In the mid-16th Century Queen Elizabeth I decreed that districts and property should regularly mark their boundaries. This was already an old custom and this practice survived until the mid-1850s when accurate Ordnance Survey Maps made it unnecessary. This became an annual event and perhaps an excuse to celebrate and feast the occasion.
A procession walked the boundaries on a specific day - usually during Rogation Week (the week before Ascension Day) (Not necessarily at Eton; it being deemed better to celebrate on a day when the college boys were away). This old custom became known as 'Beating the Bounds', and when the perambulations came to a change of direction the spot was appropriately marked, i.e. a cross or cut on a tree. A number of these special occasions have been recorded locally, and are a glimpse into the past. It is tempting to say we will re-enact one of these events, using an old record, but I doubt it would be very possible. Places referred to just 200 years ago have now been built on; privatised; or more commonly, completely changed their name; becoming barely identifiable.
We will take a look at much abbreviated records of 150 — 200 years ago: Parish Officers, Charity Children and inhabitants proceeded from the Weston's Yard (college) to the College Chapel with music and flags flying, where they sang the opening verse of the Morning Hymn before being fed a meal of roast and boiled beef and ale. Then passing through the playing fields, once known as King's Worth or King's Ward, they crossed Sheeps Bridge with the Thames on their right and where for 300 years until 1840, had stood a coal and timber wharf known as 'Leadbeaters' Wharf. Taking a track left they passed to the left of Shooting Fields, now known as Upper Club. Crossing the Slough Road, they came into Stonebridge Mead which was in earlier times three properties. One of the three holdings was owned by the Eton Parsonage; as such free of tithes — and known as Parson's Bush. Nearer Colenorton Brook was Pocock's Field and by crossing a foot bridge to the left they passed through 'Timbershaws' later known as The Timbralls and to the College lads 'sixpenny'. They then entered Common Lane and passed through Colenorton Close (not to be confused with the villages' Colenorton Crescent of 20th Century) thus entering the Eton end of Long or Great Common. A path led the procession over Colenorton Brook; near the Pumping Station of later years; under the rail viaduct and into Rossey's Piece. The long, narrow field immediately north of Colenorton Brook is Inner Meads.
On the right of the farm track and onto Chalvey lie Broad Mead, Broad Masses or Broad Moors, a place one time famed for its cowslips (not so in my own childhood, but certainly we always gathered blue cornflowers and white dog daisies from here).
Nearer Eton Wick they came to Northfields, and here were three little areas named Little Bush Close, Bushy Close and Long Close. At the end of this track it joins Little Common Road. Here they came to Saddocks and Manor Farms. On the Little Common stood two or three small tiled cottages. Not always tiled because under the tiles were tell-tale poles, once used for thatched roofing. Behind these cottages they came to Great Park Close later to become the Eton Sewage Farm. Then they came to Bell Farm with nearby land known as the Hyde or Great Hyde. The procession constantly marking the route of the boundary.
From the farm they went through the water of Old Ditch, cutting yet another mark before turning right into Upper Bell Lane. Cottages stood at the bottom of the lane and the boundary actually passes through one of them. The record states the procession went through the house of William Lanfear and nailed a boundary mark at the door before proceeding north up Bell Lane to the junction with Tilstone Lane (the early name for Eton Wick Road from this junction). Old maps show this as 'Tilstone Gate', so we are left to presume the road was gated. Crossing the road at the place of today's Village Hall they followed the long hedge situated behind the hall to the far corner of today's Recreation Ground where again they cut their mark before following the Boveney Ditch to Boveney Bridge (Iron Bridge) and then kept to the river bank to Bargeman's Bridge (Chinese Bridge). Crossing and marking the bridge they came to Farm Ayte and continuing they turned by the side of the creek on the left of Dabchick Ayte, leaving a small planting of withy in the Parish of Clewer etc. — the procession continued as it wended its way via Brocas to Eton.
Origins and place names have often changed. There was Gudgeon Pool which was the field of today between the 'Car Wash' business at Crown Farm and the main road. Today the old college Sanatorium is known at `Sandles' but Sandles was the name of the field across the road from the Sanatorium. Behind is the fairly recent estate of 'Stonebridge'; but originally Stonebridge was 300 to 400 yards north of the estate and across the Long or Great Common.
Just two very confusing place name changes. Old maps show varying names for some places. Sheepcote is often referred to as Great Sheep Croft or Sheep Gate, and opposite the school was Crab Tree Close. The Walk is said to have got its name before the road existed. There were no houses lining a road in the early 19th century, and the Greyhound pub was owned by a Mr Deverill. Customers on the main road made a well-trod path across the land (now The Walk) to get a drink. This reputedly became known as 'Deverill's Walk'. Eighty years later the road was privately established and maintained by the tenants.
Dare I wander over the Boveney boundary as far as the Boveney Lock? It intrigued me why an old and lone house stood on the Windsor (racecourse) bank only a few yards downstream of the weir. Its ruins can just be seen amid trees opposite the lock sanitation station. Probably it has not been occupied since WWII. Not the house but its name was intriguing. The name was 'Poison Ducks'. For years as I walked the Thames footpath I searched my mind for this odd name for the old house. Eventually I think I solved the riddle. There was no lock at Boveney before 1838, just the island or Ayte for the lock to take over. River traffic used the wider reach of water now occupied by the weir. The narrow stretch of water now used by the lock was occupied by a Mr Gills using large wicker fish and eel traps to glean a living. Those traps were known as bucks. Their proximity to the 'Poison Ducks' house, which may well have been Mr Gills home, is I believe the answer to my problem. With a play of letters an 's' to poison becomes poisson — French for fish. Change the 'B' of bucks to a 'D' and we have ducks. We can but wonder how many place names are the work of humourists.
Lastly, I once asked a villager how his home in Sheepcote came to be named 'BYJIA'. His reply was "B"""r You Jack, I'm Alright".
Submitted by Frank Bond
This article was originally published in the Eton Wick Newsletter - Our Village as is republished with the kind permission of the Eton Wick Village Hall Committee. Click here to go to the Collection page.