Past and present changes
Often it is said that nothing changes in our village. Not an accurate remark though, as changes are inevitable; be they socially, materially, or even the boundaries. At least three times in my lifetime our boundaries have changed, and so has our local authorities, and even the counties. For forty years before 1934 the two areas now comprising Eton Wick each had its own five person parish council. In 1934 both became part of the Eton Urban District Council until forty years later in 1974 all became part of the Royal Borough Authority. At this stage we were assured that in no way would we be worse off, but to use an old saying 'you can tell that to the marines'.
In remembering the three authorities, I preferred the Eton Urban District Council. The two earlier parish councils had very small rate income which was very limiting and did not extend to rubbish collection, street lighting etc. There were two street lamps along the village between the Church and Institute (now the Village Hall) and this was increased to today's twelve. There are in fact over sixty in old Eton Wick today between Church and Hall, but this includes Hayward Mead, Wheatbutts, Common Road and Sheepcote. Probably for centuries the Thames had been the boundary of Berks and Bucks, but in 1974 even this was changed. I always thought that mid river was the boundary until I read a Thames book stating the boundary was the downstream left bank (north). The author then said that the Eton College swimming place of 'Athens' was originally an island mound surrounded by the Thames waters and was effectively a little piece of Bucks in Berks. A humorous observation that we may extend to Cuckoo Weir (mapped as Great and Inner Wards) and we know as Clewer Point.
Now of course all is in Berks. Water courses were good boundaries which defied encroachment. To our north the Chalvey Brook marks the Eton/Chalvey boundary, and to our west is Round moor Ditch and the Boveney Ditch which also are boundary lines with Dorney and Boveney. Unlike the early 1920s the east boundary was at Folly Bridge (sleds) then soon after the Great War of 1914-1918 Eton needed to find land for more homes; The Eton Wick Parish Council agreed to moving the boundary west to Broken Furlong; which allowed the town to develop the housing and road of 'Somerville' within their new Eton boundary. Today the boarder is further west, by the Relief Road (now called Royal Windsor Way). This is not so relevant though, as now we are of one authority. A more recent change is nearby at Sandles; the old College sanatorium. When the Relief Road was built close to the sanatorium, it was probably deemed no longer suitable; and Eton's Church of St. John the Evangelist was seriously converted with an upper floor; smaller church, and the College Sanatorium and town surgery taking up the ground floor. The extensive grounds of 'Sandles' included the fine house of Rose Cottage and a large yew tree, both of which have sadly been removed. Huffing and Puffing can never put trees back, and all too often we are told they were diseased. Maybe! Hopefully the seven apartments and five houses being created on the site will compensate for the changes.
Until the mid-1900s there were four shops; the post office and two public houses along the village road between Sheepcote and the Institute (today's Village Hall). Now all have gone. The pubs were; the oldest, 'The Three Horseshoes', and the smallest 'The Grapes' (The Pickwick from 1984) and latterly a Chinese Restaurant. The pubs were two of four that had plied a living for over 140 years in the village, and at a time when Eton Wick was very much smaller in population. Of course we now have The Football and Social Club, and retail shops selling beers, and villagers now have cars and are able to socialise elsewhere. By the time this article is printed I expect the two redundant pubs to be fully converted into private dwellings, as of course are the numerous shops mentioned.
In the 19th Century there were two cottage laundries in this same stretch of road. One was at the 'Old Parsonage'; before it was the Parsonage and it is claimed it laundered for the Castle Royalty, and the other was just east of the 'Three Horseshoes', at Vine Cottage. There were at least three other cottage laundries in the village and apart from that which laundered for Queen Victoria, the others served Eton College. There were similar laundries at Eton and Chalvey, until in 1881 the College established its own laundry at Willowbrook (off Slough Road). Even so, much later I well remember seeing rows of college clothing billowing on village clotheslines. Probably the house sports-wear or woollies. It was not unusual to see the large prams of the time being pushed to and fro the college to collect or return the washing. Things have changed.
Before the first rail viaduct (wood) of late 1840s there was probably no structure between the Folly Bridge Cattle Pound and the 'Shepherds Hut' (first opened ten years earlier) - a distance of over one mile; on the south side of the road, and on the north side, at that time between Folly Bridge and Sheepcote; then only a farm cart track. With no street lamps and no houses the Eton Wick Road must have been an uninviting long eerie walk in mid-winter.
Not until 1811 was there a known village group. There was no church, school or hall, and that first recorded group was a Friendly Society which met at the 'Three Horseshoes' pub. I have a listing of about sixty groups and clubs existing in Eton Wick since then. War brought about most changes; with some groups not surviving and others, like Phoenix, rising from the ashes. Before the 1939 -1945 war the village had courts and the Tilstone Tennis Club, and before the Great War of 1914 - 1918, a Harriers Club and an enthusiastic Gym group for young men. Neither survived the upheaval of war. Against this though, there was a need for football club kit after WW2, resulting in 'The Unity Players' 1948 -1951, and later The 'Shoestrings' concert group being formed to raise funds. Sunday Schools, Church Choir, Women's Institute, Whist Drives, Rummage Sales, Men's Snooker Club have all long since gone, while others have changed beyond comparison.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s the Youth Club was restricted to boys and girls over fourteen and under 21 years. Since then the age has been lowered frequently, until today it is eight to twelve years for juniors and twelve to sixteen for seniors. Most of these age groups would barely be considered as youths, and naturally activities and functions must be very different.
Time has seen the demise of traditional traders, including the village baker, butcher, greengrocer, and wet fish and game merchant. We have had them all since WW2 but all have gone, largely due to the 'out of village' superstores since 1980. In Eton Wick we have also had a laundrette; Doctor Surgery; Hardware Stores; Motor Parts and Bookies all since the 1950s; yet for a variety of reasons all have gone. The laundrette came at a time when small domestic washing machines were barely available - if at all - and after ten years, when the laundrette machines needed replacing, the dwindling demand did not Justify the expense of replacement. The surgery probably did not get the support it needed. We may all believe there is a village need, but given the opportunity, must of us are reluctant to leave what we have been accustomed to.
It is a fact that we do not see many houses being built. Eton Wick is in the midst of green belt, Lammas or Commons lands which restricts the builders. Let us hope it keeps that way. Certainly any declassifications would bring prompt and drastic changes. Recently we had a local questionnaire on developments in our community, and I believe there is a strong likelihood of covetous eyes on the land around us. Time will tell. Personally I see nothing wrong with affordable homes on the land opposite Clifton Lodge, but hopefully not beyond Sheepcote. This area I believe is greenbelt.
Submitted by Frank Bond
This article was originally published in the Eton Wick Newsletter - Our Village and is republished with the kind permission of the Eton Wick Village Hall Committee. Click here to go to the Collection page.