Monday 28 September 2020

Slough Trading Estate at 100: 1920 - 2020

The Great War of 1914-18 had unforeseen influence on the future development of Slough. The perk of war was to be lorries or at least the wrecks of lorries. 

1914-1918 war lorries vehicle repair
Image courtesy of SEGRO

There are those that profit by war and those that loose out by war, Slough definitely belonged to the former. Location played a very major role in taking Slough into the industrial world of the 20th century. The use of mechanised transport on the field of battle proved costly, In this case Lorries. 

Damaged lorries
Image courtesy of SEGRO
By 1917 the huge number of damaged military vehicles suitable for repair lying in all corners of the battlefields and the inability of contractors to keep pace with the demand for repairs convince the war department that they should have their own military vehicle repair depot. The search for a suitable site that would meet the requirement of good communications, near to London and the War Office and easy to develop quickly. Looking in a 25 mile radius of London the cornfields of Cippenham Court Farm seemed the ideal site for Military Mechanical repair Depot. Having purchased the 600 acres of excellent agricultural land the work began on the site July 1918. Armistice in November 1918 rather made the depot redundant for military purposes, but it was decided to carry on building the many workshops of the complex. It had been decided that the returned vehicles rather than sell for scrap could be repaired and sold on to the civil market.

The rusting broken vehicles that began to pile up on the depot soon locally earned it the name of 'The Dump'. Like many government ideas, the cost escalated, and no doubt after the usual official excuses to cover the extravagance the whole place was turned over to the Government Surplus Disposal Board for sale. In the April of 1920, the Disposal Board sold the Depot with all its contents including surplus British military transport throughout the world for just over £7,000,000 to 'the Slough Trading Company'. The idea of the trading company had come from Sir Percival Perry, chairman of the Ford Motor Company, with Mr Noel Mobbs, later Knighted in 1948, in charge of the trading company. 

The sale by auction in 1920 of repaired surplus army vehicles brought in much needed returns to the 'Slough Trading Company', one of the first sales day realising over £30,000. Future sales saw Daimler charabancs sold for £805 and Peerless lorries for £350 every vehicle having a six month guarantee, in fact the vehicle sales from Slough exceeded the total output of UK commercial motor manufacturers for 1921. The vehicle repair business became the Four Wheel Drive Company' and American company which had grown out of the depot vehicle repair business. Later known as Modern Wheel Drive

Who were these early companies that gave Slough its growth in population and international fame?

Gillette Razor courtesy of Modern Mechanix
Early tenants on the estate in the 1920's included Crossley Motors, repairing ex-army motor cycles, the Perfection enamelling painting Co. , Gillette razor company, the Mentholatum Co. maker of healing cream, John & Johnson the American surgical dressing manufacturer, and the Hygienic Ice Co. suppliers of ice to hospitals and hotels etc. O'cedar Mop Company Also remembered, St. Helens Cable and Rubber Company. Makers of insulating tapes, hot water bottles and inner tubes for tyres. To make the employees feel at home many of whom had moved South with the firm from Warrington, Slough Estates named one of its housing estate streets `Warrington Avenue'. 

Having repaired the saleable vehicles by 1925, on which a workforce of up to 8000 persons had been employed, it was decided to continue to develop buildings and services on the site and rent out sheds and workshops to expanding and aspiring new companies. From this beginning sprang the Slough Trading Estate we know today. The Slough Trading Company received the Royal Assent 7th August 1925. Changing their name to Slough Estates Limited in June 1926. The management of Slough Estates set a new pattern in Landlord and Tenant agreements, making the estate a more industrial community than a collection of factory sheds. 

Sir Noel Mobbs
courtesy of Stories of London

From 1925 to 1929 Slough Estates expanded the premises and facilities available to new and established tenants. During this period the government opened a training centre for a number of trades on the Estate, this trained 18 to 32 aged men (up to 35 years for ex-service men) for a six months course to acquire basic skills to fill the vacancies in building, engineering, woodworking and other operating skills required by the growing number of companies moving onto the Estate. At this period the national unemployment had reached seven figures and rising, but Slough figure was claimed to be the lowest proportion in the country at 1%. The publication of this claim caused at the time such a large influx of job seekers that the available housing and factories could not absorb. Slough Estates had built and were in the process of building 2000 houses on their land and in other parts of the growing town. Slough gained the reputation of the 'Hardest working town in Britain'. The Estate brought rapid growth to Slough from a population of 16,000 in 1920 to 50,000 on becoming a Borough in 1938

An overseas firm that gave a boost to the town and to employment on the Estate by setting up of an assembly unit was Citroën Cars. Andre Citroen was a descendant of a family originating in Holland. As a young engineer he had set up a small factory before 1914 to make double v gears whose patent he had bought in Poland. From the tooth design of the gears his Citroen sign is taken—an inverted double V. Citroën cars had been imported and distributed from London prior to 1925 but the imposition of import duties on cars led Andre Citroën to consider producing cars in England. Car bodies had on a small scale, already been stored at Slough since 1923 which gave the English buyer the choice of a French or English car body. To assemble cars in Slough Citroën took over Unit 1 Dundee Road, the largest shed on the estate which called for a large investment. It was good news for Slough as it was announcing that 1000 men were to be taken on immediately with the prospect of up to 5000 more being employed when the plant was in full production. The plant which opened officially in February 1926 closed in 1966 as the factory was considered inefficient for modern production methods. The development of the trading estate since 1925 has brought other internationally known companies to set up manufacturing bases in Slough. Their range of products has covered a very wide spectrum and has created wealth for an ever-increasing town population. 
Andre Citroën at the opening of the factory in Slough
courtesy of Britain by Car.

An overseas firm that gave a boost to the town and to employment on the Estate by setting up of an assembly unit was Citroën Cars. Andre Citroen was a descendant of a family originating in Holland. As a young engineer he had set up a small factory before 1914 to make double v gears whose patent he had bought in Poland. From the tooth design of the gears his Citroen sign is taken—an inverted double V. Citroën cars had been imported and distributed from London prior to 1925 but the imposition of import duties on cars led Andre Citroën to consider producing cars in England. Car bodies had on a small scale, already been stored at Slough since 1923 which gave the English buyer the choice of a French or English car body. To assemble cars in Slough Citroën took over Unit 1 Dundee Road, the largest shed on the estate which called for a large investment. It was good news for Slough as it was announcing that 1000 men were to be taken on immediately with the prospect of up to 5000 more being employed when the plant was in full production. The plant which opened officially in February 1926 closed in 1966 as the factory was considered inefficient for modern production methods. The development of the trading estate since 1925 has brought other internationally known companies to set up manufacturing bases in Slough. Their range of products has covered a very wide spectrum and has created wealth for an ever-increasing town population. 

Ford GT40 courtesy of Postcards from Slough
Ford Advanced Vehicles brought fame to the town when under the directorship of John Wyler they produced the GT 40 which raced and won at Le Mans in 1966, 67 and 68. Seven mark three with seven litre engines were built and today, if you can find one, expect to pay £375,000 to £400,000 (2001 valuation). 

Aspro Ltd, Old original Buildings 
Aspro was developed in Australia during the years 1915 to 1917 by George Nicholas when the name Aspro was registered. This wonder aspirin was eventually to be made in Slough through the foresight and the influence of Aspro financial advisor George Garcia, a Spanish Australian Jew, who was visiting England for the 1924 Empire exhibition. He thought there was a market for the product in the UK and picked Lancashire and Yorkshire for the launch territories with Manchester the headquarters. Initially sales were a disaster because the packs of 25 tablets where too expensive for unemployed England but after some misgivings the Aspro board decided to struggle on and eventually things improved which led to the important policy decision to manufacture in England. Garcia chose a factory in Buckingham Avenue on the Slough Trading Estate and George Nicholson was sent from Australia to install the machines. The first tablets came off the line on August 11th, 1927. By 22nd of November the same year sales in Britain overtook sales in Australia but all was not well, At the time there was a certain distrust of patent medicines and certain newspapers wary of the claims made by pharmaceutical companies, refused advertising copy. Aspro management reacted quickly inviting the newspaper to send its own experts to the Slough Factory and make whatever test they liked. Three analytical chemists arrived to inspect the factory and take away samples. Their test and favourable report gave the Aspro a boost and advertising of the product met no further opposition. 

The Aspro-Nicholas was acquired by Sara Lee in 1984
In 1957 on a site bought before the outbreak of WWII the new Aspro factory was built on the Bath Road. There were construction delays due to the public footpath that crossed the site and much legal argument followed before agreement was reached that the path could be moved to one side. The path runs from the Bath Road alongside Sara Lee to emerge beside Westgate school onto the Cippenham Road. The new factory only came into being due to the perseverance of the then UK manager director Jamison who brought his new factory into production in 1958 Aspro became famous locally for their entertainment, Dances, Pantomimes and other showtime entertainments.

Shortly after the establishment of Aspro in Buckingham Avenue, High Duty Alloys which had been started by Colonel Devereux took the premises next to Aspro. H.D.A. also became large employers on the estate attracting labour locally and from other parts of the country especially during the war years where castings for aero engines and other requirements of war were manufactured. The thump of the heavy duty forging hammer operating day and night during the war years that was heard over a wide area is still remembered.

New building of 75 to 79 Buckingham Avenue              High Duty Alloys New Building Development 

High Duty Alloys closed in the late 1970's. The new buildings some of which are vacant in 2002 have housed the headquarters of various small 'IT ' Companies. Little engineering or consumer goods manufacture now remains on the Slough Estate. Warehousing and retail fill many of the new buildings. 

This McDonald's fast food hut now stands where buildings that housed the security police and the canteen of High Duty Alloys. 

The site is now occupied (2002) by computer software companies, DIY warehouse, freight company and a postal delivery company. 

The HDA sand foundry buildings were taken by Vitatex in the mid 1970's and became their textile dying and finishing departments 

OS Map revised 1938
courtesy of the Nation Library of Scotland
At the close of 1927 there were 65 firms operating within the confines of the estate and the name of Slough Estates was well known through articles appearing in the national press. These reports attracted the attention of men from the depressed areas of South Wales. The year was 1933 and unemployment in the country was approaching three million. On a bitter night in February 1934, two hundred and eighty-five Welsh Hunger marchers arrived in the town and were cared for by a specially formed Slough Reception Committee. They stopped overnight in the town before going on their way to demand action from the Government.

The downturn in trade had not escape Slough firms and Slough Estate management arranged deals in rent and loans for Hygienic Ice and St. Martins Preserving Company who were in serious trouble. One firm sacked workers and offered reemployment at a penny an hour less. Unemployed Welsh girls and men offered to work for less than local labour which obviously did no go down well with local towns people. 

At the same time other new firms were opening premises on the trading estate and bringing in their skilled employees who would train the newly recruited staff skills to manufacture new products such as Metal Colours that was mainly staffed by Germans, Flexello wheels and castors started by Marcel Menko, a Frenchman of Dutch parentage. 


Here we have a difference in the historical facts, myths, and memories and folklore of the best-known company in Slough. There is not a great deal written of the company from the English point of view, the book 'The Chocolate Wars ' give a very American slant to the story. 

Like many a son, at some time in our early life we think we know better than our parents, History says likewise about Forrest Mars but in this case, son did have more go and vision than Dad. 

Mars senior commenced making candy bar in America in 1923 with Forrest joining when he graduated in 1928. The business expanded but Mars senior having gone bankrupt twice was cautious, whilst son Forrest wished to conquer the world. Disagreement followed and Forrest took off for Europe with a wife and baby son and $50,000. Having studied various chocolate methods on the continent he headed for England in 1932 where at least he could speak the language. At 28 years old he arrived and with a burning desire to prove himself by making candy. Having spoken to Philip Wrigley of chewing gum fame and James Horlick who told him to see Nigel Mobbs, Forrest Mars found himself with a large leaky shed in Dorset Avenue. Within four months of arriving he had had his factory ready for production and the first Mars Bars were ready to launch onto the marketplace. From these small beginnings Mars rose to become in fifty years the estate largest production unit and employer. 

Gresham Road 1934

Other firms followed such as 4711 Cologne, Coopers Mechanical Joints makers of gaskets for the motor trade and Mr Steven Wessely who started VitaTex, to make lingerie and textiles. Mr Wessely had come from Czechoslovakia in 1933 to work as a cutter in the north of England. His ambition was to have his own plant.

Charmaine work room, Gresham Road
He came to Slough in 1934 to visit the trading estate site and was met by Nigel Mobbs at the station with a Rolls Royce. What with being taken to lunch and riding in the Rolls Steven was hooked and took a small factory in Gresham Road calling it Charmaine, there to produce ladies underwear. 

Warp Knitting machines at Gresham Road in 1950's.
The annual rent was 1/- a square foot. The company expanded over the next fifty years producing all manner of textiles for the fashion, furniture and automotive industries. The Wessely family sold out to British Vita and the plant closed in 1995.

Sewing room staff with Mr Wessely in the centre.
Mr Wesseley
after 50 years as owner and chairman of VitaTex

Note — Fun Knickers. 

A young lad on joining Charmaine the task of putting printing ink on his hands and then printing his hand prints on the back panels of ladies knickers. A fun project.

This article is an extract from at talk that was given by John Denham on Industry’s Influence on Slough given on October 16, 2001. 

He worked at Mars on the maintenance team for a few months in the early 1960's and from 1965 to his retirement nearly 30 years later worked for VitaTex. His children remember their summer holiday in 1965 as their Dad was called back to work early as there had been a disastrous fire at 108 Buckingham Avenue. He told his children that dust from the Flock printing was the cause.

Monday 21 September 2020



I moved to 72, Eton Wick Road to live with Aunt Ella Pardoe and my memories start here. A pathway ran through the allotments opposite 72 and a bonfire was always burning just inside the fence. I walked through this pathway twice and down to the river where I fell in and was brought back safely. I spent many hours sitting on the doorstep of the sweet shop in Alma Road where I was often given sweets. I also fell in the brook by the style which was situated on the pathway between the Wheatbutts and what was then Morris's farm. I remember a small tree on the piece of Common between what was the farm and the cottages which were occupied by Mrs Newell, Jenny, and where Mrs Rivers now lives. I also remember a boy throwing a stone up into this tree, it fell down on to another boy's head, seriously hurting him. This tree is now quite large with a seat below it.

I remember a fair being held in the Wheatbutts, also being in my Mother's arms outside what was then Mr Bond's house on the corner of Common Lane and Eton Wick Road. We were watching a zeppelin overhead; another day an aeroplane landed on Dorney Common. We all rushed over there, I was in a pushchair pushed by my cousin, Vi Pardoe. I also remember the Italian ice cream cart that came up here. All this was up to the age of two.

One very foggy morning I remember my Mother wheeling me in the push chair to Windsor Railway Station, one of the Station staff gave me a thermos cup of hot tea as it was so cold (push chairs at this time were made of wood just like a small folding chair with wooden wheels).

I did not return to Eton Wick until August, 1929, where I will now try to give a few of my memories. I arrived at the G.W.R. Station at Windsor about 2.00 p.m. on a lovely Summer's afternoon. I had not seen my Mother since I was two, she was there to meet me. A very beautiful lady, along with her was my half-brother, John Cox, and Mrs Bell with Ceclia and Peter. Little did I know then that Celia was to become my wife. There was a fair on the Brocas that night so we had to get home to tea quickly. We got the Blue Bus at the South Western Station. This bus was a Ford and the entrance was up steps at the back, the passengers sat in benches running from the front to the rear, similar to an ambulance. I think the fare was 11/2d in old money for adults. The bus stopped at the Village Hall and turned round for the next trip to Windsor. The driver was, if I remember rightly, Mr Ted Jeffries. Home I went to Ivy Cottage, Alma Road, where I was informed that I had a sister, Frances, who was in the Fever Hospital at Cippenham. Had a good tea and was then taken to the fair on the Brocas. This was where I met my step-father, Mr Thomas Cox. He was then a Walls Ice Cream salesman and used to ride a tricycle with his ice cream, even though he had only one leg. After the fair , we walked across by what was the dust heap under the arches. The grass was damp and we gathered mushrooms. When we reached the Eton Wick Road, Bob Bond came along in a lorry and gave us a lift home. In those days there was little main drainage in Eton Wick, it was nearly all 'bucket-work'. I remember my step-father saying "get a hole dug up the garden, Bill, so I can bury the tinned fruit !" that being the lavatory bucket. Our milkman was then Mr Woodley, the paper man -Mr Sibley, coalman - Mr Hood, the dustman was horse and cart and I am not sure whether this was done by Mr Rollo Bond. Mr Bert Bond was the greengrocer.

As I have said before, much of the rubbish was taken down to the dust heap which lay just this side of the arches near to what was the Eton College Swimming Baths. There was also another heap over the back of the Little Common near to where the Riding Stables are. We built up many of our bikes from parts found on these dumps.

At Supper time my Mother would sometimes send me down to 'The Greyhound' to get saveloys from Mrs Newell. It was not like a pub in those days, just a small bench in the porch of the house. There were no cattle grids, cows roamed the village as there was very little traffic. White gates were situated at Common Lane and at the entrance to Dorney Common but they were seldom used, everywhere smelt 'farm-yardy' - quite a pleasant smell not often met up with today.

If we ran out of milk my Mother would send us with a jug to Morris's farm, opposite to Jenny Newell's. For our haircuts we went down to Mr Tuck's house in Brocas Street, I think it cost us 2d. in old money.

The Sewerage Works were manually operated in those days, pipes being shifted from one lagoon to another; we found some of the finest tomatoes there, they were yellow.

Real Steamers plied up and down the river, the Mapledurham, Windsor Castle, Empress of India were among the largest, their white funnels shimmering with the heat from their boilers.

Punts were used by the honeymoon couples, whose portable gramaphones were blaring out across the river. The river at this time was fairly clean and one was able to swim without worrying about any health hazard, weeds were the danger in those days. The young lads used to gather down by the small iron and concrete bridge, which crosses with sewerage stream, for bathing sessions. usually in the late afternoons and into the evenings.

The built-up area from Bell Lane to Dorney Gate was known as Boveney New Town and the area around Victoria Road behind the Shepherd's Hut was known as Klondyke, why I don't know. There was a large field between Alma Road and the Shepherd's Hut which we knew as Codd's field, possibly because it belonged to Codd's farm which was up to the top of Bell Lane.

The small cottage on the righthand side of Moore's Lane, at the entrance to the cycle path to Slough, was a Police house. If my memory serves me right, it was occupied by P.C. Martin and family in 1929 when I came home. There was a Police notice-board and I remember the notice regarding the Colorado Beetle and the one about obnoxious weeds which were put up every year. Next door to this cottage was a large house occupied by Ted Mortimer who was the baker's roundsman for Barksfield of Dorney, then came the big house of Mrs Chew. Opposite these houses were allotments stretching for about 200 yards or more and right up to the main Eton Wick Road.

In the early 1930's another bus service was started, named the 'Marguerite'. These buses were garaged at the junction of Alma Road and Moore's Lane. The proprietor was a Mr Cecil Kingham and they provided a service to Dorney and Taplow Station.

The Slipes as I recall were the fields from Moore's Lane stretching up to where the Gas Station is now situated. In the Summer it was a pleasant walk across there as it was never ploughed. There was a pathway (muddy - with a style halfway), used also as a cycle track to the Trading Estate, Slough and Cippenham. It got so muddy at times that it was better to walk than ride. Cart horses grazed in these fields and one had to look out for them when they loomed up towards you in the foggy weather. A short cut could also be taken across these fields to Chalvey, passing by Mr Jackaman's shed. Wood Lane was a very pleasant walk in those days with no motorway or Sewerage Works as they are today. One could walk up to Headington's Farm and across other fields to the Bath Road.

It was in 1936 when McAlpines started on the modern Sewerage Works - I remember the Irishmen coming, they lived very rough in huts but were quite amiable people, liked their 'wallop' though.

TRANSPORT - Unlike today, there were few cars in Eton Wick. As I have already said, we had two bus services - the Blue Bus and the 'Marguerite' and these services connected very well at Eton with the London Transport buses which gave excellent service to Slough, Windsor, Staines and connections to London. One could go out any night and be almost certain to get a bus back up until about 11 p.m.

In those days the road to Eton was gaslit and one was able to walk the road in comparative safety if the bus had gone. I never heard of anyone ever being molested, unfortunately the bus service was hit first with the advent of the family car, and furthermore by the closing of Windsor Bridge. Despite the promises of certain Councillors that a reasonable bus service would be maintained, the service is not up to the standard of other parts of the Royal Borough to which we belong and to which we contribute the Poll Tax (Community Charge). With the ageing population, I think that a through bus service to Windsor should be brought back, even if the fares (which are the highest I have ever come up against) had to be further subsidised. After all, we all contribute to the free park-and-ride in Windsor for those who could be from Timbuktu for all we know - still, I am moving away from the subject, more about Eton Wick.

The 1930's to me were foremost in my memory. Bob Nason was the wise man of the village. If you were in need of any information, he was the man to see. He knew the ropes and if he could not give you the information you required off hand, he would find out. Your bicycle needed repairing so Mr Woolhouse was the man to see. The battery on your wireless set went flat - Mr Tomlin from Windsor would call with his small van and would give you a replacement until he had recharged yours. Your baker would probably have been Barksfield from Dorney, the roundsman being Mr Stacey (Henry?). The butcher was Mr Mumford and the roundsman, Henry Barton. Mr Sibley did the newspapers from Alma Road and also sold them at College corner.

Alma Road was a very busy road in those days; the thing I remember most was old Mrs Woodley who used to go to Windsor nearly every morning. When she came back from the bus the windows of Alma Road used to go up while she would give out the latest news. Bill Olyotti? used to come along from the other end of the road about the same time and bring out his watch, (the largest I ever saw) and verify the time. The families I remember then were:- Mrs Binfield, Puseys, Banhams, Wilcox, Bell, Bryant, Jacobs. Higgins, Ling, Slaymaker, Paintin, Budd, Gardner, Flint, Morris, Chamberlain, Kelly, Kitchener, Kavanagh, Morrell, Mrs Cox (laundry),(Co-op shop), Harding (GasCompany), Prior and Milton and there were others I just cannot put a name to now.

Sunday was also a busy day, with the children all going to the Chapel for Sunday School in their one-and-only Sunday best. The afternoon was fairly quiet as quite a number of people used to retire for the afternoon - noise was taboo. I remember Harry Prior from Bell Lane gave me an old O.K. Supreme motor-cycle. My brother, John Cox, and I started it up and revved the engine, my Father said "that's enough - that bike goes or you go!" - so ended the lesson!

Eton Wick had a football team in those days, run by Mr Clark and son who lived near to Mr Woolhouse - one had a job to get into it. I remember we used to go to the notice board which was near to the Institute to see if we had been picked. The team consisted mostly of the following who I can remember :-Albert Prior, Len Emery, 'Nigger' Young, 'Cocker' Hood, Nobby Clark, Jack Ling, Les Chamberlain, Jim Stannett, John Cox, Bill Welford, Bill and Ted Pardoe, Kennedy, and there were others I cannot bring to mind.

The War was not too far away, Slough Trading Estate was getting busy and people were gradually being put on overtime. Bonds of Eton Wick had built up a fleet of lorries for contracting work. All the signs were that Slough and the surrounding districts were going to expand for the light industries which were moving in. Large numbers of people were moving in from the depressed areas of the North East and Wales. Things were looking good; money was available for people who were prepared to work and the shops began to be filled with goods (much of which was available on H.P.) with which the incoming immigrants could furnish their new homes. The hammers from High Duty Alloys could be heard stamping out what I was told was aeroplane propellers. The ground at Eton Wick was said to shake after each blow, I had heard them and they certainly did give a loud thud.

FLOODS up until 1947

The weather pattern, as everyone knows, has changed considerably over the last 40 years or so. Up until 1947 flooding was almost an annual event. Almost every year one could reckon on at least a foot of snow, followed by a thaw which would bring the water over the river bank and almost up to the old Recreation Ground. It was not unusual for the planks to be put up on the pathway on the Slads near to what was the 'Willow Tree' pub, as the water often came across the road at this point. Since 1947, it would appear that there has been better control of the flood waters. The flood boards have gone, so too have the iron supports for them.


The pattern of noise has also changed considerably, gone are the sounds of the high speedsteam trains which one got used to as they rushed through the night. Now it is the noise of the traffic along the M4, with the sound of the two tones ofambulances, Fire and Police, accompanied by the aircraft noise.

Fireworks are no longer confined to Guy Fawkes's night. It seems that everyone who has a party or fete uses them, more is the pity, can't they be fitted with silencers?


For instance, the Reverend David Wingate, he was a real character. Also, there was a chap called Omar Browne*, who was about my own age and was in an Army School. He used to come on leave to somewhere in Bell Lane at the same time as I came home from the Naval School.

Finally, how about the fox being chased from Morris's farm across the stream by the beagles? It ran a cross the road in front of me and into Mrs Harris's cottage at the corner of Bell Lane and Alma Road. It jumped into the copper and Mrs Harris put the lid on it (end of fox). This story is in a book held by the M.F.H. at Eton College (I should say this was the Winter of 1936/7.)


(William H. Welford was born in Shedding Green, Iver, Bucks on  26.11.17. This is one of the memories of village life that the Eton Wick History Group collected soon after it was formed in 1992. The Talks Programme does not reveal if it was presented at one of their meetings.)

*Omar Browne was a casualty of the Second World War during the Sidi Rezegh battle on November 21st 1941. His name appears on the Village War Memorial.

Tuesday 15 September 2020

World War 2 Eighty Years On - September 1940

Sunday September 1st. 1940

Air raid warnings were now more numerous with air activity over the area daily.  In the early hours, an enemy aircraft dropped bombs on Slough. A direct hit destroyed a house, but the family escaped injury, unfortunately a passing R.A.F. Officer was killed.  Fierce ack-ack. fire from the local batteries ensued but no hits were obtained. As the Battle of Britain intensified the soldiers manning the guns on Dorney Common were at action stations almost continuously. Village residents living close by the camp hearing the shouted orders and other activity connected with bringing the guns to action harboured fears that the site would be subjected to aerial attack.

Friday September 6th.

The alert sounded just after breakfast and lasted about one hour.  At the village school the pupils gathered in the classroom ready to take shelter under their desks if a raid should develop.  It was a fine day, towards London vapour trails formed in the sky as the high-flying RAF fighter aircraft fought with the attacking planes. There had been intense night and day raids during the week over much of the south of England.  Concentrated attacks were carried out on fighter bases and aircraft factories attempting to eliminate the RAF fighter defence.  Hawker’s Brooklands factory producing Hurricane fighters was a designated target, but RAF fighters intervened shooting down six of the attacking force. The remaining attacking Messerschmidt 110’s missed the target and bombed the Vickers factory at Weybridge causing damage and casualties.

Saturday September 7th.

At 8 pm the code-word ‘Cromwell’ (Invasion imminent) was sent to London, Southern and Eastern Commands - the Battle of London had begun.  Local memory has revealed that a light aircraft was available to fly members of the Royal Family at Windsor to safer locations using Agars Plough as an airstrip.  The Village Hall Committee was informed by a Major Hutton that the army would billet troops on the ground floor of the hall for the duration of hostilities.  This proposal did not materialize but troops were billeted at the Methodist Chapel, Tough Memorial Hall for two nights in 1943. Village residents had little sleep during the night (Sept 7th and 8th.) as German planes circled overhead preparing for their bombing run on London. The raid, which lasted more than six hours, started huge fires lighting the night sky with a red glow.

Throughout the night the anti-aircraft guns around Slough went into action whenever enemy planes were within range.  Enemy activity continued each night during the following week.  Air raid alerts lasted from late evening until the early hours of the following morning. Random bombs were dropped in the Slough district, but no deaths were reported.

Sunday September 15th.

A fine day which brought large formations of German planes to attack London.  The formations of R.A.F. fighters were clearly seen from vantage points around Slough and Windsor as they engaged the Nazi planes in the defence of the city. Spitfires from 609 squadron patrolled over the Windsor area.  It was claimed at the time that the R.A.F. had shot down 185 enemy aircraft. After so much activity six days passed without the sound of the siren (Sept. 16th. -- 21st.) only to wail their warning again at 10.30 pm on the 22nd.  Several bombs were dropped over Slough resulting in a large number of houses being damaged with one person killed and several being injured. The local ack-ack batteries were in action and some very loud explosions were heard.

Saturday September 28th.

Attacks by enemy aircraft approaching London from the west brought frequent air raid warnings to the Slough - Windsor area, consequently the area became part of the West London early warning district. German planes on their approach to London during the last two nights of the month met with heavy ack-ack fire.  Two houses were destroyed, and four evacuee children were killed when oil bombs fell at Salt Hill, Slough, during the night of 28/29th.

Monday September 30th.

Another fine day with six local air raid alerts as the Luftwaffe attacked London. This, the 82nd day of the Battle of Britain, was the last massed daylight raid on the capital. In the late afternoon British fighters engaged a hundred bombers escorted by Messerschmidt fighters.

At about 5pm. a German Messerschmidt of 7/JG27 Nr 4851 Bf109E-1 fighter which had been on escort duty to the bombers became separated from the rest over Windsor Forest.  Conflicting news reports at the time stated that the German pilot was attacking two Anson aircraft when he was engaged by a British fighter which scored hits to the radiator and petrol tank.  Diving out of the clouds the pilot attempted to land near Queen Anne's Gate, Windsor Great Park. but overturned during the forced landing smashing wings and fuselage. The pilot was thrown clear with no injuries.

Other reliable sources state that the fighter on escort duty to the bombers was attacked over Surrey and damaged by Pilot Officer P.G. Dexter of 603 Squadron. A New Zealand Air Force officer who was driving through the park at that time was able to arrest the German pilot. The plane, the first to be shot down in this area attracted many sightseers and later it was put on display outside the old Windsor Post Office. 

The German pilot, Oberleutnant Fisher, has given a different explanation, saying that his own Messerschmidt 109 was unserviceable that day and he had to fly the spare Me109. Over London the plane developed engine trouble and all his efforts to stay airborne were to no avail, so he looked for a suitable site to land.   He   had   not seen any anti-invasion defence obstacles against airborne landings until it was too late and avoiding   these had made it  difficult  landing  the  aircraft . The first person on the scene was the lodge keeper at Queens Anne Gate who found the Nazi uninjured after a lucky escape and speaking in good English, the German asked the lodge keeper for a cigarette. An armed guard was mounted on the crashed plane which attracted crowds of sightseers.  

Oberleutnant Fisher became a POW in Canada.

Courtesy of the Tate Gallery Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

This is an extract from Round and About Eton Wick: 1939 - 1945. The book was researched, written and published in 2001 by John Denham. 

Monday 7 September 2020

The Eton Wick Newsletter - April 2018 - `Our Village' Magazine

St. Mary Magdalene, Boveney — where in earth were they buried?

Twenty plus years ago a very young lad innocently asked me what it was like living with dinosaurs. I am sure my answer disappointed him. He was too young to have the perception of time, but how much better are we as adults. I have not read of an accurate account of the age of Eton Wick. It is often written that with the Saxon name of 'Wick' it probably dates to Saxon times. This is of course an assumption, as Saxon words are often used, as in 'Butt', 'Close' and others.

Early settlements may have been just that — a place a few folk seasonally settled, before moving on. Something like the travellers of today live their lives. This Thames Valley area is often described as having been damp, dark and dense, in clusters of trees and undergrowth. If we look at what is recorded, and presumably reliable, we start at 1066 when the Normans defeated King Harold's defenders. We will not steam up about that, as who can say which of us are perhaps Norman descendants. Twenty years later William was still not sure of the extent of his conquest and consequently ordered a census. The Manor of Eton, together with Hedgerley and Wexham had in total only 23 families and 3 slaves (serfs). These facts are as printed in Dr. Judith Hunter's excellent book of 'Eton Wick'. If Eton Wick was a village in Saxon times, it too would have been included in that total of 23 families, as it was part of the Manor of Eton.

I think of this period of nearly 1,000 years ago as one of seasonal mud, and thick woollen clothes to cope with the damp, cold surroundings. Let us refer to a letter sent from the Pope in 1511 with perhaps a slight reference to the mud along the Boveney Road. In a Papal letter dated August 15th 1511; twenty-three years before 'The Act of Supremacy' abolished the Pope's authority in England; he instituted a cemetery at Boveney Church, "without prejudice to anyone; that the inhabitants of Boveney may be buried therein; this being in consideration that the village is about two miles from the Parish Church at Burnham and in wintertime the bodies of the dead cannot be conveniently brought to that Parish Church."

It is difficult today to fully imagine a family procession having to wend its way along the muddy farm track we now know as the Boveney Road, on its way through Dorney to Burnham. With the Pope's authority for a local cemetery at Boveney, it seems inconceivable that nobody used it. Yet there is no visible evidence or memory of there ever having been a graveyard at the village church. Boveney was not a relatively small village, as we now consider it. In 1377 there were 165 inhabitants living in 28 dwellings. Comparing this with only the 23 families in the whole of the Manor of Eton with Hedgerley and Wexham 290 years earlier, leaves us to question the census return for King Williams' assessment.

The mystery of a cemetery deepens when we look at the other recordings. In 1859 a Mr and Mrs S. Hall of London published a book titled 'The Book of The Thames'. They arrived by boat from Windsor, and wrote "Let us step ashore to visit yon wee church of Boveney, half hidden among lofty trees, it is the last of its class we shall ever encounter" etc., ....."After inspecting the interior, and wondering why so small a church was ever built, we returned to the churchyard and stood for some little time beneath the shadows of a glorious old tree, whose boughs and foliage formed a protection against the rain or sunshine. The old withered women who had opened the church door followed and regretted the gentry should be disappointed as there was nothing to see." We differed from her, saying there was a great deal that interested us, could anything be more picturesque or beautiful than the churchyard? She shook her head "The churchyard was thick with graves, some with stones and some without, like any other place of the sort — a poor melancholy place it was." "She thought it was so lonely and miserable, and yet sketchers were always making pictures of it! Yes there were stories of those who lay there"... and so the narrative went on.

Let us leave the book on the river, and glance at yet another reference to the cemetery; yes or no. Over 100 years later in 1997 a letter was posted from Brewton, U.S.A. to an authority in UK requesting information on the Boveney Chapel and graveyard where ancestors Montagues worshipped and were buried. The enquiry stated that an American family member had recently visited the church but found no signs of a graveyard, and found it out of character with England's history of preservation that the graveyard was destroyed. The Montagues dated back to 1621 in the States, and it is recorded that William Montague in the latter part of Queen Elizabeth I reign (1558 —1603) purchased for Boveney two butts of land commonly called Church Butts; so the connection was authentic enough.

With nothing to be seen, it is too easy to fall back on the old saying 'that seeing is believing' and dismiss what seems obvious. I have my own views about this, but with little more evidence I will leave it to the readers to form their own conclusion. There is so much more about 'yon wee' church that leaves perhaps more to be questioned. Have you noticed that it was built on an earth, two to three foot, plinth? This is best seen from the Boveney/Conker Alley gate at a time of year with low or no crops. Obviously this was on account of floods because at high water times this area is one of the first to flood. The church, or more correctly what is left of the original, is variously described as twelve or thirteenth century, meaning that Boveney village had a church six or seven centuries before Eton Wick (1866). Although Boveney church (St Mary Magdalene) in the Parish of Burnham served that village, I feel quite sure many Eton Wick residents of centuries ago would have attended services at Boveney. Eton Wick's only church was the Eton Parish Church which between 1440 and 1875 was the Eton College Chapel and as the College itself grew, there became an apparent less inviting atmosphere for the local folk.

It was, after all, no further to walk to Boveney than to Eton. In St. Mary Magdalene Church there are thirteen pews of four seating. The old pews are estimated to be around five hundred years old. Before this period pews were not expected, and congregations stood in the Nave. This apparently is the origin of the saying "Go to the wall", not a derogatory remark, but a polite reservation of a place for the aged and the infirm to lean against.

There are three bells dating to 1636, 1631 and one estimated 100 years older. The church walls are three to four foot thick, and oddly the two doors - one north wall one south facing. are exactly opposite each other. The original steel key weighed about two pounds and was approximately a foot long. Sadly I am told this was lost: or we are left to think otherwise. How does one lose a foot long iron key weighing two pounds? To my knowledge the last ringing of the bells was to welcome in the new millennium (2000). They were interestingly rung by visitors from London in the mid 1850's. who noticing the villagers busily working in the fields of Boveney. mused whether or not they had heard that Sevastopol, in the Crimean, had been taken by British Troops. They duly rang the bells. and the villagers hurried to the church for the news. Oh for the innocent days before radio and newspapers.

Questionable belief attached to the church is what was it first built for. Why we have to have a reason and not accept the time-honoured need for a place of worship, I do not know. Many like to believe it was built for bargees who had a wharf close by. I find it more acceptable that it was used by bargees, maybe hundreds of years after it was built. who customarily had their family living aboard, and although not necessarily use the church for services, but not disrespectfully make use of it for warmth, and perhaps a meal. Certainly timber was a major cargo, as two large sawmills/pits are shown on maps north of the roadway close to the present day car park.

Views I have expressed are my own conclusions, and I do not claim as certainty. The church was probably saved to posterity when it was taken over by 'Friends of Friendless Churches' in 1983 who subsequently made extensive refurbishment. For ecclesiastic purposes this Church of Burnham for so long. became part of the Parish of Eton in 1911. Old Boveney as a community is not part of New Boveney. which is that part of Eton Wick between Bell Lane and Roundmoor Ditch (gate to Dorney Common). Developed from 1880's and administered as part of Eton since 1934. One is Burnham (Bucks), the other is Eton (Berks).

We could go on, but I am sure space must be left for other contributions. Conviction or doubts, I am always ready to discuss these expressed views. Frank Bond

Click here to read Our Village April 2018.

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.

Further information about the history of St. Mary Magdalene can be found in the guide published by the Friends of St Mary Magdalene written in 2018.