Monday 16 March 2020

The Story of a Village - A Changing Community

In past centuries the village expanded several times, but never quite so overwhelmingly as in the post war period. In 1931 the population was just over a thousand, it had risen to 1,640 by 1951, to 2,505 ten years later and now must be nearly three thousand.

With the influx of so many people into the village its inhabitants could no longer feel that each family was related to most others in the Wick. Probably this had never been strictly true; but by marriage and by recognising second cousins and the like, most families had indeed been related. The character of the village was changing in other ways. No longer was the College the most important source of income and employment for the majority of families, and less and less did College people take an interest and control of village affairs. The old gulf between gentry, epitomised in the Wick by College masters, and villagers gradually disappeared. Today new residents may be unaware of the old ties between Eton and Eton Wick. When Mr Vaughan died in 1940 his place as unofficial squire was taken by Bob Bond. Their backgrounds were very different, but both men were intensely interested in the village. It was Bob Bond who was reappointed bailiff at the 1948 Manor Court; he was instrumental in restarting the Boy Scouts after the war, he helped organise gymkhanas, dances and the annual Scout Fete ( which took the place of the old Horticultural Show). He also became the first president of the PTA.

The horse had virtually disappeared from the agricultural scene; though not entirely for George Pagett set up as a smallholder soon after the war and continued to use horses until the 1970s. The car and the lorry replaced the horse and cart, and garages became a necessity. Mr Sibley opened his filling station in 1958 and Ellis Motors were established in Victoria Road. People travelled more and taking holidays became the normal and not the exceptional way of life. Whereas in pre-war days people walked, cycled or used the bus to go to school, work or shopping, the use of the car became more and more the accepted practice. This transport revolution has brought in its wake other changes, such as the loss of the old road which ran from Haywards Mead to Meadow Lane in Eton and which is now only a bridle path. The Windsor Bridge has been closed to vehicle traffic and bus services have been cut, accentuating the hardship of those without a car. The roads are all macadamized and edged with pavements, and there is a profusion of street furniture road signs, electric streetlamps, bus shelters, pillar boxes, telephone kiosks and seats. Most of these have been provided by the statutory authorities, but the seat by Albert Place was the gift of the Women's Institute and the one in the churchyard in memory of Bob Bond.

Soon after the war, in line with national educational changes, Eton Wick School became a primary school, catering for both boys and girls from the ages of five to eleven; while older children were expected to attend secondary schools outside the village. However, it was still a church school, though the diocese was now responsible only for the fabric of the building and not the salaries of the teaching staff or the education of the children. To cater for the needs of the growing population the school was enlarged in 1953 and again in the sixties, but on that occasion the cost was such that a change of management became inevitable and the school was taken over by the County Council. In 1973 national policy brought about another change and the school became the combined infants and middle school with children being required to stay an extra year. But, though its title, appearance and teaching methods have changed over the years, because now almost all 'the children from Eton Wick are taught there, it has become even more the village school than in the years before the war when the older boys attended Porny School.

In spite of the addition of twelve new shops since the war there are now proportionately fewer shops per head than before the war. Several of the older shops have indeed closed and there is only one, Sibley's, in the area of New Town. The village has lost its priest-in-charge and Rev Christopher Johnson is now the only Church of England clergyman serving the parish of Eton, a sharp contrast to the situation a hundred years ago, when the parish was desperately trying to afford to employ two curates to assist the Vicar. Instead the village now has three churches, the Roman Catholic St Gilbert's having been built at the same time as Haywards Mead. The Village Hall stands close by and is still used for a baby clinic and library, but the role of the Hall has substantially diminished.  No longer is there a Village Hall Club; the Management Committee is concerned only with the maintenance of the building and the hiring of Its rooms. It has been overshadowed by its offshoot, the Football and Social Club, whose club rooms stand just behind the Hall. Some organizations still meet in the Hall, but others now use the rival establishment, and the whole of the ground floor is let to the County Council. Even the Village Fete, first organized by the Management Committee in 1962 and then the Youth Club, has now been taken over by the Football and Social Club, and since the mid-sixties it has been known as the Wicko Carnival.  The loss to the village of Wheatbutts Field when it was sold by the College brought about the end of the Scout Fete.

The list of changes seems inexhaustible, but it must suffice to mention only a few more and perhaps it is fitting that these should concentrate on the part of the parish first known as 'le Wyk'. The streams are now much shallower, the ponds filled in and the westernmost part of the common has recently been landscaped. Trees have  always been part of the village landscape, but unfortunately several beautiful elms had to be cut down in the 1950s. Hedges and trees have been grubbed up and in the last few years more elms have been lost through disease so that the area around Little Common has a rather open, desolated look.  It has been one more step in the succession of changes that has taken place since the first cluster of buildings established a wick in a clearing in the woods of Eton. Thankfully Eton Wick is still a village which will continue to evolve and, it is hoped, will remain surrounded and protected by commons and lammas lands.

This is the final part of the serialisation of The Story of a Village - Eton Wick - 1217 - 1977. The Eton Wick History Group is most grateful for the kind permission of Judith Hunter's husband to publish her book on its website.

The village and community has continued to change and evolve since Judith completed her history more than 40 years ago and some of this change is reflected in The Eton Wick Newsletter - Our Village and the Photographic History of Eton Wick and Eton.

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