AT the time when the little Chapel of Ease was built, Eton presented a very different appearance to what it does now. Only a few of the present College boarding-houses were in existence; several shops and the Christopher Inn (St. Christopher, it is called in a Baptismal Register, Sept. 22, 1721) still stood within the old College bounds.
In the High Street, the only house on the west side, between Barns Pool Bridge House and the little Chapel, was a timber house with a large timber yard adjoining. The ground now covered by the houses Nos. 126 to 137 was enclosed by a paling, and shaded by lime trees, and behind was a large meadow called Newman's Meadow.
Beyond the Chapel of Ease (Eton Church History), on the west side of the street, there were also several breaks in the line of buildings. The site now occupied by the Christopher Hotel was open ground.
Most of the houses were low, or at most one-storied, with high-pitched roofs and quaint gables. Many had steps leading down to them, and the windows were mostly small and filled with quarried glass. Some small shops of this character stood in front of the alms-houses, a little back from the road with lime trees before them. Close to Strugnell's Buildings, which are nearly the only surviving relics of the old picturesque houses, stood the parish stocks, in which offenders against the law were condemned to sit with hands and feet locked in, a warning to all beholders. These stocks remained there till the middle of the last century.
In 1811 there was no Post Office. Letters were left at Mr. Hetherington's in High Street and called for by a boy once a day at 6.30. At that date the only side streets were Hawke's Lane or King's Stable Street, once said to have been used for royal stables, and the first part of Brocas Lane. The last house on the right in this lane was the Eton Union Workhouse.
In somewhat later days the Union was removed to what is now the Sanatorium garden, and thence to its present position at Slough.
In what is now Eton Court, there were hatters' shops and slaughter houses. At the back of the east side of the street were extensive gardens.
Tangier Mill, built probably at the beginning of this same century' close to the present waterworks, stood alone and gave its name to Mill fields.
Among the industries of the time was the making of clay pipes, which is still carried on in King's Stable Street, although the demand has greatly decreased.
In many cottages women were in those days busy with their spinning wheels, spinning flax, and when the times were bad a supply of flax was a recognized form of charity.
The space now occupied by Eton Square, Meadow Lane, Baker's Buildings or Union Terrace, and Ernlyn's Buildings, was still either garden or meadow land.
Somewhere near the latter a cattle fair used to be held yearly in March. In South Meadow pony races took place in August and were joined in and enjoyed by the inhabitants generally, many of them riding as jockeys. This was of course before the coming of the railway, and there was no danger of this local event being vulgarised by the inroad of bookmakers and so-called gentlemen of the turf.
But now we must look a little more particularly into the topography of the parish generally. And first as to maps. No really ancient maps of the parish are to be found. Among the earliest is W. Collier's plan of Windsor and Eton, dated 1742. A copy of this hangs in the Cloister Gallery. There is also in possession of Eton College a plan of the parish of Eton, 1798, and a tithe map of the parish 1843 (with the commutation of tithe' as settled in 1839). A map by H. Walker, dated 1839, is owned by Mr. Howard J. Hetherington. From the last chiefly is taken the map printed in this volume.
Then as to boundaries. These may be best described by quoting verbatim an account of the Perambulation or the Boundaries, or the Beating of the Bounds as it was popularly termed, held on Wednesday, August 2, 1815. But before doing so a brief explanation should be given, as to the origin and purpose of this perambulation.
It was a survival of a custom, more ecclesiastical than civil, which came down from the days of Merrie England. In olden times the perambulation took place in each parish at Rogationtide. It began at what was known as the Gospel tree, where the parish priest attended by the choir read the Rogation Gospel, and certain appropriate Psalms were sung. The purpose of the ceremonial was to pray for God's blessing on the land, and at the same time to secure to each tenant the rightful boundaries of his holding. Queen Elizabeth made an effort to retain this godly custom by her injunction issued 1559, and a Homily setting forth the double purpose of the observance was printed for use. in the Rogation season. Under gloomy Puritan influences, this institution met with little encouragement. Anything of the nature of a procession was regarded with suspicion and as unworthy of the gravity of the true Christian. But, as we have said, it survived in Eton, though held not in Rogationtide as formerly, but in August. How may we account for this change of date?
Probably it was to avoid any collision between the boys of the College and the town. The day chosen was after the breaking up of the School for the summer holidays, which took place then on Election Monday, and after the Election into College had been declared. The following is the account of the proceedings.
"On Wednesday the and of August 1815, the Parish Officers, Charity Children and Inhabitants, having assembled in the Workhouse yard, proceeded, with music playing and colours flying, down the street to the College Hall. Here, after having sung the first verse of the morning hymn, they were provided by the Provost and Fellows with a breakfast of roast and boiled beef, and ale. They then proceeded to Black Pots and fixed a bound mark on a withy tree at the water side; a verse of the Old Hundredth Psalm was then sung, and three cheers given. The procession then commenced, and proceeded from thence by the side of and through the ayte, along the ridge of the bank separating the Shooting Fields and Cut-throat Lane (in the Parish of Upton) to Beggars Bridge, and having here fixed a bound mark and observed the usual ceremony, they proceeded through the middle of Chalvey Ditch to Bell's Farm, making a bound mark as the procession passed by Little Park Close, opposite the Parishes of Upton and Burnham. From Bell's Farm they proceeded through the water to the Old Ditch, and having cut a mark they proceeded along the ditch and through the garden and house occupied by William Lanfear, and having nailed a bound mark over the door, they proceeded up the Lane, past Tilstone Gate, by the Boveney side of the hedge to Boveney Ditch, to a withy tree at the corner, where having nailed a bound mark they proceeded along the side of the ditch (leaving Biddle's Close on the right) to Boveney Bridge; they then took water, and having nailed a bound mark on the bridge, and cut a cross on a withy tree on the opposite side of the water, they proceeded and took half stream from thence to Barge-man's Bridge ; after having nailed a bound mark on that bridge, they passed over to the opposite side, where they entered Farm Ayte and continued their course across the ayte to a bound post. They turned by the side of a creek, on the left of Dabchick Ayte, leaving a small part of the ayte planted with withy stumps, in the Parish of Clewer. They took water in the creek, and proceeded by the side of that ayte and Snap Ayte to a division between Snap and Beck's Aytes, across to the Brocas, where a bound mark was driven in the ground ; and from thence by the side of the bank to Carter's steps at Windsor Bridge, they passed over the rails of the bridge to the Corner House, occupied by William Peltham, through the door-way and window facing the river, nailing a bound mark at each place. They again took water, and proceeded along by the side of the bank to the stile in the Back Fields, at the head of the creek, and after having cut a bound mark on a withy tree at the corner, they crossed the water and Mr. Cutler's Ayte to the opposite side of the ayte below the weir, from whence they proceeded by the side of the ayte to a new piece of ground made at the end of it, where having cut a cross on an old stump, and. likewise on the tree opposite, they kept close to the bank to Newark, and having nailed a cross on the post, they took half-stream from thence by the head pile in mid river opposite the oak tree in Wharf Close, where having fixed a bound mark they kept close to the Eton side of the new made • ground to the old head of Black Pots Ayte, where crossing they kept close down the river on the Windsor side of the ayte to the withy tree from whence they started, and thus the boundaries of the Parish were perambulated.
" God save the King' was then sung. The Procession landed, and proceeded to the Brans, where refreshments were provided for the children of the school by the Parish Officers.
" N.B.—It may be necessary to observe that the Mayor of Windsor, the Chamberlain, and Town Clerk met the Procession at Beck's Ayte, and continued with it to the Head Pile at Black Pots, and likewise that three cheers were given at each bound mark. The Procession consisted of the Revd. Mr. Roper (as Chaplain to the Provost), the Steward of the Manor, the Parish Officers, Charity Children and inhabitants.
Overseers: William Milward, Thomas Nason, Jnr, George Burgiss.”
A similar account was printed in 1825.
The custom was continued till the forties, when with the introduction of the maps of the Ordnance Survey this marking the bounds became superfluous. On the last occasion of its observance there was also a good deal of horse play, and a respected parishioner was pushed into Chalvey ditch and got an unpleasant soaking.
The correct names of the fields, etc., in the parish may be best learnt by taking two walks, starting in both cases from the College Chapel.
This is an extract from Old Days of Eton Parish by The Rev. John Shephard originally published by Spottiswoode and Co., Ltd. in 1908.