Over the past few years, our Group have participated in the village church’s Christmas windows displays. Our latest was for December 2015 and had a 1940’s theme. It was entitled “I’ll be home for Christmas”, a song made popular by Bing Crosby in 1943.
We chose this particular Christmas song about a WWII soldier dreaming of coming home for Christmas because it ties in nicely with one of the chapters in our new village book, due out later this year. In addition to a chapter about World War II, other chapters will include St Michaels & All Angels Church; The Chapel; The Square; The Village Hall; The Post Office; Highlands and Stanbury; The Three Schools in the area – Lambs Lane, Ryeish Green and Oakbank; The Library and the Environment and Development.
Please come back to see when it’s being published!
With Christmas almost upon us again, the theme this time is simply Christmas. There was a workhouse at Grazeley, which we hope to research. Prior to 1834, Christmas day was the traditional treat for most workhouse inmates when they would receive roast beef, plum pudding, good cheese and a pint of porter (dark beer) each. But after that date, the Poor Law Union ruled that inmates were not to have any wine, beer or spirituous or fermented liquors unless ordered by the Medical Officer.
Some Unions disregarded this and celebrated Christmas in the usual way. Despite the lack of Christmas fare the inmates were always given a day off on Christmas day, as well as Good Friday and Sunday. Once Queen Victoria married Albert then Christmas took off in a big way with Christmas trees, cards and decorations of holly etc. Eventually the Poor Law Commissioners relented and gave all Unions Christmas fare. The culinary highlight was the plum pudding and the recipe for 300 people contained the ingredients of 36lbs of currants, 42lbs of sultanas, 9lbs of dates, 9lbs of mixed peel, 26lbs of flour, 16lbs of breadcrumbs, 24lbs of margarine,26lbs of Demerara sugar, 102lbs of golden syrup, 102lbs of marmalade, 144 eggs, 2lbs of mixed spice, and 13lbs of carrots. These recipes were often published in local newpapers. To go with the pudding, the inmates would have roast meats such as beef, veal or mutton with ale or porter. Some places the inmates were given extras of tobacco, snuff, oranges and sweets. After tea, which consisted of bread and butter with cake there often followed a magic lantern show. Sometimes they would finish up with a singsong and some dancing.
In the period when Christmas fare was banned the usual diet would consist of gruel made from oatmeal, a small amount of suet, treacle, and salt or allspice. Breakfast was usually bread and sometimes cheese as was supper also, with broth or gruel. Lunch or dinner as it was called then, would consist of vegetables and potatoes with meat appearing only once or twice a week. Supper was similar to breakfast and mostly bread.
There was a recipe called scrap bread pudding which has survived the years made from bread, suet or dripping, currants, sugar, ground ginger, milk and eggs. It sounds quite nutritious but the quantities of other ingredients, compared to the bread, belies this fact. Eggs were only used in recipes or given to invalids. Perhaps your Christmas fare will be better than above.
Farming and providing items for use in agriculture were always the major occupations in this area.
During the Middle Ages, people grazed animals, fished and caught eels in the Loddon, and grew crops on the drier ground. Poor labourers worked on the land and for the lords of the manor. In the 18th century, improvements in land drainage and new equipment made farming more viable. Auction papers from 1815 describe some land in the area as being “fertile and well cultivated”, but most land remained unenclosed until later.
Mary Mitford of Three Mile Cross wrote in the 1830’s of being “fortunate” to live in an unenclosed parish, thanks to “the wise obstinacy of 2 or 3 sturdy farmers and the lucky unpopularity of a ranting madcap lord of the manor’.
She mentions sheep amid the gorse, meadows alive with cattle, and farms with orchards and ponds. Vegetables were a main arable crop and she saw women and children stooping for eight hours a day “setting” beans (planting the seed beans).
Highlands and Stanbury were the two large houses in the area, surrounded by parkland with small farms such as Weathercock Farm and Hill House Farm. By 1870 Whitehouse Farm near the Common, and Yew Tree Farm with its orchard were established on the high ground looking west. Lambs Farm was nearby on the west side of Basingstoke Road, and on the east was Mullins Farm, south of the post office. Wells for fresh water were important, and the 1871 Ordnance Survey recorded wells at Wilders Farm on Ryeish Lane and at the nearby Clares Green Farm. On Hyde End Road, both Floyers Farm and Grovelands Farm had orchards.
Growing fruit and vegetables for the busy town of Reading became profitable, and new farms were established: Nullis Farm near Wilders Grove Farm, Ryeish Farm near the junction with Hyde End Lane, and May’s Farm on Hyde End Lane. Great Lea Farm managed land south of Three Mile Cross. During the early 20th century, some farms amalgamated and more land was used for orchards, for example near the school at Ryeish Green. Flowers also were grown commercially, at Dearlove’s Nursery and at Prior’s Nursery, both beside Basingstoke Road.
By the 1890’s, both Pursers Pedigree Poultry Farm on Basingstoke Road and a 3.75 acre paddock with poultry on Hyde End Road had been established. Until the 1970’s, animals were taken to slaughter at a building near the allotments in Basingstoke Road. The meat was cut up, and either returned to the animal’s owner, or sold in the butcher’s shop at the front of the building. Fresh milk was delivered locally from Channel Islands cows at Mays Farm, and Spenwood cheese was produced in The Square.
Patricia Green – with thanks to Margaret Bampton for input.
Mary Russell Mitford’s writing were first published in “The Lady” magazine.
Our group takes a stand at many local events and we love to see you and talk to you. We enjoy meeting you. Many well-established residents come and look at our displays and sometimes point out a slight mistake. New residents come and gaze in wonder at all the green fields that their houses now stand on.
One gentleman, who lived in Spencers Wood as a little boy, regularly comes to visit us and nearly always brings us some of his memories. He writes them very neatly in long hand. This year he was enquiring about some cottages that were opposite Lambs Lane School and sadly we had to say they had been demolished many years ago.
One of our display boards was about the development of the Swallowfield bypass and it was of great interest to many who passed by. One of our members had found a booklet about it and we transferred the information onto the board so that we could share it.
The bypass was constructed in 1978. It had been on the ‘cards’ for a long time because the old A33 was inadequate for the volume of traffic that traversed it every day. It had 3.6 km of continuous double white lines, 19 substandard bends and numerous junctions. Then when the M4 and Junction 11 were opened, the traffic increased even more and there was a public outcry for some relief. In fact, one frustrated farmer put up a notice board requesting motorists ‘to do their driving on the road’.
In the next few months, we hope to publish a new edition of our Spencers Wood Village Book. We should have some copies with us at the next Spencers Wood Carnival.
Spencers Wood has a clear sense of its own identity. It has however been a community for not much more than two hundred years. It was formerly an area of common land, woods and farms with small groups of poor cottages. In the early nineteenth century the farmland was managed under the mediaeval open field system. People looked for basic providers in Three Mile Cross, Grazeley and at School Green; and attended church at St Mary’s, Shinfield.
The ‘low’ road, Woodcock Lane (see a previous blog), was as important as the track across the Common until about 1830 when the latter was given a better surface. Open ditches were set to drain minor roads and farming improved as fields were enclosed from 1863. Local provision of goods and services increased, from bakers and harness makers, to brick making and digging more wells to improve water supplies. People came from other parts of the country to live here where the air was fresher than down in the Thames Valley. The religious non-conformist movement spread and village craftsmen took the initiative in building the Institute and Congregational Church beside Basingstoke Road.
The post office was established, there was at least one small ‘dame’ school, and more shops and small businesses were set up, often in front rooms of houses. Several ale houses (including the later Red Lion
and the Farriers Arms) served locals and people passing through.
Highlands, on the high ground looking west, had developed from an eighteenth century hunting lodge, and in 1860 Stanbury was built nearby. These properties employed many people and their owners took an interest in Spencers Wood. In 1889 Mr Allfrey of Stanbury donated a village school (now the library). More shops were opening such as Beesley’s (now Tintern). In 1890 Charles Double started shoeing horses and producing tools at the corner of The Square.
Market gardens were established by the Prior and Dearlove families and many orchards were grown. Bicycles became popular and several premises dealt with their repair and sale. The introduction of public omnibus services was welcomed, and a depot was built providing services to Reading, Wokingham, and the army town of Aldershot.
Lambs Lane School opened in 1908, and in the same year St Michael and All Angels Church was completed. The Village Hall was donated to Spencers Wood in 1911. In the twentieth century there was a vibrant social life with organised groups including sports clubs. Small shops delivered their goods, as did coal merchants and farmers taking round fresh milk. During the Second World War (1939-45) many men left to join the forces, and children were evacuated here from London, living with local families and attending Lambs Lane School. The public well on the Common was in great demand, as the war had halted the provision of mains services. It was not until the 1950’s that piped water and gas, and mains electricity were fully available.
New development until the 1970’s was generally small scale. However large building companies realised that here was land suitable for their requirements, and the pace of house building quickened. Market gardening enterprises ceased, and orchards were grubbed out. Some shops closed down, others changed hands, and small office blocks were built. The Farriers Arms took over cottages next door, and the Red Lion was converted to housing. The parish became a Special Development Location, and plans were drawn up which involve more than a thousand extra dwellings in Spencers Wood.
The village is becoming a very different place in which to live.
Were you ever part of the Cubs or Scouts in Spencers Wood? We have had a photograph kindly donated by David Blomley of Farley Hill from 1973. Two of his sons went to Mrs Hendersen’s Cubs every week.
This photograph is of the whole cub pack, and we need your help in naming the boys!!
You can see David’s son, Tom Blomley in the front row, 2nd from the left in the v-necked jumper. His other son, Nicholas, is standing just behind Tom, in the next row back. Both boys attended Lambs Lane in their early years, then moved on to Crossfields. The only other cub we’ve so far been able to name, is one of the group’s son, Alan Wheway, who is right at the back!
Do you recognise yourself? Did you attend one of Mrs Henderson’s cub packs over the years? Did you enjoy it? This bunch look like they had lots of fun! Get in touch if you have any stories to share, or can name any of the boys!
Currently there is only one Public House in Spencers Wood, despite the increase in population. There were at least six in earlier days. The only remaining one is The Farriers.
When William Dopson purchased the building from William Goddard, we believe it was a smithy. After Dopson’s death, his wife, Sarah, ran the place as a pub. It has been a pub since 1891. There have been several owners. In 1985, there was a change of name when the landlord, who also owned The Swan in Three Mile Cross, instigated a competition to rename the pub. It became The Cygnet but reverted to the original name in 1993.
The Red Lion, which was situated on the Basingstoke Road opposite the Post Office, closed its doors in 1994 and was converted into two houses. We understand the men pictured outside the pub in this old picture were apparently railway men but as a group we would love to know more.
The Yew Tree Public House is now Farm View Day Nursery. In the 1891 census, the Beer House keepers were John and Jane Woodeson. We can find records of owners until 1935. Perhaps it became a house then. Locals called The Yew Tree, The Stump, when the yew tree after which it had been named, caught fire and burnt down leaving only a stump.
Does anyone know where The Fighting Cocks was? We have heard that it was situated on the Basingstoke Road between Beech Hill Road and Lambs Lane.
Little is known about The Four Mile Inn. It was pulled down many years ago but stood near the United Reformed Church. It had the alternative name of The Halfway Inn, as prisoners, who were appearing at Reading Assizes and were held at Basingstoke, would take refreshment there at the halfway point.
The Cricketers Public House was at Arden House, which is now The Hop Inn.
The Inn has returned to its roots. In the 1891 census, James Darvall was described as publican and milkman. In 1925, it became a butchers shop with a slaughterhouse at the back. It remained a butcher’s shop until 1970’s and was run by Mr & Mrs Prankard. Later there was a TV repair shop here and in the 1990’s, it became an off licence.
It is good that the new Co-operative shop in Shinfield is involved with the community but there was also a shop in Spencers Wood some years ago. This one was established in 1921, by the Reading Co-operative Society (RCS) whose Headquarters was in Cheapside, in Reading, in premises owned by McIlroys. Primark, in West Street, occupies these premises today. The Co-op in Spencers Wood was very popular and lasted until the mid 1980s when many protesters objected to its’ closure, to no avail. Before this though, the building housed a small confectionary shop run by Miss Horwood whom the local children called ‘Aunt Em’. Miss Horwood surrounded the shop with a large number of Huntley and Palmers biscuit tins and there wasn’t much space for sweets. When the shop closed in the 1920s, RCS updated it making it into a modern grocery store. In the early days, the customers would have been personally served by shop assistants after having queued, until shopping was revolutionised by self service with baskets, trolleys and checkouts.
The building and car park was originally owned by Edwin and Mary Dearlove who ran a nursery and landscape gardening business. They had a large family of nine children, some of which went to Spencers Wood School at our library today, and when Lambs Lane School opened in 1908 they transferred there. William, Thomas and Frederick Dearlove went to school from the tender age of three years. The family was there from early 1900 and left for Reading in 1912 as recorded in the Lambs Lane register. The business transferred to Whitley Street and had nurseries that went through to Kendrick Road.
We know nothing about the building before the Dearloves were there but when the Co-operative left, the building was occupied by Delby’s, the refrigeration company. When they moved to Wootton Grange the building was purchased in 1991, extended and occupied by the Society for General Microbiology (SGM). It was this society that called the building Marlborough House. The Society was first formed in 1945 with the first president being Sir Alexander Fleming. As its’ title suggests, the society professionally studies all aspects of microbiology, giving lectures and writing papers for public interest, nationally and internationally. In 2013, the Society moved to London and is now situated at Charles Darwin House. The premises have been sold and we wonder who or what will arrive next.
Lorna Merry was a founder member of Spencers Wood Women‘s Institute who gave the group these memories to go in our first village book. Initially there were only twenty members but the numbers increased to around sixty or so.
They had lots of speakers from all walks of life and many different topics such as the police, lace making, cake decorating, painting on china, lawyers, dolls of all ages and countries, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, antiques, flower arranging etc. They had some very happy times. A choir was formed which many of them joined under the leadership of Mrs Wellstead. Practices were held at the United Reform Church in the village.
In later years, Mr Jones, who was the organist at St Michael’s church, became the conductor. Other members were Olive Franklin, Nancy Benham, Peggy Gillings, W Runyard, Lorna and many more. They also had a concert party which was great fun. On one occasion they gave a performance as ‘The Black and White Minstrels’ (a popular TV programme , which would be non politically correct today). Supper parties were held and they had many coach trips on which everyone was eager to go. The men folk often came on the trips and they enjoyed them too. On another occasion of the 21st birthday party, the branch held a dinner and social evening. A cartoonist called AREFF printed the cartoon of the committee in the local paper. These are the names in the cartoon; Joan Parkes, Edith Burningham, Peggy Gillings, Miranda Mayne, Eileen Summersgill, Barbara Panting, Mag Dore, Phil Drake, Edna Carter, Eileen Simmons, Janet Rickson, Marjorie Lyon and Lorna Merry.
It was unfortunate that it had to close down in the mid 1980’s because the members were getting older and did not like walking to and from meetings on the dark nights. Lorna and her friend Vera Bowyer were the only surviving original members when they closed. Marjorie Lyon could remember the happy meetings that were held by the WI which were usually educational or instructive. Sometimes members would bring along their personal collections to show and talk about them.
When the group disbanded, each member held a memento from the group and Marjorie had a cup and saucer with WI on them. The idea was that if they group ever reformed the equipment would be in safe keeping until that day. The group has been given the banner of the WI.