Wed, 06 Apr 2016
The Round House, photographed by Jerry Hill.
In pre-motorway times a familiar landmark for motorists from the west was the curious castellated toll house beside the A4 halfway between Hungerford and Newbury, known as the Round House.
The increasing popularity of travel by coach and horses in the eighteenth century, and the importance of visits to Bath by fashionable members of London society, led to the setting up of Turnpike Trusts to rebuild and repair the roads, which were in a woeful state. Gates were erected at designated toll points, one of which was Halfway, just to the west of Halfway Farm on the A4. A house was built for the keeper who had to be available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week to collect tolls from passing travellers, to pay for the necessary repairs. The first toll house was built there in the mid 18th century and a map of the period shows it to be square in shape. The Round House replaced it and is thought to date from about 1810. The Round House was illustrated in Murray’s Berkshire Architectural Guide of 1949, jointly edited by one time Poet Laureate and local resident Sir John Betjeman, who in 1957 was said to be “very much distressed” when he heard the building was under threat of demolition. It also rated a mention in Pevsner’s “Buildings of England: Berkshire”, published in 1966.
The spread of railways in the mid 19th century largely did away with gates and tolls on the roads, and the Round House, acquired by the Sir Richard Sutton Settled Estates, was used as cottage accommodation for generations of local farmworkers. It fell into disrepair and in the early 1950s on behalf of the owners, a scheme for restoration was drawn up by Mr AJ Campbell Cooper, then chairman of the local branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. He described it as “a delightful little idiosyncracy”. But the owners had their applications for grants towards the cost of restoration refused, and in 1957 the Round House, whose listing had not been supported by Newbury District Council Housing Committee, was threatened with demolition. It survived until 1966, falling “beyond repair” but was then demolished; the owner’s agent remarking “Although the building looked like a fortress, it was never built as one”.