Ewelme is an unspoilt historic village in the Chiltern Hills. It is situated fourteen miles south of Oxford and four miles from Wallingford. It is built on three south-facing terraces of a fold in the hills. At the top is St. Mary’s Church, which contains the tomb of Alice Chaucer, the Granddaughter of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. When she died in 1475, she had become, by marriage, the Duchess of Suffolk. Her husband, the Earl of Suffolk, moved to Ewelme when he married her and built the church, the almshouses and the school. In the churchyard, is the grave of Jerome K. Jerome, the author of, ‘Three Men in a Boat’, who lived in Ewleme in the 1880s. The church was built about 1436 on the site of a previous place of worship. The East Window in St. John the Baptist’s Chapel, is a collection of fragments of medieval glass.
Steps lead from the church to the middle terrace, where the cloistered almshouses face inwards to form a quadrangle. In the middle is a well with a cast iron wheel. The almshouses are occupied by thirteen elderly people, as specified by Henry VI in his foundation deed in 1442. These thirteen were originally restricted to elderly bachelors, who were in reduced circumstances and were allowed to live in the Almshouses, which were known as God’s House. Nowadays, wives and widows are permitted to live in the Almshouses.
On the lower terrace is the school, which is now Ewelme Primary School and is probably the oldest in England, still being in its original building. When it was founded, it was a grammar school, but in the 19th century, it became a primary school. Fords Farm, across the road from Ewelme Primary School, is a working farm, owned by the same family for over one hundred years. It now offers bed and breakfast accommodation, as well as self catering cottages.
The rest of the village consists of cottages from later periods. The Manor House was a country residence for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Henry VIII and Catherine Howard spent their honeymoon there in 1540. Ewelme Village Store, which is in the centre of the village opposite the King’s Pool, is now run by the community. As well as essential groceries, it now provides tea and refreshments. It is in a building that was once a Wesleyan Chapel and contained the Old Post Office until 1998. The Shepherd’s Hut is a traditional village pub, with beams, bare boards and a wood burner. It is popular with local residents, who enjoy good home cooked food. Walkers and dogs are welcome. A garden terrace leads up to a lawn and play area.
A spring rises in the centre of the village and becomes the Ewelme Brook, which flows westward alongside the main street on to Benson, the next village and eventually, to the River Thames. This chalk stream fostered a once thriving watercress industry, but this ceased in 1988. The area, extending to six and a half acres, is now a nature reserve.
Ewelme has been a frequent film location. St. Mary’s Church features in the 2012 film musical, Les Miserables, starring Hugh Jackman. The Almshouses can also been seen in the film. The long running television detective series, Midsomer Murders, has also used Ewelme in several episodes, where it appears as, “Aspern Tallow”.