Wednesday 27 February 2019

Village Community in the 1800's

In 1872 the Eton Work Society was also founded under the auspices of the church. It was a bark-back to ideas of earlier centuries whereby materials were bought by the parish and given to the poorer people to work. In Eton, it was to the women that the scheme was aimed. They did needlework during the winter months; they were paid for their labour and the garments were sold at cost price. It was an admirable scheme for the times and reflects the attitude of the clergy and parish workers of 'helping the poor without pauperising them'. Many of the parish poor lived in the 'poor out-district of Eton Wick'.

Earlier in the century, however, ordinary villagers, if not the poorest, had managed their own affairs quite successfully. The Eton Wick Friendly Society had been founded in 1811. It met on the first Monday of each month at the Three Horseshoes. Only those who could maintain themselves and their families could join; the entrance fee was five shillings, and there was a monthly payment of 1s 9d.  Meetings were meant to be an enjoyable occasion and there was an annual feast, but the rules of behaviour were strict. The most important function was as an insurance society. In times of sickness or infirmity a member would receive 10s 6d weekly for six months and then half of this for as long as the sickness lasted. Widows too were helped. Members took it in turns to be stewards and visit ailing members. For at least twelve years the Society prospered, but no records later than 1823 have survived and in all probability it became bankrupt in the lean years which followed.

In 1878 a group of villagers began another enterprise - the Eton Wick Horticultural and 
The Eton Wick Horticultural Show circa 1900
Industrial Exhibition, or Horticultural Society as it was later known. Its first meeting was held in  August that year.  Prizes were given for the usual classes of produce and crafts: fruit, vegetables, flowers, needlework and livestock. There was no doubt about its success, and by the following year it had become a parish affair open to all competitors from the town as well as the village and also Boveney and Dorney. Competitions were now arranged according to the class of the competitor- cottager, allotment holder,   professional and amateur. Special prizes were given by the Temperance Society. It was the highlight of the village year, an event to be looked forward to months ahead and talked about for weeks afterwards. There was no shortage of entries. Rabbits sleek in their cages, and bantams, hens and ducks in their coops formed a double line in one corner of Wheatbutts Field. The smell of hot, freshly cooked potatoes and new bread filled the air, complemented in later years by the sound of Eton Wick's own fife and drum band. Among the prize winners were one or two now very familiar names, such as Bond and Borrett, which make their first entry in the records of the village.

Two other events which caused considerable excitement in 1878 were also reported in the parish magazine, and although the information given is meager, each appears to be the first of its kind in the village. Both took place in July on the common; the first was a political meeting and the second a steam circus. As the century drew to its end several other innovations were taking place in the village. A cricket club was started in 1889 and a football club some time previously. The football team won all its matches in 1885. The old schoolroom became the meeting place of the Eton Wick Working Men's Club, and there was also a Young Men's Club. Treats and concerts were becoming quite usual features of village life. Vans and wagons took the children to Langley Park and another year the Sunday School treat took place on Fellows' Eyot. The Temperance Society visited Cliveden; village parties were held to see in the New Year, and public teas were held in the schoolroom in the summer, followed by entertainment in Mr Nottage's orchard. Christmas 1885 was marked by a magic lantern show at the school. There were many concerts, but one of them merits special mention, for it appears to be one of the earliest known occasions when the village organized a collection to help one of its members. The proceeds were given to the widow of young Arthur Benham who died after catching a chill in the floods, leaving a wife and seven children.

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

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