Thursday 19 March 2015

18th century Eton Wick

18th century Eton Wick should have been a hamlet of little interest with its small farming community inhabiting the ten or so houses, but research by Dr. Judith Hunter and other local authors reveals an Eton and Eton Wick community that stood up for their rights to farm the common land as was their ancient custom. During the 300 years there have been many changes to the village landscape, the two most obvious being the railway viaduct and the Eton relief road. Before the coming of the Windsor Railway line it would have been possible to have an uninterrupted view of Windsor Castle from Dorney Common. 

These open fields and commons and other waste land  provided the small tenant farmers, and cottagers with rented strips of land from the Crown or Lord of the Manor and use of the common land to graze their pig, geese or a cow. During the late 17th and through the  18th century  improvements in animal husbandry and yields from arable crops together with the introduction of horse drawn mechanical machinery gave an impetus to thoughts of land management and enclosure by landlords and  Government. The wish by powerful landlords and others to enclose the land for better farming and greater profit could have led to developments that would have urbanized Eton Wick in the 20th century, but for the opposition at the time of the villagers and the influence of Eton College in the Houses of Parliament.

At the beginning of the century farming provided only a subsidence life for most in the village community but as the century progressed the growing demand from the towns folk of Eton and Windsor, whose craft trades and commercial interest were flourishing, created a market for increased food  supplies. Helping to supply this market through better husbandry, our village farmer and cottager were thus able to improved their own living standard, especially for the more substantial farmer who may have also supplied produce to the London market similar to those Eton craftsmen who were sending footwear, tailoring and other products to the city.

The decision by Henry VI to build Eton College, has over the last six centuries, influenced the lives of those living in Eton and Eton Wick, whether through the purchase of land and property or by the employment of village services and  labour.      

Another influence on life in the village towards the end of the 18th century was the increased number of shops and small craft manufacturers in Eton. These businesses brought new wealth to Eton town over the 18th and 19th centuries which in turn attracted the young from the village to leave the land for reason of family economics and perhaps less arduous toil.

This is an extract from research undertaken by John Denham for at lecture to the WEA at Windsor entitled "18th Century Eton Wick within the environs of Eton."

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