A Letter from Maria Antonia Bertoni

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.

Pio Bertoni POW Stanbury House
Pio Bertoni POW Stanbury House

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.

Pio Bertoni - aged 18My 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.

Buona Pasqua

Maria Antonia Bertoni, Maria Cristina Bertoni (my sister), Nora Bondioli Bertoni (my mother)

 

MY BIBLIOGRAPHY

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.

Feedback from “Our Village of Spencers Wood”

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.   9CongregationalChurchCentenary

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.

Great Lea Farm House Changes over the Years

posted in: Memories, Three Mile Cross | 0

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 House Farm, 1936 (donated by Bob Watkins)
Great Lea House Farm, 1936 (donated by Bob Watkins)

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.

Great Lea House Farm Pond -taken by a member of the group, Patricia Green, in 2008
Great Lea House Farm Pond -taken by a member of the group, Patricia Green, in 2008

Margaret Bampton.

The Loddon Valley

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 Loddon at Pearmans Lane
The Loddon at Pearmans Lane

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.

Patricia Green

 

Book Launch

posted in: Memories, Spencers Wood Village | 0
audience-listening-to-richard-web
Prof. Richard Hoyle giving short talk on history of Spencers Wood

7 December saw the launch of our new book, More from Our Village of Spencers Wood, in St Michael’s Church. Wine and nibbles were served, including cheese provided by Village Maid Dairies. Mary Wheway got the proceedings off to a flying start by introducing the group and then Prof. Richard Hoyle gave a short talk on the village and the writing of its story, emphasising that though no king or queen has ever slept in Spencers Wood, it still has an interesting history. The book traces the making of the Spencers Wood we know: it tells the history of the ordinary people who have lived here and shaped the village. Richard reminded the audience that the writing of history is never done and requested anyone who has any documents, photos etc that relate to the history of the village to get in touch with us (spwood.localhistory@googlemail.com).

marion-jeannie-at-st-michaels-launch-web
Jeannie from Spencers Wood Group giving Marion the first copy of the new book

Jeannie Brice then presented our guest, Rev. Marion Pyke, with the first copy of the book and Marion said a few words about growing up in the village, and how strong her ties have been with it. As readers of the book will know, the blacksmith’s smithy features largely in Marion’s memories of her childhood, and after the presentation, Marion fell into conversation with the blacksmith’s son, Mr Doug Double, and they discovered to their mutual delight that they had both been born in the same house, Westview.

marion-mr-double-both-born-in-westview-web
Doug Double & Marion Pyke introducing themselves!

 

The evening provided a splendid occasion for launching the book, with events held on the following two days in the Library and the Village Hall and a stall at St Michael’s Fayre on the Saturday. Further events are being planned and the book is on sale in the Post Office, or can be obtained from members of the group, price £13.

group-launch-at-st-michaels-web
All Members of Spencers Wood Local History Group, Contributors (Sarah Codling & Richard Hoyle), and Marion Pyke.

launch-pictures-from-spencers-wood-library-web

Selling the book in Spencers Wood Village Library

 

The group was also busy in December decorating one of the church windows on the theme of Christmas Boxes. The display included an old wooden box to represent the tradition of presenting servants or tradesmen with ‘Christmas boxes’ containing money or presents on ‘Boxing Day’; a tin box bearing the name Huntley, Boorne and Stevens, which would have contained biscuits made by the Reading company Huntley and Palmer’s; a decorated shoe box, a modern-day idea, containing small and useful items which are donated to various charities to help people in need; and our fourth and final box contained a copy of our new book!

If you still want to get hold of a copy of the “More of the Village” book, they can be found at Spencers Wood Post Office, Three Mile Cross Budgens (within the petrol station) and Henry St. Garden Centre.

christmas2016-1
Christmas Window 2016 – “Boxes”
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Patricia, Margaret & Lesley in front of the window


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Cathy Glover & Lesley Rolph

More from Our Village of Spencers Wood

This is the cover of the new book we’ll be launching in December, telling the story of our village in words and pictures.

The launch is on Wednesday 7 December, 18.00-20.00, at St Michael’s Church, Basingstoke Rd, Spencers Wood. Wine and nibbles will be served from 18.00. Then Prof. Richard Hoyle will speak about the history of the area, and Rev. Marion Pyke will talk about her memories of growing up in the village. Copies of the book will be available at a discount, so do come along and get yours hot off the press!
We’ll also be having mini-launches on Thursday 8 Dec., 10.00-12.30 at Spencers Wood Library, and on Friday 9 Dec., 11.00-13.00 at the Village Hall, where you’ll be able to get the discount too, and the book will be available on those days from St Michael’s during Caf’Active opening hours.

 

The illustrations on the cover represent some of the chapters in the book:

Top, clockwise from left: the Village Hall; the Wellingtonia Drive leading to StanburyHighlands house (taken in the 1970s); St Michael’s Church with the Millennium Yew in the middle distance; the crew of Judd’s Sawmills during the Second World War – notice the ‘V’ for Victory, but you’ll have to buy the book to see what else is carved on the end of that tree trunk!

Below, left to right: a pair of houses with the characteristic cream brickwork; the Clares Green SANG; and an Edwardian lady and little girl. These three represent aspects of Spencers ood’s Environment and Development

front-cover-small-web

More from our Village of Spencers Wood

 

 

Celebrations & New Book Launch!

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Celebrations all Round!carnival-picture

This is the seventh year that I have been involved in the Spencers Wood Local Group and supported the Carnival.  I joined the group at the Carnival eight years ago!

It was also our 20th anniversary, and the group has grown so much. Margaret wrote eloquently about the group’s achievements over the years in last month’s Loddon Reach, and if you missed it, you can find it on the Blog page on our web site – www.swlhg.co.uk.

Finally, this year was a special birthday for one of our members too: hence the orchids in the picture!

We had interest in the new book (More from Our Village of Spencers Wood) from many people, as well as information from others about where to find historical imagery of local properties (Reading Library/Records Office) and our other publications. Our children’s history box always goes down well, with coin rubbing, and Lesley telling children stories of milk being delivered by horse and cart, showing horseshoes, and cricket caps and jumpers!

There was a brilliant fairground, and Morris dancers whose bells you could hear from afar!

Launch of New Book!!

We are very pleased to announce the dates for the official launch of More from Our Village of Spencers Wood.

Book Cover - More from Our Village of Spencers Wood
Book Cover – More from Our Village of Spencers Wood

This will be held on the evening of Wednesday 7th December at St Michael & All Angels Church from 6pm to 8pm. The Speaker will be Professor Richard Hoyle who will give a short talk about the history of Spencers Wood, and the Reverend Marion Pyke (who grew up in the area) will be presented with the first copy of the book!

There will be a permanent display in the Church (during their opening hours) in the week of 5th December, with a member of our group selling copies of the book.

Books will be sold from Spencers Wood Library on Thursday 8th December from 10.00 am, and Friday 9th December books will be sold at the Village Hall from 11 to 1pm.

You will also be able to buy the book at all these events, or via our email and website.

Jeannie Brice

Anniversary!

posted in: Events, Spencers Wood Village | 0

This year the group is celebrating its’ twentieth year of existence and the production of five books.  Twenty years ago we didn’t envisage that that we would still be going or achieve this.  In 2001, we were down to 4 stalwart members from about 7 or 8 that Jeremy Saunders encouraged in his home back in 1996 and we four produced the first Spencers Wood book. Considering our naivety, we were very proud of it and it sold out very quickly and we resolved to write another one or two about the local school and church, for their centenaries. Both organisations were established in 1908 and because we thought that St Michael’s would probably have their own ideas for their celebrations we approached Lambs Lane School first with the idea of a book, for theirs.  They were most encouraging and we were able to access many old papers and books, to write up their 100 years’ history. St Michael’s story has had to wait until this year and is included in our latest book about the village.

Our Team
Our Team

To raise funds for the first book we held exhibitions and film shows in the village hall and the library. One exhibition, in 2005, was badly attended because that was the year that Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles having changed it from Friday to Saturday, the Grand National was run as well and as the rugby was on at the Madejski Stadium, it was very quiet. On this occasion we were joined with Beech Hill residents who were writing their own history book having been inspired by our first book. They included Mary Wheway, who was promoting her own book about Beech Hill Baptist Chapel.  The success of the Lambs Lane book resulted in Ryeish Green School, as Oakbank was called then, asking us to write a similar book for their centenary in 2010.  Again, we had much help from the school but we were hard pushed to get this out in time for the celebrations which were wonderful.  A red letter day edged in black, as the school closed shortly afterwards. We have a record though.

The first book was written by various people and the chapters or articles were dedicated to them. This style is echoed in our latest book. Barbara Debney was the first editor. The two school centenary books both ably produced by Mary Wheway, herself an ex-teacher, were written by different people who each took a different decade or two to write about. These two books are therefore similar but not the same.  The Three Mile Cross Chapel book was written by Patricia Green and edited by Mary Wheway having been commissioned by the chapel in memory of one member. We have more copies of this book, available.  Mary now has three of our books to her credit.  Our latest book is edited by Catherine Glover which means a different layout will appear but it is in the style of our first book with chapters written by different people and credited so.

We have been fortunate in that our members, ten in total, are still enthusiastic about local history and we have many talents within the group with so many skills being brought to the table. As the numbers changed so the dynamics have and we have developed in computing, internet, with thanks to Jeannie Brice for our website, editing, presenting, interviewing, selling, ideas and history, and thanks to Lesley Rolph –  regular contributors to St. Michaels Christmas Windows.

We have collected artefacts on the way such as items from Spencers Wood Chapel which the Parish framed for us, a tablet from the Chapel about the Institute, a plaque from Three Mile Cross Chapel, two
John Madejski, Patricia, Margaret & Jeannie - web banners from Spencers Wood WI, a shirt and cap from Spencers Wood cricket club, banners from Ryeish Green school, many deeds copied, with some originals, historic view plates, some catalogues, school magazines and reports, many photographs, posters and leaflets.  The list goes on and on and we welcome anything we can keep to enhance our history.  We have many ideas as to where we are going.

We like appearing at St Michael’s fete and the Carnival and one year we appeared at eight venues; that was exhausting! We are pleased with our efforts and are looking forward to the next twenty years.

Margaret Bampton.

New Book coming Soon!!

posted in: Events, Spencers Wood Village | 0

 

Coming Soon

More from Our Village of Spencers Wood

Have you ever looked up as you walked into the Spencers Wood Library? There are some initials above the door. Have you ever wondered what they meant?

Did you know that Spencers Wood had its own Co-op Store?

Book Cover - More from Our Village of Spencers Wood
Book Cover – More from Our Village of Spencers Wood

Where was Spencers Wood Common, the one that Mary Mitford spoke of so often?

All the answers to these questions and many more facts about your village can be found in the new book, which we expect to publish this month. It is called ‘More from Our Village of Spencers Wood’.

The book has been researched and written by the Spencers Wood Local History Group and has taken several years to come to fruition. The group has researched many original documents and spent many hours in Reading Library and the Berkshire Record Office.

There are chapters on many aspects of Village Life.

The Square was the centre of the village at the beginning of the 20th century and details about all the houses are set out in the chapter on The Square. Then there were two large houses in the village. Highlands, now Vistra Offices was the home of the Magill Family.  Stanbury Park was burnt down in 1960. Both houses have an interesting history and these are detailed in the book. There was a Prisoner of War Camp at Stanbury during and after World War II.

The licence for the original Chapel on the site of the United Reformed Church was dated 1817. There is a copy of it in the book. St Michael and All Angels Church was built nearly a hundred years later. The village hall came a little later still and many of the activities taking place there have been documented. The local schools have a mention including the latest school, Oakbank Secondary Free School.

This is a must buy book and will be available soon at a very reasonable price. It is very well illustrated.

We will be having several book launches in the village in the Autumn. Come along and meet us.

You can also order a copy via our email address (spwood.localhistory@googlemail.com) or via the contacts page on this web site.

Mary Wheway

 

 

Cricket on the Common

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Mary Russell Mitford’s journal about Three Mile Cross is noted that on August 15th in some unknown year was wet in comparison to the previous year when it was very hot and dusty.  So much so that Mary’s garden suffered greatly and the usual evening walk up the hill to Spencers Wood Common was described thus: “No foot could make three plunges into that abyss of pulverised gravel, which had the impudence to call itself a hard road, without being clothed with a coat of a quarter of an inch, of thick dust. Woe to white gowns!  Woe to black!  Drab was the only wear.  Should one meet a carriage, what a sandy whirlwind it was!  What choking! What suffocation! “

Mary met a coach which was an hour late and the steeds, driver, carriage and passengers, all one, dust!

Mary goes on to say that she liked the current year’s wet season as it kept one in but they were more alive.  Everything was doing well.  The corn ripened, the grass grew, the fruit was plentiful and fewer wasps.  There was no need to water the flowers which flourished.  Sometimes the weather cleared and Mary was able to merrily walk up the hill to the common in the evening, enticed by the gay shouts of a dozen, clear, young voices to linger awhile and see the boys play cricket.  Half a dozen of the boys would run away to bring chairs from their homes.  Mary describes these ‘urchins’, as she calls them and their prowess at cricket, with affection.  There was Joe Kirby, aged twelve who led the boys, much older than him, at fifteen and sixteen with a merry and happy disposition. She also mentions Joel Brent and Jem Eusden.  All the people that she mentions by name are real people with their proper names – it is only the place names that she disguises.  Her reason was that people would be proud to have their names in print in Our Village.

The sun sets and to delay getting home she walks back via Mr Welles cottage and its’ spring on the corner of the common to the green lane called Woodcock Lane where the elms grow overhead.  It was getting late but she wasn’t undeterred because she had the glow worms to guide her.  Mary was concerned that the boys didn’t follow her because they so loved to stick them in their hats.

Cricket on the common
Cricket on the common

One hundred years later, cricket was still being played at Hill House on the edge of the common, according to Alan Best who lived here in Spencers Wood then.

Margaret Bampton

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