As we come to the end of 2017, we have looked back on a year of the book launch and local events, and think well, what a fantastic year we’ve had!
We’ve launched a new book – an updated version of Our Village of Spencers Wood, and been involved in a number of events/shows.
The book (3 years in the making) has chapters on the history of the Village, with the Development and the Environment of the area, Highlands and Stanbury, the Congregational (before conversion) and the Church of St Michaels and All Angels; the Library, Village Hall and the Post Office; the Schools – a new chapter on Oakbank & a precise of Lambs Lane & Ryeish Green (as we have previously published books); a walk around The Square; and finishes up with the Village during the World War II.
The book is available through Amazon, in Henry Street, Caf D’Active, in Shinfield Parish Council offices, The Swan & the Farriers, Beech Hill Shop, Riseley Tea Rooms – in fact you couldn’t at one point get away from it!
It was a delight to write, and has been really well received.
It can still be found either at the Spencers Wood Post Office, Spencers Wood Library or Budgen’s, or if you know anyone in the group!!
We have promoted it at many village events whilst playing, where we can a key part in village life.
We have taken part in St Michaels Church Fete in July, Swallowfield Show (in August), Spencers Wood Carnival (in September); Craft Show (in the Village Hall in October) and we continuing to participate in the Christmas Window in St Michaels & All Angels Church.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who contributed to the book with your wonderful memories, continue to use our website (www.swlhg.co.uk) and our email (firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve received some wonderful current aerial views of the village during its changing landscape, fascinating information from Prisoners of Wars, and Evacuees… please keep them coming! This one below is from Graham Stewart, recently sent. He’s has a small aeroplane & has sent lots of recent images while the development work is going on.
As the village is changing so much around us, it without you the village memories could not be retained! It has been a delight to meet you all at these events – please continue to engage with us.
We would all like to wish you a very Merry Christmas!
Back in the July issue of Loddon Reach, the monthly article about Spencers Wood Football Team whose supporters had raised £1800 for the club prompted me to look up their website. I was amazed to see so many teams featured there unlike in 1919 and 1922 when Spencers Wood had only one team.
The team in 1922 consisted of C W Turner, who was vice-captain, F Benham, G Smith, H J Thatcher, S Double, H Cole, W Underwood, R Evans, W East, H S House, C E Double (Captain), and Geoff Day. The Secretary was Jack Povey. Jack Povey features in our new book in the chapter on the United Reformed Church when it was the Congregational Chapel.
The second photograph features practically the same team except for H S House who is replaced with P Double instead. This team in 1919, were visiting Brock Barracks in Oxford Road, Reading, home of the Berkshire Regiment, to play against the soldiers there and they are pictured placing a wreath on the memorial for World War I just inside the gate arch. Some members of the team lost a family member as a J T Double and E Benham died in the Great War and are commemorated on the board that stands outside St Michael’s and All Angels Church. This board used to be displayed inside and later on, outside the Chapel. H Cole may well have been a relative of the Reverend Cole from the Chapel also. The 1922 photograph, was given to us by Sam Poulter who married into the Double family and the 1919 photograph was in the local paper in 1969, fifty years later.
The article about the Day and Marcham family has prompted a response from another member of the Day family which we can add to our memories file.
In reviewing our new book, it occurred to us that for such a small village which is expanding rapidly we are blessed with some lovely buildings and other assets.
We have the old United Reformed Church building now turned into housing as is the Three Mile Cross Chapel. The memorial board commemorating the two world wars that stood in the grounds of the URC can now be found in the entrance of St Michael and All Angels church.
Another lovely building contributing to the village community which is thriving. Next to this well-used church is the village hall which is held in trust for the residents of the ecclesiastical parish of Spencers Wood.
We are so fortunate in having the hall which was given to the residents by Anna Hunter, in 1948, after her mother had given the use of the hall in 1911, in memory of Anna’s father, Henry Lannoy Hunter. If you live within the church parish of Spencers Wood the hall is in trust to you. It cannot be disposed of without all the residents agreeing to it. The residents certainly make full use of it.
The other building of note in our parish of Spencers Wood is the Library.
This lovely building was first built by Frederick Allfrey to be used as a school. On Allfrey’s death the school closed in 1915 and it passed to Allen who bought Allfrey’s estate. Charles Allen then sold the school and school house to Berkshire County Council (BCC) and on the dissolution of the BCC the building passed to Wokingham District Council as it was then called. Since that time the library has occupied the building and as such has been an asset to the village. We should treasure it.
Another donation to the village by Capt Cobham was not a building but allotments and recreation ground in Clares Green Road as part of the enclosure of Shinfield in 1856. Although in Spencers Wood, they were given to Shinfield Parish. The Rec’ is the only open space in Spencers Wood and is used by many including the history group. By the time this article appears the Carnival will have been held there in September. Always a great occasion.
The three assets of the Village Hall , the Library and the recreation ground are all held civically by residents, Wokingham Council, and Shinfield Parish and are well used and loved. For more information see our new book.
Where was this picture taken? Who are these bunch of lads? Geoff Day donated it to our group (far left standing). He’s also in our most recent book, as a member of Fire Brigade stationed at Highlands (see p 163) and we also have captured his wedding to Alice Marcham in 1936/7 at St Michaels & All Angels Church (see p 130) – donated by Irene Elliott.
What are these boys doing? Were you part of this group? Were you the one legged chap?
We spent lots of time yesterday at our meeting discussing hats, coat styles, arm bands, and guessed at timelines for when this was taken.
More from our Village of Spencers Wood by the Spencers Wood Local History Group – a review by Karen Elliott of Lambs Lane School
I was delighted to have been asked to review this book by the Spencers Wood Local History Group. Having taught at Lambs Lane Primary School for the past 13 years I have got to know the village and its families very well so it was a real pleasure to look at the many photographs and read so much about its history.
The fourteen chapters, written by different members of the group, range in topics from the earliest known history of the village to the opening of Oakbank School in 2012 with chapters on the Natural Environment and various building, institutions and communities in between. The book is full of maps, quotes, memories and information about the village, but for me it is the huge number of photographs that make it a fascinating read. With the many ‘then’ and ‘now’ pictures it gives a real insight into how things have changed and continue to change in the area. In particular, I have started to look at the older houses in a completely different way – imagining the families that used to live in them and how their lives were different to the families that live in them today!Loddon Reach
The members of the Group have clearly done a huge amount of research and each chapter is well referenced for anyone wanting to do further work. It is easy to ‘dip into’ for anything of particular interest whilst also being a good read which is very well illustrated. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who not only has an interest in local history but in the village of Spencers Wood with its many characters, buildings and institutions that have made it the village it is today.
Spencers Wood Local History Group was pleased to receive this review about their latest book amongst other comments such as the professional presentation of the book. Some people have been seen walking around The Square clutching the book and admiring the brickwork, not once but twice! Apparently, the lending of the library’s copy has been popular. Others have given us further information and names. Thank you everyone for your comments. Our website will have more feedback with more information as people respond to the book.
We recently received this letter from the daughter of an Italian who was held as a POW at Stanbury – it makes lovely and moving reading. Maria has allowed us to share her father’s memories. ________________________________________________________
When I was young I studied ancient history, Greek and Latin (I am gradueted in Ancient History and only later I studied Medieval, Modern, Contemporary History ), and I was not even interested in contemporary history; so I did not ask my father about his prisony and he would not remember this unhappy time of his life, and when I had finally intended to ask him some questions, he was already dead.
I share with you the only photo I have from England (I suppose, but I am not sure, that the place is Stambury House German Camp n. 135 in Spencers Wood but before this, my father lived also in Camp n. 88 Mortimer ,Berkshire), all other photos I have come from India. The photo represents a group of prisoners and their “leader” (my father told us about his “boss”??he was a famous soccer player, but I am not sure he is the same man who smoke in the photo, he could be another prisoner) my father is the fifth man on the left in the line of sitting prisoners.
Also I send to you two picture of the exercise book, because my father studied English during the captivity in India and Great Britain but he never used this language for working in postwar time in Italy. In time of peace, he only spoke English with his daughters and wanted us to learn English (when me and my sisters made mistakes he used to call us: “Donkeys”!!) and when he was in love with my mother, my mother tell me he told her love’s words in English.
I send also a photo of a letter mailed from Stambury House Camp Spencers Wood and one of the music scores he brought from Great Britain in Italy: he played guitar and violin during his captivity, we have in our house the hand made violin he produced in India with teak wood. He loved English music and dances.
My grandfather Giuseppe, Pio’s father, was born in 1890, in 1905 he was a young socialist and in 1915 served as a soldier in First World War, then in 1921 he joined Italian Communist Party. During the Mussolini’s dictatorship he and his family were persecuted by fascism; when the dictatorship ended, in 1943, Giuseppe cooperated with partisans to lead through Gotic Line some English soldiers, who were prisoners of war escaped from captivity after 8 september 1943. Like him, some inhabitants in San Michele, my little village, gave shelter to English soldiers, escaped from Emilia Romagna detention camps. His son, Otello, Pio’s brother, sadly, was captured in march 1944 when he was a partisan by Nazi army and interned in a German camp in Germany, and was saved by Allied Army and when he returned in Italy in 1946 he spoke English language very well.
My father Pio was not a fascist but when English government asked italian POWS to cooperate, my father decided not to be a cooperator, due to his sense of honour and observance for Geneva Convention on POWs, I think.
The victories over the Italians by British forces during the initial stages of the north African campaign in late 1940 – early 1941 surprised english military commanders: the major consequence was in fact capture of 133,000 Italian prisoner of War.
Egypt was far from secure so general Wavell called a desperate appeal to evacuate Italian POW.India risponded.
My father surrended to a New Zealand soldier in Libia, in Bardia’s siege, in january 1941; he and his friends prisoners walked through the desert to Alessandria. In Alessandria they paraded on uncovered freight wagons before boarding to India. Churchill was concerned about the propaganda value of making the Italian white prisoners parade through the streets of Cairo, Alessandria and Bombay, although he also indicated that every care should of course be taken to prevent their being insulted by the population. My father and other prisoner paraded between egyptians but the local crowd insulted them and threw stones towards them.
By ship the prisoners arrived in Bombay, where my father lived in camp N. 5, then they were transferred in another POW camp in Bangalore. The first months of prisony in India were heavy. But time after time the prisoner’s life became better. Years later the POWs were brought in England to compensate for the lack of manpower. Initially in camp n. 88 Mortimer, then in n.135 Stambury House Spencers Wood.
Pio’s mother and father didn’t understand, while they were risking their life helping English soldiers prisoners of war (Northern Italy was occupied by Nazi army, my country was a partisan zone and Nazi made massacres of civil people in some villages), why their son did not collaborate with English people in England: English soldiers were dying to make Italy free.
My grandmother Anna got scared when the first letter from Spencers Wood arrived from Berkshire because on the letter adress she read “German Camp”. My father wrote to her that he had not become a Nazi or a Fascist and that he was not in danger, he was in good conditions.
My father understood that English people were suffering in time of war. He did not worked in industries but he helped working in road maintenance or other works. He admired English technical and scientific knowledges.
He brought to Italy some little scientifical tools and some english books and he was sorry because he left in England a large Bible with images he had never seen in Italian Bibles.
Year after year in his letters he told his mother Anna that “he was almost accustomed to prisoner’s life” (six years!!), and after his return, he told that he had hoped, after Cassibile armistice (1943), to return in Italy and fight for his country against Nazi and Fascist army but it had not been possible.
He was born in 31.12. 1920,when he left his town San Michele in 1939 for military service he was a young guy you see in passport photo; Mussolini declared war in june 1940 and my father went by train from Boves (Piemonte) to Neaples where shipped to Libia. When he returned from Great Britain to Italy in August 1946 his father Giuseppe, who was waiting for his son’s arrive in Modena Station, did not recognize him among the passengers, he thought his son would not arrive and he went away. They recognized themselves only when they arrived in Sassuolo.
The war declared by fascist regime and wanted by a huge part of italians people had destroyed his youth and changed forever his life.
I have about one hundred letters from Boves and Neaples in Italy, Bardia in Libia, Bombay e Bangalore in India and from England camp n. 88 Mortimer and from camp N. 135 Stanbury House Spencers Wood. My grandmother Anna gave them to me, before dying.
I am copying them down because I would like to publish them.
I am very grateful that you have mailed to me your village history book and that Great Britain have provided safety for my father in time of war. If he were alive he would be happy of this and be grateful.
I allow you to publish to members of history group and in other way you believe this letter I write, as you want.
Maria Antonia Bertoni, Maria Cristina Bertoni (my sister), Nora Bondioli Bertoni (my mother)
Prisoners of war and their captors in World War II, edited by Bob Moore and Kent Fedorowich, Berg, Oxford*Washington DC, 1996
Lucio Sponza, Divided Loyalties Italians in Britain during the Second World War, Peter Lang,Bern, 2000
Agostino Bistarelli, La storia del ritorno. I reduci italiani del secondo dopoguerra, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 2007.
Isabella Insolvibile, WOPS I prigionieri italiani in Gran Bretagna (1941-1946) Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane,Napoli, 2012
And now : More from Our Village of Spencers Wood, Spencer Wood Local History Group, TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall, 2016.
It took the group three years to research and write our most recent book. We would like to say how proud the community have made us by sharing their memories and their initial response. We would like to tell you of the success of sales through events and social media activity.
Our launch event in December 2016 was really successful, and we sold 50 books. In total we have sold approximately 300 books, and will continue to sell at local events over the spring and summer.
The book has been available in many outlets in the Parish – the Post Office and Library in Spencers Wood; Budgens; Caf’ Active in St Michael’s Church; local pubs; Riseley Tea Rooms; Henry Street Garden Centre; Village Shop at Beech Hill; Waterstones and Amazon; Parish Office in Shinfield and Swallowfield Post Office. In addition, we have donated to many libraries, the Berkshire Record Office and Lambs Lane School. In fact, there are not many places you can visit in the Parish without seeing our book – if we have forgotten your outlet, please let us know!
Budgens have taken 60 and have been the top selling outlet! Well done Budgens 🙂 A huge thank you to Ian Clarke for passing on this contact. This does show how strong the community network can be.
We would also like to share some of our more “amazing” responses.
Maria Antonia Bertoni emailed the group. She is a researcher and was writing her village’s history. Maria is an History and Philosophy teacher in a high school “Liceo A.F.Formiggini” in Sassuolo (Modena, Emilia Romagna, Italy) and lives in a small village, San Michele, five Km from Sassuolo. Modena is just north of Bologna in Italy.
Her father, Bertoni Pio, was a Prisoner Of War in Stanbury in 1941, after being captured in Egypt. He was transferred there via Bombay and Bangalore.
He was held as POW 283614 German P.W.W. Bertoni sadly died in 1994. We were delighted to send her a book, and await further memories from her.
We heard from Brian Carter (also via email) who said – I have been enjoying dipping into your recent publication “More from our Village” and find it very impressive and clearly the result of a great deal of hard work by the contributors. Reading chapter 5 I was surprised to see in the centenary photograph of 1937 to see a Miss Bentall from Reading. I suspect she might be Miss E. M. Bentall (Mollie) a cousin of mine now long departed but cannot be sure as the picture is not very clear. Best wishes for your future endeavours.
Have a look at this picture from our book – Miss Bentall is behind the two children on the right – Did anyone else know her?
Melanie Long emailed us having recently discovered she was a descendant of the Swain family, the brick makers of Spencers Wood. I have to say what a great book, I have only just started to read it but I noticed ‘Swain’ appeared on 3 different pages and I saw the photo of the brick too.
She visited a member of the group, who showed her around pointing out where the brick makers was sited.
Recently, four things have been brought to my notice and all refer to the same place. We are grateful to all who have provided the two maps, a photograph and information. The area concerned is Woodcock Lane which borders Spencers Wood and Three Mile Cross, runs alongside the Swallowfield Bypass and reaches the Devils Highway at Beech Hill to go onto Silchester. A major route in times past. Firstly, I was given a map by a friend who worked for the Thames Valley buses showing the area in 1936 and before the M4 was built. It showed two commons namely, Whitley Wood Common and Lea Common which were both cut in half in 1971 by the M4. The Swallowfield Bypass which was approved in 1963 went from Lea Common to Riseley protecting Three Mile Cross, Spencers Wood and Swallowfield from excessive traffic. It also divided Shinfield Parish cutting off Grazeley Road where the new development in Three Mile Cross has recently been built. It was at this point, so Ian Clarke of the Council informed me, that the developers had cleared out the pond and it was remarkable in that it was a circular brick built pond with an overflow making it tear shaped. It is worth looking at. There are pictures of it on our website (www.swlhg.co.uk).
This pond is shown on the photograph I was given by Bob Watkins, in January, and although obscured by trees looks like the same pond in front of a farm house called Great Lea House Farm. It is not to be confused with
Great Lea Farm which lies the other side of the Bypass close to the caravan site, in Grazeley.
The picture shows Grazeley Road behind the farm and Woodcock Lane in front. Bob discovered the picture when clearing out his late uncle’s house and had it copied and enlarged for us. The property was once owned by the Body family who owned many other properties in the area including Hyde End Farm and Manor Farm on Basingstoke Road in Reading. One of the family was implicit in the building of Three Mile Cross Chapel at the end of Grazeley Road and a copy of our history book about the Chapel, called A History of Three Mile Cross Methodist Church, can be found in the Swan Public house. The house was demolished though to build the Bypass which thunders past the pond today.
The final item I was given was another map from the 19th century showing that the house was called Woodcock Lane Farm. This map is detailed to show the layout of the farm buildings and it confirms the picture is the same farm. It also shows that Woodcock Lane is the drive to the farm with an avenue of trees lining it and how the lane got its’ name. Woodcock Lane is also well worth a visit.
The Loddon valley has had a profound effect on the local history of its surrounding parishes. The river flows through Swallowfield and when it is joined by the Blackwater it forms the boundary between Arborfield and Shinfield. It has been suggested that the parish name derives from the ‘shining fields’ seen when the sun shines on the flooded meadows. Maps of 1761 and 1790 use the word ‘Shinefield’ for the parish. A tangle of small streams, ditches and backwaters flows slowly across the flat valley floor and was a major impediment on routes between the Thames valley at Reading and the towns of Hampshire and the south coast. Tracks came downhill from the north towards tentative river crossings. Pearmans Lane is shown on Ordnance Survey maps passing Pearmans Copse in Earley and continuing through fields south of the M4 and Cutbush Lane, to cross the Loddon near the remains of the paper mill and old Arborfield Church. Part of this route is followed by Shinfield Parish footpath walk no. 2. Two other bridging points are now main road routes, on the A327 to Arborfield and on Basingstoke Road B3349 at Sheepbridge. Further upstream, the historic Kings Bridge crosses the Loddon, extending from Woodcock Lane. This route was used in the early C19 by the author Mary Russell Mitford when she moved from Three Mile Cross to Swallowfield.
The river was essential to the mediaeval economy. It provided food (fish and eels), water power for mills at Arborfield and Sheepbridge, and was navigable for small boats. Wildflowers and small animals were abundant in the damp woodlands and meadows along the valley. Mary Mitford wrote of her delight in ‘the bright, brimming transparent Loddon’. However she also tells of the river flooding over ‘fields, roads, gardens and houses‘. Such floods are still frequent. It is expected that the improved A327 road will not flood. The new Shinfield by-pass incorporates ‘gated’ tunnels where it is raised across the meadows to allow more retention of water on the fields. At Sheepbridge, a mill was recorded in the 11th century Domesday Book, and Guy Stiff, in an article for the WI, in 1996, recalled seeing the last mill at work. The three storey building had a pair of 12 feet (3.6 metres) diameter cast iron wheels taking their power from the river. The mill became disused after World War II, and the building was destroyed by fire on 2nd August 1961. Now we can see the mill pond, the mill race and its weir. The Mill House hotel next door is a modern building and the moated house across the road is a historic moated building.
In dry times the meadows are grazed by sheep and cattle. The Loddon is part of the Thames catchment and when levels rise in that river, then the flow of the Loddon is likely to be held back and water levels rise in Shinfield. Riverside land by the old bridge from Pearmans Lane is a site of nature conservation value.
In 2010 the braided watercourses were restored and improved by the Environment Agency, which put in a fish by-pass to assist fish spawning, and reinstated weirs to lower the risks of flooding upstream.
Gravel deposits over river alluvium have provided pockets of better drained land suitable for grazing animals and growing crops. Small scale gravel was extracted to maintain tracks and improve access. This often left uneven ground and hollows which became ponds, for example northwest of School Green and south of Sussex Lane.
Now major extraction works are planned for the fields west of the A327, to supply forthcoming developments. It is intended that affected land in Shinfield will be restored for public use with lakes and meadows. This will link with the Langley Mead area which is designed with restored wildflower grazing meadows and footpaths, parts of which are raised boardwalks for times of flood.
Casual play in the fields and by the river has always happened. Children would swim in the Loddon and jump and splash in its ponds. Nowadays access is more restricted. Fishing has become a club activity with special fishing rights, and playing fields are planned with careful drainage to be useful for as much of the year as possible. The south-facing sloping fields near Sheepbridge are used for arable crops, and recently a solar panel array was installed over one field to feed electricity directly into the overhead pylon national grid line.
We are fortunate that despite the changing landscape, the valley retains its visible presence.