Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Our Village April 2013 - The way things were - The Village Grows


I am sure that some readers of the previous magazine were surprised to learn that just 50 - 60 years ago so many pigs were living among the homes of Common Road and of course in other parts of our village. This gives cause to reflect on what was here years ago. My memory may cover the last 80 years, but only hearsay and records can go further back. Of the latter there is scant to call on, other than Dr. Judith Hunter's book of 1977 on Eton Wick. I know of no other book of any era exclusively on Eton Wick's general history. It is said that with its Anglo Saxon name it probably pre dates Eton College (1440) by several hundred years, albeit perhaps no more than a supplier of fuel, thatch and food to the place of Eton, itself not the town that we understand today. Only 150 years ago the small village had no church, no public buildings and a small school of little more than two decades old. There was no drainage, piped water, and of course no gas or electricity. Some lucky homes had a pump in the garden, which was probably shared, and wood fires, candle and oil lamps were the norm. Perhaps of small wonder that the population of around 300 justified four pubs, where at least a roaring log fire and company were great attractions. Of all the pub names surely there was a need for a 'Linger longer Inn.

If we look at village geographic changes of that last 150 years we must remember that Eton Wick's west boundary was at Bell Lane; originally a farm track linking Bell Farm to the rutted, muddy track (allegedly an old Kings Highway, still in situ), with Eton's Brocas Street, Windsor, and the river ferries. I can think of no buildings along the north side of Eton Wick Road that would have existed 150 years ago; between the Slads and Cattle Pound and Sheepcote Road, apart from perhaps the College Sanatorium (1844) and small cottages behind it.

Eton Wick Church had not been built (three years to go), the rail viaduct was little more than ten years old, and built of wood. Three farm houses would have been visible, but were at least 120 metres away, and bordered the Great Common. Incidentally the site of the Sanatorium (now The Sandles) was considered for an Eton workhouse for the homeless in 1834, but the project was dropped in favour of a larger workhouse in Slough (Upton Hospital today).

During the 1880 - 90s era the Temperance Guild was very influential in its aim to combat the effect of alcohol and to hopefully engage the men in worthwhile pursuits. Locally they probably brought about the first allotments in I believe 1894. (Dr. Judith Hunter suggests a year or two earlier). These were on a three acre plot, opposite the Old Parsonage. (These allotments closed in 1994 when the lease expired.) More allotments soon followed. A large site covered what is now Hayward's Mead and extended to the St. Gilberts RC Church. More allotments were created on a strip of Sheepcote Field between the school and Common Road. The Haywards Mead estate ends abruptly opposite Vine Cottage. The Council of the day - Eton Urban - would have liked Hayward Mead to extend further east, but it was not possible to release the Green Belt land, as others have found out since. Incidentally, the land opposite Vine Cottage was worked by my father during the Great War, and had German POW's providing the labour. I often wish I had got more details from Dad, but we all say this when it is too late.
During the 1930s the land now occupied by the Scout Movement was used as a camp site. Perhaps never more than six to ten tents, mostly at weekends, but surely an attractive place for Londoners and others. Unfortunately the campers needed to use one of the two paths through the allotments to the village shops and pubs, and they were frequently blamed for produce being stolen from the vegetable plots. 150 years ago the village itself was very different. Along the main road we had the Old Parsonage (then a large residential home with no church connections); a small school (1840) at the main road/Walk Road junction; The Grapes public house (now Silk Route Chinese restaurant), a terrace row of ten small houses (Prospect Place) and 'The Three Horseshoes' pub. Between these sparse dwellings, apart from the two end houses of Prospect Place, which had two rooms up and two down, I understand the other eight of that row had only one up and one down. The toilet blocks were probably 20 yards behind the houses and were shared. 

Originally built as farm cottages, they were occupied into the 1930s. The land between the spaced out houses would have been the long gardens of the homes along Common Road. Having been accustomed to very long plots by todays' standards, residents would have felt the need for an allotment when their land was sold for the main road development of St. Leonards Place, Harding Cottages (now the site of Clifton Lodge), Vine Cottages, Ada Cottage, Bonaccord Cottages (originally Tarrant Cottages), Clyde Place, Welman Cottages, and Palmer Place. In the fullness of time the house names became superfluous, being replaced by street numbers. Grazing cattle on common lands were controlled not by the owner but by an appointed 'Hayward'. The local Hayward had a plot for his own use as part of his 'perks' and this was by, or part of, Church Meadow, Eton. He may have had a plot in the village also, but certainly this is where the name of Hayward Mead is derived from. 

Our area is rich with gravel which is only a few inches below the surface. When this hard core was needed for farm tracks, or perhaps foundations, it was simply dug out and utilised. The consequent pits were then used as rubbish tips, there being no rubbish collections in the years the village had its own Council (1894 — 1934) intent on controlling a very low rate. One such tip was opposite St. John the Baptist Church and was much used by the village school for its empty pottery ink bottles, old slates etc., There were at least five such 'tips' in my childhood, much to the delight of scavenging boys. Perhaps the other very rural appearance of our village was the trees. 

Predominantly elms, there were a few oaks and an occasional ash. They must be a feature of all old Eton Wick village photos with many along the south side of the Great Common and probably as many as 20 round Wheatbutts Field — now an estate. It is only 40 years since most of these succumbed to Dutch Elm disease, although some with their roots in flood water (1947) blew down in a strong wind.

In my next article I hope to write about the Boveney end of the village — west of Bell Lane, which for so long seemed independent of the old village. When Eton Wick had its own Council (1894 — 1934) Boveney Newtown also had its own Council. This tended to polarise the communities. 

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.

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