Thursday 2 November 2023

The 18th Century Village of Eton Wick – Part Two - Life for Cottager's in the Wick

 18th Century Cottager in the Wick 

1797 Village map courtesy of Dr Judith Hunter's Story of a Village

The early years of the Century were hard for families getting their subsidence from the land and for those few families living in the Wick the daily toil brought its woes and ill health. Prey to diseases as smallpox, diphtheria, influenza, and tuberculosis to say nothing of accidents. There was also a high risk to women dying in childbirth. Cottages built in Eton Wick were timbered framed with infilling of brick and cob. The floors of stone slab or compacted earth covered with rush mats with an open wood burning fireplace and lighting by candle or perhaps an oil lamp provided warmth and lighting in the small dim rooms. 

Clothing was mainly home made by wives and daughters of the family and a variety of footwear such as leather boots, canvas shoes, wooden sandals and clog type shoes dependant on the family financial status was worn by those working on the land. 

The more successful farmer or small holder no doubt could afford to buy foot-ware but often for the poorer it would be hand me downs or go barefoot. 

With a water supply from well, pond or river health and cleanliness were two factors that suffered. Fleas and head lice were prevalent. The passing years brought slow improvement.

During the century to those living in Eton and Eton Wick, trade increased in Eton with new premises opening with tailors and dress makers, boot and shoemakers, together with other trades. These were family businesses where young people from Eton Wick found employment, and with the change in their financial fortune left the land to the more successful farmer. 

By the year 1830 there were approximately seventy professional business services and shops in the Eton High Street supplying local needs and hand made goods to the London shops. 

The increasing local trade and wealth gave rise to house building in Eton Wick as the century drew to its close continuing during the 19th and 20th centuries until all available land free of lammas rights or common land within the Wick had been taken for building. 

This was part of the script for a talk given by John Denham at a meet of the Windsor & District University of the Third Age in 2003.

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