The village of Ewelme lies in a picturesque valley, four miles east of the town of Wallingford. Its name derives from a spring just to the north which forms the 'King's Pool', and empties into the chalk stream called the Ewelme Brook. Ae-whylme is Anglo-Saxon for 'waters whelming'. This stream formed the basis of the village's watercress beds, which provided significant local employment until well into the 20th Century.
Ewelme is best known for its beautiful 15th century cloistered almshouses, officially called 'The Two Chaplains and Thirteen Poor Men of Ewelme in the County of Oxford'. Today the original almshouses have been modernised, and the introduction of bathrooms around 1970 meant that the 13 almshouses became just 8, although the original external appearance was retained and it is still run as a charity by the Ewelme Trust. To maintain the number of almspeople, 5 new almshouses were built at Suffolk House beside the stream a short distance away.
The almshouses were established in 1437 by the Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk. She was the daughter of Thomas Chaucer, Speaker of the House of Commons and granddaughter of the poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. She and her father had both lived at Ewelme Palace which once stood in the village and they are both buried in St. Mary’s Church, which adjoins the almshouses. Thomas has a memorial brass on a fine tomb chest and Alice lies beneath one of the most magnificent medieval church monuments in the country. Her effigy was examined by Queen Victoria"e;s commissioners in order to discover how a lady should wear the Order of the Garter. Married three times, Alice was a powerful and influential woman. Amongst her husbands were the 4th Earl of Salisbury and the 1st Duke of Suffolk, Lord Chamberlain of England.
In the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Ewelme are also buried Jerome K. Jerome, author of Three Men In A Boat, his wife Ettie and sister Blandina.
Queen Elizabeth II attended St Mary’s Church on 15th April 1962 for the christening of her godchild Edwina Hicks (who is also granddaughter of the late 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma). Edwina’s father, David Hicks, world famous interior designer to the aristocracy had his funeral in St Mary’s Church in April 1998.
The nearby Ewelme school was also established in 1437 by the Duchess of Suffolk and is said to be the oldest school building in the UK still in use as a state school.
The Ewelme Watercress Beds were established in the 1890s. The chalk stream running through the village was dammed and widened to provide large beds of shallow, slow-running water under which the cress was planted. In 1988 the production of watercress ceased. For four years the site was left to nature until The Chiltern Society made efforts to start restoring the beds.
Open days/guided walks are held around the Ewelme Watercress Beds Local Nature Reserve on the first Sunday each month.
St Mary’s Church is free to visit.
Ewelme and Area: 13 mile bike ride with on and off road sections, starting and finishing in Ewelme.
Circular cycle routes from Wallingford , passing through Ewelme, one of 11 miles and one of 19 miles, both on road.