Wednesday 27 June 2018


Palmer Place
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 in 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 it if it was built as a speculative venture, which seems possible from the advertisement in the contemporary 'Windsor and Eton 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 Deverill for his own use. It had quite a large garden and a shed probably used as a cowstall for he was a cowkeeper. 

From 1841 to the end of the century the census records give the figures for the number of people and houses in the village. They show that from 1851 to 1860 the population of Eton Wick rose by forty percent and the number of houses in proportion. In the next ten years, there was a further seventeen percent increase. Dry statistics perhaps; but at the time the people must have wondered what the village was coming to and regretted the change, just as they have done several times since when the village they remembered was fast disappearing. By 1881 the number of people living in this part of the village was at its highest until after the Second World War. 

The village, however, had not yet spread beyond the confines of the old area; instead, almost all the houses were squeezed into the village area or near the farms. Gardens became much smaller; few were now big enough to keep a pig and chickens or even a cow. Henry Palmer of Dorney Court bought much of the gardens belonging to Hope Cottage and built the six houses of Palmer Place on the land. Ye Olde Cottage lost its garden too for the building of Clyde Place, Bonacourt Cottages and Ada Cottage. Even the gardens of Prospect Place became much smaller when Albert Place and Victoria Terrace were built along the edge of the common and Vine Cottage next to the Three Horseshoes. No longer could the common be thought of as the centre of the village, for the Eton Wick Road was clearly more important. 

The houses were very much alike in plan and again plainly styled in yellow bricks, similar to those built earlier in the century and many thousands in other towns and villages. They differed, however, from the much older houses of the village in many ways apart from their outward appearance. Each room had its tiny grate which little resembled the great hearths of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made to burn large logs and to heat a bread oven built alongside. These small grates were made of iron and burnt coal, though it is unlikely that any besides that in the kitchen was used regularly. Coal was far too expensive. A few lucky housewives now had the luxury of a wash-house with a built-in copper. In themselves, such outhouses were not new in Victorian times, but never before had they been such a feature of terrace houses or designed specifically for the onerous chore of washing. For village housewives, they were indeed a great boon, comparable to the introduction of spin driers a century later. 

Victorian Copper
Victorian Grate

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

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