This small market town has associations with three famous men; King Alfred the Great who was born here in 849, the poet John Betjeman who lived here and Robert Loyd Lindsay to whom it gave its name in his title of Lord Wantage.
King Alfred is said to have used the blowingstone now located at the foot of the downs west of Wantage to rally his men for battle against the Danes, perhaps the local one of Ashdown in 871. This sarsen stone studded with holes is situated in a cottage garden at the edge of the village of Kingston Lisle. It is relatively easy to raise a loud noise by blowing in the right hole, but first you have to find that hole!
John Betjeman lived for several years in Wantage and in the two local villages of Uffington and Farnborough where he owned the Old Rectory. On his death his artist friend John Piper designed a glorious stained glass window in Farnborough Church to commemorate the poet.
A famous soldier, in fact the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the Crimean War, Loyd Lindsay was also a founding member of the British Red Cross
Robert Loyd Lindsay, Lord Wantage, is commemorated by a monument on The Ridgeway just east of the B4494 erected after his death in 1901 by his wife on top of a Bronze Age round barrow. A famous soldier, in fact the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the Crimean War, Loyd Lindsay was also a founding member of the British Red Cross and was responsible for erecting the statue to King Alfred in Wantage's Market Place. He built the model farm and village at the base of the downs and is said to have planted the woodland on his large Lockinge Estate in the same formation as that of his troops during one of the battles in the Crimea.
The village of East Ilsley used to be called Market Ilsley because of the importance of its sheep fairs.
The first records of sheep fairs here are from medieval times when in 1620 Sir Francis Moore, the lord of the manor, received a charter to hold a market for sheep and corn.
By the middle of the 18th century some 80 000 sheep could be penned in the village
Once or twice a month on Wednesdays from January to September the village was host to farmers from all over southern England who had driven their animals along The Ridgeway or other drove roads to reach the market. By the middle of the 18th century some 80 000 sheep could be penned in the village during the annual fair, which were larger than the Wednesday markets. At this time there were 13 public houses, three of which remain despite East Ilsley being a small community.
The last great sheep fair was held in 1934, the coming of motorised transport contributed to their decline.