Monday 27 January 2020

The Story of a Village - World War Two and After

With the war came other changes and new kinds of hardship - air raids, the blackout, rationing, gas masks and men away fighting. Women were drafted into factory work and homes and family life adjusted as evacuees from London were made welcome. The Village Hall was used as a school room for the evacuated children and equipped for use as a First Aid Post and Rest Centre. The Minute Books of the Institute tell of whist drives and dances organised as part of the war effort, especially during ‘Wings for Victory Week’ in 1942 and 'Salute the Soldier' Week the following year. Occasionally the Hall was used for billeting soldiers and, as in every other town and village, uniforms became part of the pattern of life. A gun site was established on Dorney Common close to Eton Wick and the noise shattered many a night's sleep. Eton Wick was lucky, however; a few bombs did fall on the village, but did very little damage, and the explosion which set a field alight seemed quite spectacular at the time. Men on active service were not so lucky; twelve lost their lives as the War Memorial at the church bears witness.

The story of Eton Wick during the war is not much different from that of any English village, but the 1940s mark a watershed in the history of Eton Wick. Change has always been taking place, albeit at times almost imperceptibly; but at this time the changes were to be great and far-reaching. Within a decade of the end of the war the long straggling rural village with its close-knit community had disappeared; its place taken by a larger dormitory village, top heavy with council houses.

The first new houses built were twelve 'prefabs' on part of Bell's Field. They were meant to be temporary, but instead provided good if not beautiful homes for more than twenty years. They were built towards the end of the war, and the first post war houses completed the development of the Bell's Field Site; the pale pink colour of the bricks is a constant reminder of the shortage of good facing-bricks at this time. A year or so later Tilston Field (north of the Eton Wick Road) was bought from Eton College for the first housing estate in the village itself. Great care was taken over the design of the housing and roads; trees, shrub borders and a small recreation ground were included to improve the amenities of the estate. Five fine police houses were built fronting the main road, and the Council were proud enough of the scheme to enter the completed half of the estate for the Ministry of Health Housing Medal in 1951. In the following year Prince Philip officially opened the estate at a small informal ceremony. Meux's Field was also bought by the Council and here were laid out Princes Close and a shopping parade, making altogether over two hundred houses and seven shops.

The main road from Moores Lane to Dorney Common was considerably widened and a shrub border planted in front of the estate and, as if to mark the change in appearance, its name was changed from Tilston Lane to Eton Wick Road. There was a zest for rebuilding and not only in bricks and mortar. Many of the clubs which had sunk into the doldrums during the war were revived and new ones founded. The first of these was probably the Youth Club which was started in 1946, followed by the Over Sixties Club in 1947 and a few years later the Parent Teacher Association, the Unity Players and the Young Wives. The Village Hall was still the centre of much of the social life of the Wick and great efforts were made to put it on a sound footing after the war. In 1950 it was redecorated by voluntary help, electricity was installed and in the following year it was enlarged by the addition of a covered forecourt. Two issues of a magazine called ' Our Village ' were published by the Institute as it was still sometimes called, and for several years from 1950 a Village Hall Week was held in the early part of the year. Village football became so popular that a Minors' Club was formed. When this proved very successful a second team of young men too old to stay in the minors' team had to be started. Eventually the club was renamed the Eton Wick Athletic Club and there was even more cause for 'Up the Wick' to be heard each Saturday.

The village was still growing; in the mid- and late 1950s private housing completed the redevelopment of the Wick west of Bell Lane with the laying out of Cornwall Close, Queens Road, Tilstone Close and the northern extension of Bell Lane. There was very little other building land available; the confirmation of the rules and regulations of the commons and lammas lands at the Manor Court held in College Hall at Eton in 1948 made it impossible to use these lands. Instead a compromise was agreed; lammas rights were not extinguished but transferred from land needed for redevelopment to parts of Bell Farm, which had been freed from rights when it became a sewage farm. In this way part of South Field was used to build Hayward's Mead estate early in the 1960s, and part of Sheepcote Field for the flats next to the school some years later. These were both council schemes, but the latter was part of a redevelopment plan for the village which included the demolition of the 'prefabs' and neighbouring houses in Alma Road and replacing them by Bell's Field Court and a row of shops. Castle View Terrace in Sheepcote Road and some of the Clifton Cottages were also pulled down to make way for the dark bricks of the private 'Georgian' style houses, while Sheepcote Road itself was given a new curving line. A few years earlier the Victorian houses of Albert Place and Victoria Terrace had been demolished and new houses and flats built in their place. A few houses have been built behind Bell Farm and the old people's flats of Clifton Lodge now star on the site of Hardings Cottages. Finally - and surely it must be finally for there is now almost no land left that can be built upon without infringing the common rights - Bunces Close has been built on land freed from lammas rights when South View was planned soon after the First World War. 

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

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