE ASTONS. This is 'work in progress' as there are quite a lot of people to research and add!
IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE OF NOTE IN THESE CATEGORIES DO LET US KNOW. Contact email@example.com
A taster of what is to come:
William Pigott Brown (1941-2020), Bart.Sir William Pigott-Brown, known as the ‘sporting baronet’, an Old Etonian man-about-town, successful amateur jockey and racing enthusiast. His godparents included Major Bruce Shand, the father of the Duchess of Cornwall, and whose late brother Mark became a great friend.
In 1962 he inherited a fortune reportedly of £750,000, which would equate to about £16 million today. Part of his inheritance went towards buying his country estate in Aston Upthorpe, centred on Orchard House in Thorpe Street and which included a stud farm (now Upthorpe Stud) and 1,000 acres of farmland on the Berkshire Downs.
From his obituary in (of course) the Tatler magazine: 'Few debauched aristocrats have lived up to their reputation with greater panache than William Pigott-Brown, a globetrotting bon viveur with equine connections whose invitation to visit his stud farm could be open to misinterpretation. He hosted orgies in mirror-clad rooms, played the tables at the Clermont Club, where he once lost £35,000 in a single sitting of chemin de fer, and consumed illicit substances with unbridled enthusiasm'.
After Eton he had gone to Australia to work on a sheep farm, and it was there that his love of horses began. Back in the UK he persuaded his Trustees to buy him a horse, and he became a fearless jockey - being amateur champion two years in succession.
Right: Pigott Brown with Nicky Haslam in 2002.
Retiring from the field, he opened Sibylla’s, the Mayfair disco where 1960's swinging London went dancing, in partnership with Beatle George Harrison. He founded Browns, had a quarter share in Island Records, launched a theatrical agency, owned a Mayfair tailors and was publisher of a London magazine. All this before he turned 30. Horses were still a focal point of his life however, and he spent much time in the Astons. He even painted the houses on his estate in his racing colours of dark blue. His parties were renowned for their exuberance, and guests who stayed over in the village included Stevie Winwood of Traffic and the Rolling Stones. They were as you can imagine the talk of the village.
"I was 15 when Traffic arrived in the village. Everybody was very worried about it at first. I worked in the village shop where they came every day to collect their letters. They were very strange-looking. (One of them) had these high-heeled boots painted purple. We'd never seen anything like it. My dad reckoned they were a sweaty, smelly lot, but I got such a crush on him. Whenever I saw them coming, I'd take off my glasses and hide them under the counter. My dad warned me to keep away from them because of the sex and drugs and that."
Following the collapse of his businesses in the late 1970's he decided to relocate to South Africa where what was left of his fortune would go a little further. His lifestyle pattern became winters in Cape Town, and summers in England, following the racing at the Derby and Royal Ascot.
Cyril Frederick Danvers-Walker (1906 - 1990).
Bob (as he was known in the Astons) Danvers-Walker was an radio and newsreel announcer best known as the off-screen voice of Pathe News newsreels during World War II, and for many years afterwards. His voice was described as "clear, fruity and rich, with just the suggestion of raffishness".
In retirement he lived at The Thatched Cottage in Aston Street (now Abbey Thorn Cottage) and was often called upon to open the annual church fete. In one of the pictures below you will see his famous personalised number plates RAD10 and TV1.
Born in England, he spent much of his childhood in Tasmania and began his radio career in Melbourne in 1925 before returning to the United Kingdom in 1932. From 1932 to 1939 Walker worked as a presenter for the International Broadcasting Company (IBC) network of commercial radio stations broadcasting in English to Britain from the continent. Danvers-Walker wanted to join the BBC as soon as the war started, but was prevented by a BBC rule against employing anyone who had worked on commercial radio. This rule was quietly dropped in 1943, and from then on he was deployed on a variety of morale-boosting wartime BBC radio shows.
He was the off-screen voice of the twice weekly Pathe News newsreel shown at all British cinemas, a job he held continuously from 1940 to 1970. The arrival of commercial television in the guise of ITV in 1955 brought new opportunities, such as being the announcer on Michael Miles' game show Take Your Pick (1955–68), and its successor programme, Wheel of Fortune (1969–71), while at the BBC Danvers-Walker was one of the regular presenters of Housewives' Choice throughout the 1950s.
John Edward Masefield (1878 – 1967).
He and his wife Constance and their two young children, Judith and Lewis, moved to Lollingdon Farm in June 1914. He was at that time already a well-respected writer and poet. He was Poet Laureate from 1930 until 1967. (Perhaps his best known poem is 'Sea Fever' - "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by').
Lollingdon Farm is in the Parish of Cholsey but is very much considered part of our village ‘envelope’.
When the First World War began in 1914 Masefield was old enough to be exempted from military service, but he did carry out some military duties both in the UK and in France, and is listed on the village muster roll for the village in St.Michael’s Church.
It was at Lollingdon that he wrote his only war poem ‘August 1914’ which was provoked by his strong sense of foreboding just after Britain had declared war with Germany. It was also here that he wrote his famous book Gallipoli, and his series of poems and sonnets titled ‘Lollingdon Downs’.
The Masefields lived at Lollingdon for three years and finally moved to Boars Hill in Oxford during the spring of 1917. Even when they had settled at Boars Hill, John Masefield would regularly return to his beloved Berkshire Downs.
Sir Patrick Abercrombie (1879 – 1957).
Patrick Abercrombie was a leading authority on national UK planning matters and garden-city initiatives, and is internationally recognised as a pioneer of town and country planning. He lived at the Red House on Moreton Road, Aston Upthorpe from 1945 until his death in 1957.
He devised post-war reconstruction plans for London and its environs - the County of London Plan (1943) and the Greater London Regional Plan (1944) - commonly referred to as the Abercrombie Plan - which tackled such key problems as overcrowding and poor housing in deprived neighbourhoods, traffic congestion and the inadequate provision of open space.
In 1926 in his The Preservation of Rural England he had called for "a bold and wide policy (for) the creation of a series of National Parks (for the) preservation of wild country”. He was a founder member of CPRE (Campaign for the Protection of Rural England) and urged in their 1926 manifesto that new communities must be ‘finely planned and developed harmoniously (within) ‘the lie of the land.’ In 1947 he was on the Hobhouse Committee which drew up the final recommendations to government for the creation of National Parks.
In 1945 Abercrombie was given a knighthood, and in 1948 he became the first president of the International Union of Architects, which continues to annually award the Sir Patrick Abercrombie Prize for excellence in town planning.
In 2012 Oxford Brookes University opened the Abercrombie Building which is home to their Departments of Planning, Construction, Real Estate and Architecture. In 2019 a blue plaque was placed on his London home to mark World Town Planning Day.
Frank Cundell (1909-1993).
Successful Flat-National Hunt racehorse trainer, nephew of Leonard Cundell founder of the Cundell Stables, Aston Upthorpe.
The stables were based originally at Chilton, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) but in 1934 his land was compulsorily purchased by the Air Ministry for a new airfield (which post-war became the Atomic Research Establishment Harwell, now Harwell Science and Innovation Centre).
In 1934 therefore Leonard bought the Blewburton Hall estate, composed of eleven hundred acres of good land and buildings with the gallops on the Downs above the village. Frank assisted his uncle in the training of Noble Star (winner of both the Jockey Club Cup and the Cesarewitch Handicap in 1931) and himself trained Crudwell - sired by Noble Star(winner of 50 races), Super Flash (Mackeson Gold Cup) and Celtic Cone (5 hurdle races and a Yorkshire Cup).
He trained over a thousand winners and was instrumental in persuading the young Dick Francis (see separate entry under Visitors) to ride some of his chasers and hurdlers. His wife Barbara became good friends with Francis’ wife Mary, and they at one time jointly owned a dress shop in Wallingford.
His entry in the online National Horseracing Museum says of him: “Frank Cundell was a kind and patient man, with a good sense of humour”.
Frank Williams and Patrick Head.
Founders of the world famous Williams Formula One racing team, they established the Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1977 when they acquired an empty carpet warehouse at Didcot. (Their current purpose built premises based at Grove near Wantage were opened by Princess Anne in 1996).
In 1977 Frank Williams bought The Old Rectory in Aston Street, which was being sold by the Church of England on the retirement of Canon Hester – the last rector to live in the village. The auction was held at the village hall. Patrick Head also moved into the village, buying Popes Farmhouse in Fullers Road.
The team's first win came at the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Their first Drivers’ Championship and Constructors’ Championship both came in 1980, with the Australian Alan Jones winning the drivers' title. The Williams team has won in total 16 FIA Formula One World Championship titles, nine for constructors and seven for drivers.
In the 1990's there was an annual cricket match between Astons Cricket Club and a team of Williams’ mechanics, who played in their team overalls. One year they brought a Formula One racing car to the recreation ground – the previous year’s model not the current one!
Over the years both Williams and Head received a variety of awards, both in Britain and in France, and in 1999 and 2015 respectively they received a knighthood in recognition of their significant contributions to motor sports.
In 2010 Frank Williams was awarded the Helen Rollason Award for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards - he had been severely injured in a motoring accident in 1986. In 2012 a new road in Didcot was named "Sir Frank Williams Avenue" in his honour. Sir Frank described the honour as "very touching" and added he was "mildly embarrassed".
Christine Lee is the sister of Jennifer Worth, author of Call the Midwife. Like her sister, Christine also trained and practiced as a midwife, but later went on to a successful career as a sculptress.
In 1967 she and her husband bought Aston Tirrold Manor at auction for £13,500 (an unexpected bargain - the next day she was offered an extra £10,000 if she sold it on). She lived there until 1972.
Christine Lee became a best selling author in 2015 when her first book "The Midwife's Sister" was published. This memoir is about her life as a sculptor and her relationship with her sister Jennifer Worth.The book gives some interesting vignettes of Astons life in the late 1960's.
Many of her pieces are cast in bronze, with larger work constructed from sheet metal or wood. In 2014 her piece Compassion was placed in Exeter Cathedral. In 1996 Christine created the remarkable Commemorative Fountain outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford -upon-Avon for Shakespeare’s 800th Anniversary. It was unveiled by H.M. The Queen.
Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis (1883 –1978)
Williams-Ellis was a fashionable architect in the inter-war years, who wrote and broadcast extensively on architecture, design and the preservation of the rural landscape. He is best known now for the Italianate village Portmeirion in north-west Wales, setting for the famous TV series 'The Prisoner'.
In 1934 he designed Home Farm in Aston Street (now Manor Farm) for the Aston Manor estate owned by Francis Cross. He was a friend and professional colleague of Patrick Abercrombie – see Patrick’s entry under Famous Residents - who shared similar concerns for the rural environment.
In 1928 he had written England and the Octopus - an outcry at the urbanization of the countryside and loss of village. It prompted a group of young female activists to form the Ferguson's Gang, which between 1927 and 1946 raised huge sums to protect and preserve important but lesser-known rural properties and landscapes that could otherwise have been destroyed.
In 1937 he published Britain and the Beast, a collection of essays by various authors on the preservation of rural amenities - one of them John Maynard Keynes, a significant British economist whose ideas fundamentally changed the theory and practice of macroeconomics and the economic policies of governments in the post-war years.
In 1958 Williams-Ellis was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire 'for public services', and was knighted in 1972 for 'services to the preservation of the environment and to architecture'. At the time, he was the oldest person ever to be knighted.
Richard Stanley Francis, CBE FRSL (1920 –2010)
Dick Francis, British crime writer and former steeplechase jockey, who for nearly 30 years lived in Blewbury, and was part of the Astons wider equestrian community. His wife Mary was good friends with Barbara Cundell, wife of Frank Cundell, whose stables were based at Blewburton Hall (see separate entry under Residents).
In his career as a full-time jump-jockey Dick Francis won over 350 races and was at one time champion jockey of the British National Hunt. From 1953 to 1957 he was jockey to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. His best remembered moment as a jockey came while riding the Queen Mother's horse, Devon Loch, in the 1956 Grand National, when the horse inexplicably fell when close to winning the race. Francis considered losing that race his greatest regret and called it "a disaster of massive proportions".
When he retired from the turf he became a journalist and novelist. The British Crime Writers Association awarded him its Gold Dagger Award for fiction in 1979 and the Cartier Diamond Dagger Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. All his novels deal with crime in the horse-racing world, and more than forty of them became international best-sellers, with his first novel, Dead Cert, being adapted as a film, and another novel being adapted for television, starring Ian McShane.
Edward Duke of Windsor (1894-1972)
Prince of Wales and briefly Edward VIII before his abdication in 1936.
In the summer of 1914 a military cadet group, including the Prince of Wales, visited Aston Tirrold as part of their military training on the Downs. They stayed in the ‘parish room’ of the Rectory in Aston Street. The rector at that time was the Reverend Lumley Green Wilkinson. The following wording is on the thank you card, on Buckingham Palace stationery, from the Prince of Wales after his stay:
“Dear Mr. Green Wilkinson. At last I am able to send you the photos I did that memorable morning. So sorry for the delay. The art of frying eggs is well illustrated I think. It was good of you to put us up that night, and no one enjoyed it more than I did. Thank you very much indeed for all your kindness. I remain yours very sincerely. Edward”
A photocopy of the photographs - with the thank you card on the rear - was given to the History Group by a later occupant of the Rectory, Mary Ackworth.