Monday, 19 October 2015


A few years ago, in the course of researching a subject, a member of the Eton Wick History Group asked an Eton College Secretary what difference the College had had on the village. The reply was "None, the College has never tried to influence the village". That may well be, but having an influence and setting out to influence are two very different things. I grew up in Eton Wick during the 1920's and 30's. Like the other lads in the village, this necessitated walking through the College to the Eton Porny School in the middle of the High Street. All boys between the ages of 7 and 14 years went to Eton Porny School unless they had qualified for the Slough Grammar School or the Eton College Choir School. Most of us walked the distance of a little over one mile, three times a day. There were no school meals and we were given the one penny bus fare to get us home for dinner - we walked back and, of course, home again at 4 o'clock.

There were many large families of six or more children - in our family eight - and it seemed perfectly natural that girls when 14 years old - school leavers, should be sent into service at the College where they were required to 'live in'. In my case, I and four younger brothers were all still attending school while three older sisters and an unmarried Aunt provided our living space by working in the College. Their conditions would seem intolerable by today's measure but were certainly not unusual terms of employment at that time. In 1927 my older sister went into College service at the age of 14 years. The days started at 6 a.m. and ended at 9.30 p.m. There was no full day off duty during the school term, but once a week she was off duty between 2.30 p.m. and 10 p.m., by which time she had to be in the house again. She was off duty alternate Sundays between 2.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. The salary was £13 p.a., approximately 36p a week in present day terms. She was required to provide her own uniform of black frock with white collar and cuffs, black stockings and shoes, and a white can. When out of the College houses, servants were always obliged to wear stockings and if walking beyond the point known as the 'Burning Bush' to always wear a hat. Servants were not permitted to acknowledge the boys in the street who they daily waited upon at table.

The living space though was not our only benefit. We never wanted for cricket bats, pads, gloves, balls and even the occasional rugby ball. We also had elastic propelled planes, books in abundance and foreign stamps; these were all thrown away by the College boys as were their coloured house caps and other garments. Most local lads derived benefits in these forms, and although the pads were not always a pair, and the bats were often in need of binding, it was all of a quality that we would not otherwise have acquired. I well remember receiving a book of British Wild Birds in my Christmas stocking, and it mattered not that I guessed Santa had influence in the College. Families in Eton and Eton Wick often purchased dripping from the cooks at about fourpence a basin; this seemed a permissible perk, but it probably stopped at that for I do not remember other food handouts.

Eton Wick has always been a working class village having no big houses or a village squire to give
financial support to deserving causes; however, there was one such person in the past - Edward L. Vaughan. He generously provided a superb Village Hall with the land, promoted the early Eton Wick and Boveney Scout movement, financially supported football and cricket, the Church, the Sunday School and it outings, the Horticultural Society and some of its awards, and much more besides. Mr Vaughan, 'Toddy' as he was well known, died over 50 years ago, but for another 50 years previously he had inspired the village and left it a better place. This article is not about Eton College, but I would never agree that the village, a mile west, has not been influenced by it in these and many other ways.

Eton and Eton Wick are believed to predate the College by several hundred years. Their place names are Saxon in origin and believed to refer to the proximity of the river and its many streams creating an eyot, or island, upon which the inhabitants set up dwellings. Eton Wick is low, and being so close to the Thames very floodable throughout its history. Early settlers would obviously have built upon the marginally higher ground on the north of a stream running through the old village from west to east, and in fact farms and farm buildings still do occupy those drier positions. 

Manor Farm, together with the manor was purchased by John Penn in 1793. About this time the Crown Commissioners, also appreciable land owners, had thoughts concerning the enclosure of the Common and Lammas lands to the east and north of Eton Wick. Penn endeavoured to push an Enclosure Bill through Parliament which would, had it succeeded, left us with a very different village today. Fortunately, the Bill was defeated in 1823, and there was much celebration in Eton and Eton Wick. Nearly 200 local people had signed or marked the petition opposing the enclosure of their common usage grazing lands. Perhaps nothing is exclusively advantageous, and certainly Eton Wick now found it difficult to grow. The Commons and extensive Lammas lands could not be built upon unless there was unanimous agreement or a Parliamentary Bill, and west of the village boundary was the Parish of Burnham, which few probably thought to build upon. 

For four decades after the defeat of Penn's Bill additional homes were added by the purchase of large garden plots and houses - often terraced - were squeezed into the available space. Then, during the early 1880's, farmland to the west of Eton Wick, and in the Parish of Burnham was bought by a Mr Ayes who sold the plots, laid out roads and by the turn of the century the village had doubled its size and population.

Strictly speaking, perhaps one should say 'villages' because this growth beyond the old village boundary of Bell Lane was now to be known as 'Boveney Newtown'; it was to have its own Council and in many ways to be independent of Eton Wick. The first years of 'Newtown' as it was generally known, caused its residents to look to distant Burnham for spiritual guidance or to support their own Primitive Methodist Chapel being built. In 1892 Boveney Newtown came under the Vicar of Eton, and by special arrangement residents could now be buried in Eton Wick - not yet though would the two communities be regarded as one. 

In 1907 the great village benefactor, Edward L Vaughan, gave the land and Institute which being sited close to the border of the two communities was very appropriately named 'The Eton Wick and Boveney Institute' (now the Village Hall) - likewise the Scouts, with other organisations, and the War Memorial etc; all named themselves 'Eton Wick and Boveney'. This is no longer necessary as for over 60 years we have been one village in the same parish. Only in historic matters is there a division which occasionally one complains about. No householder west of Bell Lane (Boveney Newtown) receives any benefit from old Eton Charities, and of course really has no benefit of grazing rights on Lammas lands or Commons. This is of no consequence, however, as the days of rights and obligations associated with the said lands have for most practical purposes gone.  

People moving into Eton Wick often do so because they feel surrounded by fields and commons, and have the Thames within five minutes walk yet are still able to reach towns quickly. Without the Commons and Lammas lands so jealously guarded by earlier generations, we may perhaps be another part of Greater Slough. Other villages such as Cippenham, Chalvey, Farnham and Upton, have all lost their rural identity.

The growth of Eton Wick into Boveney Newtown, and beyond, has almost reached its limit of expansion. After World War II hundreds of houses and new streets brought many new villagers. To a large extent this was a shift of population within the Eton Parish, as many of Eton's own residents were moved into the village. Interestingly, if we look at the population nationwide in 1842 it was 5 million and is now tenfold. Reading was 19,000 and 150,000, London 1.5 million now 7.5 million; Bristol 65,000 now 440,000 - we could go on, but Eton was 3,409 and is still perhaps less than 4,000. The farms have unfortunately largely declined, and the few village ponds have vanished but there is still a feeling of being a 'Wicker' -one is still a villager!

This article was prepared by Frank Bond and presented to an Eton Wick History Group meeting in 1994.

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