I went to a talk at the Vale and Downland Museum a few weeks ago about ‘Black Wantage’.
Black Wantage is a term which some historians use to describe Wantage in the early 1800s when it was in a neglected and really discreditable state.
There were numerous public-houses and the excessive supply of beer was the cause of much drunkenness, and scarcely a night passed without brawling and other disorderly scenes.
According to our speaker, this was a period when no one in authority cared what happened in the town.
In 1828 an Act of Parliament was granted to the town, entitled "An Act for the better Lighting, Watching, Cleansing, Paving and otherwise improving the town of Wantage."
Yet it took at least a decade after that before any changes were actually made and better lighting and policing came into effect.
I think the term to be used to describe Wantage in the early 2000’s is ‘Forgotten Wantage’.
We may not have the amount of lawlessness which happened here two centuries ago but we could definitely do with improving.
In 2014 Wantage won the Great British High Street Award.
The judges were impressed with the strength of local partnership working resulting in the complete transformation of the town centre.
I’m not sure they would be impressed if they came back to the town now with our Market Place dominated by charity shops, barbers and takeaways.
Belper in Derbyshire won the Market Town Award in the same year and the comment from the judges was that they had demonstrated how much more can be done to transform an outwardly successful town centre into a go-to destination for locals and visitors alike. They won the award again in 2020.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something like that could be said about Wantage?
The only things that the County Council have done recently are to transfer parking enforcement from the Police (for whom it wasn’t a priority) to themselves (for whom Wantage isn’t a priority).
The only things the District Council has done for us recently are to reduce free parking from two hours to one hour and install EV parking points in the Beacon car park.
The only things that the Town Council has done are to encourage more stalls in the town markets and temporarily pedestrianise part of the Market Place.