History on the Emm Brook

The history of Dinton Pastures Country Park

Ancient past, Domesday

The area of land we currently know as Dinton Pastures can be traced back as far as the Domesday Book of 1086. Back then, the Dinton boundaries more or less fell into the region known as Whistley, one of the four liberties (districts) of the parish of Hurst. These two names give us the first clues as to what the land was like back then as the physical appearance was reflected in the names of places in the locality. Hurst was simply the old English for wooded hill, while Whistley, we assume derives from the Anglo-Saxon 'lei' which generally denotes a clearing of woodland for settlement, and 'wisc', which means marshy meadow.

Whistley Manor

Records show that an ancient manor house, surprisingly named the Manor House of Whistley, existed to the north of what is now Lavell's Lake. This formed the focus for what was then a thriving area of agriculture, fishing, timber and basket making. Little remains to show this was an active area though as the house was pulled down in the middle of the nineteenth century. Although active, much of the wealth generated from this busy community was paid directly to the church, and more specifically the Abbot of Abingdon, to whom the land was granted in 978, and with whom it remained until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. After this, because the land was part of the Windsor Forest until 1700, the King retained rights of ownership. Little else is recorded about Whistley Manor until Henry VIII gave it to Richard Ward of Waltham St. Lawrence. It then changed hands many times over the centuries as fortunes were made and lost, until it was sadly demolished in the middle of the nineteenth century. Now gravel workings have removed any trace of the past.


Sandford Mill is another building connected to Dinton Pastures which dates back many years. It appears on John Norden's 1609 map of the area next to the Emm Brook, but can now be found on the River Loddon. As no records exist of the mill moving, this is probably just an inaccurate recording. During the Civil War of the 1640's the mill was sacked and burned for supplying corn to the Royalists. The mill that we see today was built later, in 1772 and a keystone bearing this date can still be seen today, on the bridge next to the mill. In fact, this bridge was used in the late eighteenth century to collect tolls from those crossing the River Loddon. The mill, which was still used, for at least very basic milling, until the 1950s, has changed ownership numerous times over the years and has now been refurbished into a pleasant private residence. Unfortunately the mill is no longer working, as severe erosion of the banks in the late 1950's was considered too costly to repair. A much cheaper option was chosen instead, which involved filling in the channels leading to the water wheels.

High Chimneys

The other major building bordering Dinton Pastures is High Chimneys, a manor house built in the early seventeenth century by Galen Cope, whose initials can still bee seen in one of the bricks today. You can still see the house nowadays, by the side of Dinton's main driveway. The land around has been farmed by various tenants over the years, but it was not until 1904 that High Chimney's dairy farm (now the Country Park café & office) was built. This marked the increased popularity and profitability of dairy farming at the turn of the century. In later years piggeries, poultry houses and stabling were added as the farm diversified. Dairy farming remained the principal activity however as this extract from a catalogue of sale shows 'a first-class dairy farm and gentleman's residence'. In 1924 it was sold to a farmer who re-named it after his home village of Dinton, near Aylesbury. Sheep and cattle were kept on the farm and the Emmbrook and Loddon rooms were originally cow sheds built in the 1920s. The large concrete floors in the large barn still have the indentations in them where the cows once stood for milking.


As long ago as the 19th century, gravel had been extracted from an area near the eastern boundary of Dinton Pastures, by Sandford Lane, to keep local roads repaired. Later, in the mid 1960's, a local contractor started taking gravel from the area which is now White Swan Lake. The Berkshire County policy at the time was not to open up new gravel pits. Due to the potential recreational value of the site, as a public lake, Berkshire County Council accepted the application, with the condition that the site was left in a state which would 'help with the evolution of a valley park' in the Loddon Valley area. This stopped in 1969 when Berkshire County Council bought the land for gravel, to be used in the construction of the A329 (M). Apparently 10km - just under 6.5 miles - of motorway requires 1 million tonnes. Further extractions were made in 1970, to be used for the building of the Reading to Theale sections of the M4. Permission for the digging was only given on condition that the area would be re-landscaped once all the gravel had been removed. Dinton was clear of gravel workings by 1976. Major Oldfield, the then owner of the site, had some topsoil dumped in the south east corner of the site to form a golf course and stocked, what was now White Swan Lake with fish, to encourage leisure on the site. In 1978 Major Oldfield sold the site to Wokingham Borough Council and the Countryside Commission, who had plans to "create a natural, quiet open space area for the district".

Dinton now

Dinton has changed a lot in the 40 odd years since it was first opened as a country park. In that time the park has gone from strength to strength and now receives about half a million visitors a year. The site plays a vital role in the Countryside Services efforts of promoting the awareness and enjoyment of the countryside in the Wokingham borough.

Creating Dinton

Before extraction could start, the contractors had to divert a river tributary of the River Loddon, the Emm Brook, which ran through the extraction site. The original course can still be seen in the islands that were left in Black Swan Lake, but the Emm Brook itself now flows to the side of the extraction area, between Black Swan Lake and the golf course. Another condition imposed on the gravel companies was that no trees were to be felled, except with permission, to both benefit wildlife and to ensure some remnants of the past remained.


Guidelines for development of the land had emerged from two reports published in 1971; the Haywood report, commissioned by Berkshire County Council and the Woodley and Earley Society Report, based on a local survey. These advised that the use of the land should "meet the needs of the majority of the district's population". A wide range of recreational facilities should be provided, but should take into consideration other facilities in the Wokingham borough. Specialist interests should be catered for, provided that public access was not restricted. With any development, the visual amenities (landscape value) of the district should be improved, along with the conservation of flora and fauna. With any plans, it was felt that an element of flexibility should be included, to allow for changes in recreational demands. The commitment to these guidelines, by Berkshire County Council, was tested in 1973 when Major Oldfield, the then owner of the Black Swan part of Dinton, put forward a proposal for developing a private Country Park on the land he owned. These included plans for a golf course, ski slopes and toboggan run, craft centre, squash court and sailing club. Berkshire County Council rejected this proposal, as it would have limited public access to the site. It was also felt that much more would be gained from the development of the Dinton Pastures site as a whole, under one public ownership, rather than lots of small private developments.

Wokingham Borough Council

In 1974, the newly formed Wokingham Borough Council took responsibility for the area, and started planning land use at Dinton Pastures.

A park is born

In 1978 Wokingham Borough Council finally completed the purchase of the 230 site for £150,000, that's nearly half a million pounds in today's money, and began development. Dinton Pastures Country Park was opened to the public in 1979 after 14 years of gravel extraction on a site A country park manager was appointed and work started on tree planting, trail laying, access roads, car parking, fencing, and building of toilet facilities. Previous to gravel extraction the site belonged to High Chimneys Farm. The farmhouse, which is now the Cafe building was built in 1904. In 1924 it was sold to a farmer who re-named it after his home village of Dinton, near Aylesbury. Sheep and cattle were kept on the farm and the Emmbrook and Loddon rooms were originally cow sheds built in the 1920s. The large concrete floors in the large barn still have the indentations in them where the cows once stood for milking. To find more about the history of the Emm Brook. Click on any of the navigation tabs above.

New facts about the Emm and its environs are always coming to light. If you have any old photos or information, please do not hesitate to contact us.