THE end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth were marked by unusual storms and much distress. In 1774 occurred the highest flood on record. The water on that occasion, according to a memorandum in the College Buttery, was 2 ft. 4 in. deep in the cellar under the Hall, and heavy floods and a notable storm occurred a few years later when many trees were demolished, and much other damage done.
In 1809 six of the central arches of the old Fifteen Arch Bridge were carried away, and in 1826 or 1827 the whole of the High Street was under water and many of the inhabitants were driven up to the first-floor rooms and received supplies of food through the windows; an unpleasant experience which was repeated in the Wellington flood of 1852, and again in 1894. But there were graver troubles still.
In 1803 the threatened invasion of England by Bonaparte was exciting the country generally, and volunteers were being raised for defence.
Eton was not behindhand in furnishing its quota of men. Upwards of 200 inhabitants volunteered their services; out of these, forty-two were selected, and a fund was raised to assist the Government in providing them with clothing and equipment.
The Eton Poor Estate with its usual generosity con-tributed twenty guineas for this purpose, and James Rogerson, Bridge Master for the year, was directed to hand over this sum to the Provost, Dr. Davies. In connection with the same event, a general meeting was called in 1804 for providing substitutes for those who had been drawn for the Militia.
The next twenty years were years of depression. Food was dear, bread a costly luxury, work was scarce, and taxes enormous. The resident population at that date was 2026. The total amount of parish rates amounted to £1603 3s. 8d.: the rate was at six shillings in the pound. The result appears in the accounts of the Eton Poor Estate, in the unusual amount of uncollected rents, and in grants made to meet the wants of the necessitous poor.
The death by drowning in 1834 of Jack Hall, who had been for nearly half a century a fisherman and servant of Eton College, led to the formation of the Eton and Windsor Royal Humane Society, and another sad accident at a much later date to a town-boy in Cuckoo Weir stream was the occasion for starting a regular bathing-place for the lads of the town under proper supervision. Both these institutions have proved lasting benefits to the town.
In 1837 the first Eton Post Office was opened. The year 1846 saw the removal of the Christopher Inn from its former position in College to the High Street. It had long been a source of anxiety to Eton Masters, and Dr. Hawtrey at last succeeded in effecting its removal. The ground at the back, on which the Queen's Schools are built, appears in the map as Christopher Close, and the house fronting the street, now known as Christopher's, still represents part of the hospitable inn, famous in many stories of olden days.
At the same time several adjoining shops were pulled down to make room for College houses, but even in the fifties there were small shops both opposite the entrance to the School-yard and on the Slough Road near the ' New Schools.'
One other event must be included in this chapter, the coming of the Great Western Railway, and the building of the viaduct across some of the Lammas land.
It had originally been intended that the main line of this railway should pass through Windsor, Reading and Oxford. But the University of Oxford objected to such a dangerous innovation, and a like objection was raised by the authorities of Windsor Castle and Eton College, and the railway was diverted and constructed at a more respectful distance. It was not long before the desirability of a branch line from Slough to Windsor was mooted, but again an attempt was made to thwart it. A meeting of the inhabitants of Eton was summoned on October 2, 1846, to consider the threatened invasion. Although the requisition for the meeting was signed by the most influential people in the place, with the Provost at the head of the list, the opposition collapsed, and the project was carried through: the railway authorities were however obliged to place a watchman on the line to keep Eton boys from endangering their lives or the lives of passengers. This was continued to a late date in the century.
But the coming of the railway affected the parish in another way. Compensation had to be paid by the Company to the parish, for the extinguishment of commonable rights, to the amount of £246 5s. id. This money remained in the hands of Trustees for many years and the Eton public were often asking the question at the annual vestry meeting as to the use to be made of it. Many proposals were made, but no satisfactory decision was reached for many years. At last in 1896 it was agreed that the proceeds of this, and another like compensation paid by the Local Board, should be spent in recreation grounds for Eton and Eton Wick. The fund having accumulated to £950, this was agreed to, and £650 of this was allotted to Eton and £300 to Eton Wick.
In 1854 the Eton Gas Light Company was started, and gas was supplied to the town and College at 8s. per 1,000. Hitherto the town had been lighted with oil.