Monday 26 April 2021

From the Parish Magazine - Eton Wick History Group Meeting - Press Gang

The History Group meeting on the 3rd March 1998

Press Gangs and the Kings shilling!

A talk about Press Gangs presented by Dr. Judith Hunter

I believe the general picture of a Press Gang is that of a gang of seafarers storming around seaside towns, knocking chaps on the head and bundling them on board ship to act as crew; or for the 'luckier' ones, tricking them by slipping coins into the poor innocents' tankards of ale and then claiming that they had entered into a contract by accepting pay in advance - and off to sea they went. But no, it is far more complicated than that, as the Eton Wick History Group found out from Dr. Judith Hunter at their meeting on 4th March. 

Armed with information gleaned from the Admiralty Minute Books, the Public Records Office at Kew and various other sources, and prompted to investigate simply as a result of curiosity triggered by coming across a reference to a Press Gang in Reading, Dr. Hunter covered the history of the Press Gang in as far as the Seven Year War against Austria, France and Russia (1756-1763). Apparently in 1754, lust before the War began the number of men in the navy was just under 10,000 but by the end of the War they numbered approximately 82,000 - the majority of whom came from Merchant Navy ships. The Royal Navy ships would be stationed in the Channel and would send a gang, under a Lieutenant, to board inward-bound merchant ships and gather up the seaman, returning with them to the Royal Navy ships; sometimes fire would be exchanged but nevertheless the majority of sailors were impressed from the merchant ships and so could end up spending many years at sea unable to return home to far, and friends. The Royal Navy didn't train its sailors, it preferred that they came already experienced from being in the Merchant Service. Some of the coastal traders were issued with a certificate which protected them from being pressed into service; unless, of course, there was a 'hot press' which would be at a time of emergency when anyone could be taken - even from theft own homes - and a record shows that on a least one occasion the groom, best man and half the male guests from a Wedding Reception were taken; but once these impressed people had been checked over perhaps only a third of them would be retained as being sufficiently able-bodied to be of use. 

Almost every coastal village and town had its fishermen and so these areas were a natural source of manpower. A press gang, under the command of a Captain (on half-pay + £5 per week) would 'open a rendezvous' at a village and stay overnight, perhaps publicising the fact by hanging a flag outside, or employing a fife drummer. The Captain (who would probably lodge at a rather better class of Inn than that used for the rendezvous) would have two or three Lieutenants (each earning 5s.0d. per day plus 10s.0d. for acquiring each able seaman or 5s.0d. for an able-bodied landman) and these Lieutenants would be supervised and regulated by the Captain - hence he would be called a Regulating Captain. They would take seamen for preference, but they could also take land workers as well - if they looked suitably young and strong; and they would try encouraging people to join voluntarily, initially, tempting them with exciting stories of life at sea. and exotic ports of call, and the weekly ration of I lb. bread, I lb. port, 1/2 pint, peas and 1 gallon beer. 

The gangs operating under the Lieutenants were usually composed of local residents generally hired specifically for the purpose and who would be aware that they were less likely to be impressed themselves if they were part of the official press gang. The King and Government would offer a 'Royal Bounty' of £3 per able-bodied seaman, £2 for an ordinary seaman and f1 for a landman; some Mayors offered their own bounties and there is a record in Bristol of a wife receiving additional corporation bounty; so perhaps these bounties were passed on to the families of the seaman. It is hoped so because wives and families lost their breadwinner when their man was impressed and would have had to have applied to the Parish Officers for some small amount of money; soldiers' wives and children were on a starvation list. When things were warming up for the Seven Year War the Admiralty ordered that press warrants be issued to cover many towns, both coastal and inland, including Reading. There are records of the Mayor of Oxford asking that the Regulating Captain at Reading assist him by guarding five men who he had 'secured' at Oxford. Those taken were often gathered together in a gaol, or Bridewell. It is assumed that they were then made to walk to a port (London?) and if a tender was not available to take them to a ship, they would be gaoled again at the port until one was available. 

Once at sea, the impressed seamen could do quite well:. Their pay (paid out by the ship's captain) would come from the Admiralty and 'prize money' was paid out when an enemy ship was Captured 3/8 of the prize went to the Captain, 1/4 went to the Captain of the Marines, 1/8 went to the Lieutenants, and the crew and Marine 'other ranks' received 1/4 between them; and there is a record in 1762 of the capture of a Spanish frigate resulting in seamen receiving prize money of £485 each - although a more normal amount would be £10-20. Dr. Hunter read from copies of letters from Admirals and Captains dated around the mid-18th century and they made fascinating listening. Mr. Frank Bond thanked Dr. Hunter and her husband, Rip, for this very enlightening talk. 

The the following meeting held on 15th April 1998 and the topic was the "History of Local Bridges over Streams and River" - presented by John Denham. 

During the 1990's the Parish Magazine of Eton, Eton Wick and Boveney reported on the meetings of the Eton Wick History Group. A member of the audience took shorthand notes in the darkened hall. This article was published in the April 1998 edition.

Monday 19 April 2021

Tough Assignment - A Chapel of Their Own 1886

At first Mrs. Annie Tough met with considerable opposition from the owner of the land; she was after all in no position to offer a fair price for a plot, however small. There were no rich patrons offering a hundred guineas or more as there had been when St John the Baptist's Church was built, and however dedicated the band of Methodists, they were few in numbers. We know the names of only a handful of them - John Moore, Ada Moore, John and Emma Lane Mr & Mrs Thomas Green and Henry Goodman. Annie's father had left Rotherhithe and bought land in Boveney New Town on which were built Snowdrop, Primrose and Shakspear Cottages. He and his family lived at Primrose Cottage. Annie's younger sister, Ada, already an adult woman, also came to live in the village. John Lane was a master builder who, after being widowed, had met and married a member of the Maidenhead Church and was thus brought to Primitive Methodism. Henry Goodman came from Dorney where his family had been prominent Primitive Methodists since the 1850s. No doubt these and other loyal workers supported Mrs Tough to find a site for the chapel, but it was she who finally wore down the resistance of James Ayres, the developer. As a businessman he was far less impressed by her ardent Christianity than her sheer persistence! At long last she 'obtained from him a conditional promise that if a certain gentleman effected a purchase of land that day she should have a site for a chapel.' The sale went through and he kept his word. 'I give it to you', he said, 'as a reward for your perseverance'. 

The stage was now set for the next great effort - raising the money to build the chapel. The land was a gift, though as Mr Ayres had refused to give it to anyone except Mrs Tough, it had first posed a problem, solved in the end by the property being invested in her as Trustee. The cost of the building was only to be about £300, not a great deal even in those days for a church, but a considerable amount for the Primitive Methodists of such a small community to find. But find it they did, and in a very short time there was sufficient money guaranteed for the work to begin. 

It was a proud moment that first Sunday in October 1886 when the chapel was at last officially opened. We can still see the building with its yellow bricks, porch, and arched windows, and its inscription 'Primitive Methodist Chapel 1886.' From Alma Road it looks very much as it did a hundred years ago. No doubt it was viewed with immense pride that day, but no records survive to tell us the details of the occasion. Imagination must paint the picture of the congregation crowded into the tiny chapel - Mrs Tough supported by members of the Moore family, John Lane, skilled tradesman and foreman with Henry Burfoot (who built the chapel), village and circuit members of the Methodist Church, as well as many other well wishers from the neighbourhood. 

 In spite of the rain the meeting held the next day attracted a good congregation. It was a circuit as well as chapel affair and Mr Lodge of Maidenhead acted as chairman. Addresses were given by church members from Maidenhead, Dorney and Slough as well as by John Lane of Eton Wick, who was the chapel treasurer and one of the eight trustees. This was a time for congratulations, a time for appraisal of successes achieved - and the work yet to be done. No doubt the speakers talked of the spiritual life of the chapel, but it was the more practical considerations that the local newspaper reported. over £130 had already been raised towards the building fund, but a further £145 was still required to clear the debt. 

The Eton Wick History Group is most grateful for the kind permission given by the Eton Wick Methodist Chapel to republish this history, Tough Assignment on this website.

Wednesday 14 April 2021

World War 2 Eighty Years On - April 1941 - Incendiary Bombs Fell On Eton Wick School.

German aircraft continued to fly over the district most nights throughout the months of April and May to raid the cities of Birmingham, Coventry, Leeds, Sheffield, and London.

Len Downs, now residing in Dorney, was serving with 273 Bty. H.A.C. A.A. equipped with 3.7" mobile guns, machine guns and searchlight and he recalled that the troop were frequently called to action whilst stationed on Dorney Common during this time. 

Whenever the guns were in action there was always a danger of injury and damage from falling shrapnel but sometimes no air raid alert sounded and with no warning the guns would commence firing. My experience of falling shrapnel was whilst using the public phone situated near the village hall, when the firing began and odd pieces that fell onto the road ricocheted hitting the phone box with a loud frightening bang. The intense gunfire rattled doors and windows, greenhouses and garden sheds also suffered from the explosions. At night, even if the guns did not fire, those living close by the camp were awakened from their sleep as commands of range, height and bearing were shouted to those manning the guns.”

(Joan Ballhatchet)

April 14th

Fortunately, the local schools were on holiday as bombs and incendiaries fell in the district. Two incendiary bombs fell on Eton Wick school, one falling on the roof whilst the other fell through into the infants’ room where a cupboard was set on fire doing slight damage.

“A number of incendiaries had dropped across the allotments below the school in Sheepcote Road. Searchlights were sweeping the sky in search of the enemy planes whose dull drone seemed to be continual. I rushed about the allotments piling soil on the burning bombs. Within minutes the flames would burn through the soil and the operation was repeated. It was on this night my father became Eton Wick's only air raid casualty. The school like most public buildings had a wall of sandbags about six feet high along the old buildings main wall. 

My father, an Air Raid Warden, was on duty near the school and could see the incendiaries burning inside the building. Realizing that the blaze had to be tackled immediately he climbed onto the protective wall of sandbags and using one of the bags broke the window to gain entry. He then climbed through to extinguish the fires. On getting through the broken glass, he cut his hand. After the fire was extinguished it was pointed out to him that all his effort to affect the entry was unnecessary as the school door was always left unlocked for just such an emergency."
(Frank Bond).

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

Saturday 10 April 2021

HRH Prince Phillip 1921 - 2021 - A Unique Man


Prince Phillip at the official opening of the New Recreation Ground.

The Eton Wick History Group mourns the passing of HRH Prince Phillip, The Duke of Edinburgh. He visited the village on October 14th, 1952 to officially open the Stockdales Road Recreation Ground.

Gill Tarrant, the chairperson said:

“I remember the Duke’s visit and the opening ceremony very well. I was a pupil at Eton Porny School and was taken to Eton Wick in the Blue Bus.”

Peter Tarrant, a History Group committee member added that Prince Phillip spoke to him and Bill North, another village boy as they were in the front row.

HRH Prince Phillip has a unique place in the history of village and is remembered on this website with an article that includes a clip from the British Pathe newsreel of his visits to open 6 playing fields in Buckinghamshire that started at Eton Wick. He was President of the National Playing Fields Association from 1948 until 2013.

The Duke donated the Oak Tree that the History Group planted on Eton Great Common in celebration of the Queens Diamond Jubilee on June 5th, 2012.

Tuesday 6 April 2021

Photographic History - Village Characters - The Tarrant Family

The Tarrant family 

A Robert Tarrant and family first appear on local Parish Records in the mid-1700s. The appears to have had their roots in the west Berkshire/Hampshire/Dorset areas. This photograph, taken between 1900/05 shows seated, left to right: Robert's descendant James Tarrant, his wife Julia (nee Hawkins of Pigeon House Farm, Dorney) and George Lowman (landlord of the Three Horseshoes); and standing, left to right: son Alf Tarrant and wife Charlotte (née Bunce) who took on Little Common Farm, Percy Holden (proprietor of a gun shop near Windsor Bridge), daughter Rosie Tarrant (a teacher at Silchester House School, Taplow), an unidentified young man, daughter Fanny (taught at Eton Wick School, married name Woolhouse) and son Arthur (then of Manor Farm). Besides acquiring four farms, James was a warden at St John Baptist church.

Missing - the photograph is his son George Tarrant (Crown Farm and father of Reg) and daughter Minnie (married French, grandmother of French Brothers, Windsor The photo was taken in the garden of Saddocks Farm and is embossed 'Photographers Spearman, Eton Wick'.

This article was first published in A Pictorial History of Eton Wick & Eton.