Saturday, 17 December 2016

Eton Wick in the 19th Century: The Village Grows

One of the most important features of the nineteenth century was the tremendous rise in the population and the growth of the towns and villages; Eton Wick was no exception.  It was by no means a constant or steady increase, nor was this to be expected but, crowding apart, it was the decades when the village saw an increase in the number of houses that also saw a rise in the village population. However, there was very little building land available; the jealously guarded Lammas rights saw to that. The alternatives were to divide the land already used for housing by either squeezing houses in between the older ones, or by shortening the gardens and building on them, or to dig up the orchard and meadow still within the village area. Of course, the reasons why any one of these things happened depended on the wishes, interests and, perhaps, the business sense of the individual owners of the land as well as the pressing need for houses.

The years after the Napoleonic wars were lean years, slump years when over the country as a whole there was a dearth in the building of cottages. Many were allowed to fall into ruin and people who had to make the best of such homes suffered.  Yet in Eton Wick at least seventeen houses had been built before the end of the 1820s. By 1841 when the first house-to-house census was taken, there were sixty-two houses, three times the number at the beginning of the century. Several were built by the owner-farmer of Bell Farm, John Atkins, such as Bell Farm Cottages, Prospect Place which used to stand between the Three Horseshoes and the Grapes, and the oldest of the Clifton Cottages opposite the Greyhound.  Others were built by Eton townsfolk who owned land in the village - Hardings Cottages which were demolished to make way for Clifton Lodge old people's flats and the Parsonage.

Most of these were rented working class cottages - the earliest were built of red bricks with peg-tile roofs, but as the century progressed yellow bricks and purple slates became ubiquitous. They were very plain houses with either one room up and one down, or more usually two; each house had a garden, though it was smaller than those of earlier centuries.  This is the housing that has mostly been demolished since the war - perhaps rightly so, for by today's standards it had many defects. Yet in its time it was very good accommodation, comparing princely with the back-to-back houses and cellar homes of so many industrial towns, or the one-room hovels of many country villages.  Several of the houses had wells and others pumps, though no doubt the brook was still used for water. Cottages were expected to share facilities as is clearly shown in a deed of 1833 which specifies the rights of the occupiers of the ten cottages making up Prospect Place to use the one well, one pump and one privy.'  

Two houses did not fit into this general pattern. One was the large six bedroomed house, built 1826 as a gentleman's residence, 'convenient to Windsor and Eton and with a very pleasant view of the Castle'. Today this is the Parsonage; but if it was built as a speculative venture, which seems possible from the advertisement in the contemporary 'Windsor and Eton Express', it does not seem to have been successful, for within a decade the house had been divided to form three dwellings. The other was Thatch Cottage, built in 1833 by Isaac Deverell for his own use. It had quite a large garden and a shed probably used as a cow stall for he was a cowkeeper.

This is an extract from The Story of a Village: Eton Wick 1217 to 1977 by Judith Hunter

The Eton Wick census record for 1841 can be found in this article 

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