Alfred the Great statue in the market place
Alfred the Great statue,
market place

Wantage is an attractive market town in the picturesque Vale of White Horse. It is most famous as the birthplace of Alfred the Great. A statue of King Alfred, looking suitably regal, stands in the busy market place. Alfred was born here in AD 849, when Wantage was important Saxon town. As for the statue, it was commissioned by Lord Wantage, and sculpted in 1877 by Count Gleichen, a relative of Queen Victoria.

The history of Wantage goes back long before the Saxon period. The chalk hills of the Vale are dotted with prehistoric remains. and we know that the Romans established a settlement here and built a road linking Wantage and Oxford.

After the Norman Conquest, the manor of Oxford was held by the crown until Richard the Lionheart granted it to the Earl of Abermarle. The town grew slowly throughout the medieval period, and really owes its prosperity to the growth of the leather processing industry in the 17th century.

As a result of that growth the centre of town is full of attractive Georgian and Victorian buildings, and cobbled lanes lead off the market place to the historic church of St Peter and St Paul.

Timber-framed building in the market place
Timber-framed building, market place

We know that there was a church here at least as early as AD 950, and it is possible that King Alfred was baptised in a church on the same site a century earlier. The oldest parts of the building are the tower base and the nave. The timber roof of the nave is 15th century, and there are fragments of medieval glass in the south transept windows.

The finest historic feature is a large memorial brass to Sir Ivo FitzWarin (d 1414), a famous warrior but best known today as the father-in-law of Dick Whittington. Even older is a monument to Sir Ivo's father in the choir, where you will find some extremely fine medieval misericords.

Vale and Downland Museum

This fascinating free museum on Church Street tells the story of the Vale of White Horse. The museum hosts a large library of historic documents, including books, magazines, and pamphlets, and a large collection of wills covering the period from 1500-1699. There are over 3000 objects on show, and plenty of hands-on opportunities for all ages.

St Peter & St Paul's church
St Peter & St Paul's church

One recent exhibit is a model railway running through a recreation of the Vale of White Horse. There are whole rooms recreated as historic shops, craftsmen's workshops, and even a recreated tram carriage experience.

The museum is housed in a Georgian town house built by a clothmaker named Lawrence Hazell in 1780. The site was earlier owned part of Priorshold manor.

Aside from King Alfred, perhaps the most famous resident of the town was the Poet Laureate John Betjeman, who wrote several poems about Wantage and the surrounding area. A small park named for the poet is located near the church.

Two miles outside Wantage is the Ridgeway National Trail, which runs from just outside Avebury in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. On the way, the trail passes by or directly through numerous historic sites. Some of the most important sites near Wantage include Wayland's Smithy long barrow, Uffington Castle hillfort, and the famous White Horse chalk figure that gives its name to the Vale.

In recent years Wantage has been used as a frequent setting for the popular TV series, Midsomer Murders.

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About Wantage
Address: Wantage, Oxfordshire, England
Attraction Type: Town
Location: On the A338, 10 miles south-west of Abingdon
Location map
OS: SU397879
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Wantage, St Peter and St Paul Church - 0.1 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Vale and Downland Museum - 0.1 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Letcombe Regis, St Andrew's Church - 1.4 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Ardington House - 2.1 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating

Childrey, St Mary's Church - 2.4 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Letcombe Bassett, St Michael & All Angels Church - 2.4 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Sparsholt, Holy Cross Church - 3.2 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Goosey, All Saints Church - 3.5 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

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