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Harwell is an ecclesiastical and civil parish in the Vale of the White Horse, about three miles south-west of Didcot, formerly in northern Berkshire, but relocated since 1974 in Oxfordshire. It lies within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Place names from the 1851 census include: Barrow Lane,  Broadway, Bustard Lane containing Crispin Farm, Chetwood Farm, Church Lane, Downs Farm, Folly House, Hall’s Farm, Ham Farm, Harris’ Yard, Hopkins Farm, Hunt’s Yard, King’s Lane, London Road, Mouses Hole, Rowstock Cottage, School Lane, Talbot’s Lane, Twitchers, Vinigar Lane, Wells Head Lane and Farm.


2,521 acres (1,021 hectares)


884 in 1851; 1,998 in 2011



Poor Law union


Registration district


Present-day local authority

Vale of White Horse district, Oxfordshire County Council

Grid reference

SU 49 89

Adjoining parishes in 1851

Chilton, Didcot, East Hagbourne, East Hendred, Milton, Sutton Courtenay

Genealogical resources

Available from BerksFHS Books:
  • Berkshire Baptisms 2nd ed CD covers St Matthew 1687 – 1812
  • Berkshire Marriages 3rd ed CD covers St Matthew 1559 – 1837
  • Berkshire Burials 12th ed CD covers St Matthew 1559 – 1943

See also Berkshire Record Office holdings.


The parish council site has some historical photos.

Published local history

Nick J Hance Harwell from Romans and runways to reactors and research renaissance (Enhance Publishing, 2006)

Anglican church and parochial organisation

Harwell is a vicarage in the diocese of Oxford. The parish church of St Matthew is possibly twelfth-century.

Other churches

A Wesleyan chapel was recorded in 1868.


Provision for a charity school was made in the will of Robert Loder in 1644; 12 poor boys (later increased to 25) were to receive instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic.

A National school existed in (and possibly before) 1868, and was probably the foreunner of today’s primary school.


Harwell used to have five pubs and a brewery. The Crown, enumerated in the 1851 census, was converted to a nursing home. The Chequers, enumerated in 1851, and the Queen’s Arms (which became the Kicking Donkey in the late nineteenth century) have both been converted to private housing. The Crispin has also closed. Only the White Hart, also enumerated in 1851, continues in business as the Hart of Harwell.

Other local history

The Harwell area has long been known for cherry-growing. The Old Cherry Barn is believed to date back to 1200. Cherry Teas were held in the eighteenth century. The former cherry orchards later became owned by Grove Farms.

RAF Harwell was built between Harwell and Chilton In 1937. After the Second World War the RAF station became the home of the Atomic Engergy Research Establishment, researching nuclear power under the aegis of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Later it became known as Harwell Laboratory, and eventually, with the wind-down of nuclear research in the 1980s, the site has become a science and innovation business park, managed by an Australian property company.

Post-war, the local population expanded considerably with the Harwell Laboratory.

Harwell high street was the scene of a disastrous fire in April 1852, in which 55 buildings were destroyed. The event was written up in the Berkshire Chronicle, and in the Illustrated London News, including the illustration below.

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Berkshire Family History Society works to meet the needs of those researching their ancestry across the UK and overseas – as well as those looking for former relatives in historic Berkshire.  You do not need to be a member to benefit.

The society offers:

  • Research Zone in central Reading that is free to use and open to all

  • Free access at The Centre for Heritage and Family History to online resources like FindMyPast, the 1939 Register, The Genealogist, the British Newspaper Archive and Ancestry (the worldwide edition)

  • Regular free help and advice sessions

  • Meetings in Abingdon, BracknellNewbury, Reading, Windsor and Woodley — open to everyone

  • Online discussion list for members  informed answers to research queries and advice from experienced researchers

  • Members’ Area with data and other information not readily accessible elsewhere

  • Indexes and transcriptions of Berkshire’s historic records on CD — parish registers, probate documents, monumental inscriptions, maps, First World War history and more

  • Quarterly magazine, the Berkshire Family Historian, for members

  • a chance to join in project work, recording, transcribing and helping to preserve records

  • Links to the research experience, advice and support of members worldwide

  • Opportunities to volunteer and so help others with their family history