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


Events & Interesting Pieces of Information?

We regularly have History displays at the Spencers Wood Village Carnival, St. Michaels & All Angels Church Fete, and in fact the first “event” of the year, the Shinfield Parish Council Meeting being just around the corner in April.

St. Michael's & All Angels Church Fete
St. Michael’s & All Angels Church Fete

Our objective for attending these events is not only to support the local community, and raise awareness of our group, and perhaps to sell the odd book or two, but often we talk to people who share their memories with us.

This is such a rich source of information for us that much of the text of our previous books has come from such events.

We recently added in something for the less senior amongst our community too, to let the younger generations know about farriers, old beer bottles and pre-decimal coins! It’s amazing how fast the world changes.

At Spencers Wood Carnival last year, we were given a very precious gift that this individual must had taken hours to develop. We want to share it with you. It’s a very detailed map (not to scale) of his memories of 1968, and the Spencers Wood Bakery – then called Philpotts.  He also gave us some pictures that show how rural the village was still then.  See what you think!


Bakery Map 1968
Bakery Map 1968

Philpotts Bakery Descriptions 1968 for web











Rural Spencers Wood
Warings Bakery (1968) -formerly Philpotts Bakery
Warings Bakery (1968) -formerly Philpotts Bakery


Do you have any photographs, with your precious memories,  that you would like to share with us?

1968 signpost on corner of Beech Hill Rd & White House Lane

Signpost showing the way in 1968





Thank you for helping us to preserve the history of Spencers Wood for future generations! Maybe we’ll see some of you at our future events in the village?












Pig Farmers in Spencers Wood

Billy Wilson
Billy Wilson

Of late, I have been compiling a file of all the memories that people have given us over the years which have appeared in all our books.  We have over forty of these referring to Spencers Wood generally, plus all those that appeared in our Lambs Lane School and Ryeish Green Schools books.  We now have the memories of those people involved with Three Mile Cross Chapel, and we have some of the United Reformed Chapel which will appear in our new book about the village.

This means that we have a large archive of historical data that can be used in the new book.  Looking through this, I found further references to Body’s Farm which I mentioned in the last Loddon Reach and the farm changed hands in 1937, due to ill health of one of the Luckwell family, according to one memory.  It became a pig farm which was closed down due to swine fever.

Another memoir said that the person concerned could remember a pig-sticker called Mr Kirby who would visit Sheerman’s, the butchers in Basingstoke Road, on a Friday morning and it was horrible to hear the pigs screaming.  Billy Wilson, who died in the 1990s, told us that pigs used to roam on what was called White’s Green, going down towards Beech Hill.  Perhaps they came from Body’s Farm.

It is more likely that the pigs came from the home of the Foremans.   Foreman was a free range pig farmer who reared pigs in mobile sties fitted with wheels on a field alongside the Loddon River.  The Foremans lived in a house in Lambs Lane opposite the road to Kingsbridge. Jack Gray gave us this information and he also told the story of the family of Bennetts, of which there were thirteen.

They were involved in many of the farms locally including the Halfacres, who kept pigs and dairy cows.  Jack also mentions other farmers namely Brookers, Bowyers, Rays, Dances, Dunlops and Cooksons.

At the back of The Farrier’s Arms, there was a pig sty with a large brick and tiled store next to it with a fireplace.  Was this store used to smoke the pigs or was it where a smithy once was?

All of the above ‘piggy’ memories came from our file and should anyone wish to add theirs for posterity, we would be pleased to receive them.

Margaret Bampton.

Some Local Farms

I have recently been reviewing a report of 1938 found in the Record Office about some of the properties then owned and rented out by the Hunter family of Beech Hill. They owned several farms, including two next door to each other – Sheepsbridge Court Farm and Body’s Farm.  The Group recently had an enquiry about Body’s Farm and I can tell the enquirer that it consisted of 100 acres and 30 poles and was rented out for £88 per annum.

Body’s Farm had an attractive farmhouse and was in the hands of a young and hard working tenant, name unknown.  The old cowshed was adapted from an old timber built corn barn.  (This could have been the barn that was consumed by fire in the 1990s.)

Sheepsbridge farm was a dairy holding with some arable farming consisting of 222acres 2 roods and 4 poles with a rental of £244.15 shillings (£244.75p).  It had a modern cowshed but the rest of the buildings were dilapidated and old.  Much of the thatch roofing required renewing.  The Hunters considered selling this but finding another farm for the tenant made it unviable.  As an alternative the holding could have been put to Body’s next door.    If sold the farm would have to realise £4275 in order to obtain an income of £150 per annum from the invested proceeds.

White House Farm was described as an attractive holding and that negotiations were afoot for the transfer of the tenancy.   Milk production accommodation was not good and the present tenant erected his own bale (a portable dairy house built on wheels or skids).

Two other farms were at Beech Hill but one of the smaller holdings was a pair of semis in Kiln Lane.  This is my home now and the report says that they are old and the brickwork perished.  Obviously damp despite a partial insertion of a damp course and many roof timbers appeared to have perished.  From a superficial inspection the report said that further expenditure should not be made to render them habitable.  In fact the Local Authority might take action under the Housing Act of 1935 but the cost of carrying out their requirements would render the scheme uneconomical, despite one of them being occupied.

The report goes on to say that all rents were paid up to date and the tenants appeared to be satisfied.  All the estates were largely agricultural but Sheepsbridge Farm was wholly agricultural. Proposals were made to build on Body’s Farm to a density of 4 houses per acre, and Whitehouse Farm only, including the allotments, to a density of 6 per acre.  The allotments became Diana Close in 1997 but the farm was restricted by the Planning Inspectorate which allowed Warren Croft to be developed in recent years. Body’s Farm has not been developed.

Margaret Bampton.

Three Mile Cross Chapel

During August we have concentrated our efforts on completing the book about Three Mile Cross Chapel and it is almost finished. It is subject to a review at present. Some research has been undertaken about non-conformity locally and the following is a short summary of those findings.

Three Mile Cross Chapel
Three Mile Cross Chapel

Prior to The Dissenters Act of 1852, all non-conformists from the Church of England, excluding Papists were required by law to licence any premises where more than five gathered to worship. The fee for this was 2 shillings and 6 pence (12.5p) and obtained from the diocese in which the premises stood or from the Court of Quarter Sessions. After civil registration for births, marriages and deaths came in, from 1837, the registering for licences was also made by the civil authority as per the act above. There were many churches licensed locally from 1772, in Shinfield at Lee Common, in the premises of Steven Sayer and the application was signed by William Hacker, William Church, John Hawkins, Richard Dulley (Senior and Junior), James Simmonds, and Edward Shepherd.

Another licence was issued in 1815, for premises near to the four mile stone on Spencers Wood Common and signed by George Bailey, Martha Drew, E Bailey, Sophie Drew, John Carter and Elizabeth Drew. John Carter also, requested a licence from the Salisbury Diocese, for a chapel in 1814, at Beach(sic) Hill, Wilts at Clappers Farm. There had been an earlier request, in 1794, for a chapel at Beech Hill. Between 1815 and 1817, Richard Body requested 3 licences for Shinfield.

There were many requests for chapels in Swallowfield, spelt on one occasion, Swallerfield and included Riseley. These occurred in 1798, 1799, 1812, 1817, 1821, 1832, 1833, 1835 and 1848 and most of these were in Wiltshire. There were many different religious groups such as, Wesleyan Methodists, Primitive Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists with differing branches, Independents, Congregationalists, Countess of Huntindon’s Connexion and Plymouth Brethren, also with branches. The Methodists were encouraged in using the Church of England churches as well as their own but were evangelical, particularly after Wesley’s death when they began to ordain its own clergy. The Connexion bit above also relates to being in connection with Wesley. The Primitive Methodists didn’t always register their churches as most were conducted out of doors and the Independents had the alternative name of Tent Methodists.

Margaret Bampton.

Ryeish Green Memorial Service – 15th September 2012

The day dawned bright on the Saturday morning of the Memorial Service. We had done everything we could to advertise the event. We had put notices up in all of the village communal places – Spencers Wood, Three Mile Cross and Swallowfield Post offices; Spencers Wood and Swallowfield Village Hall and lastly St Michaels & All Angels Church. We had put an article in Loddon Reach (twice!). We had also written to the Reading Chronicle and they had published an article about the Memorial Service.

Where some of us were still in contact with ex-teachers and pupils from Ryeish Green School, we had used word of mouth to publicise the service … but nonetheless we were still anxious – Was that enough? Would anyone actually turn up?  Would we be faced with an empty Church?

We should not have worried. Over fifty of Ryeish Green’s ex-teachers and pupils arrived in the sparkling sunshine. They welcomed each other warmly and the service began with the Reverend Beatrice Pearson leading.

She commenced with talking of Memories , and we sang “All things Bright and Beautiful”.

William Mearns - Student at Ryeish Green
William Mearns – Student at Ryeish Green

Jeannie Brice from our Spencers Wood Local History Group then read out a poem called “God’s Lent Child”. The feedback was so warm that we have taken the liberty of reproducing it here, in full.

Simon Coster Student at Ryeish Green School (28.9.81 - 24.4.97)
Simon Coster
Student at Ryeish Green School
(28.9.81 – 24.4.97)

         God’s Lent Child

I’ll lend you for a little while, a child of mine, God said
For you to love the while he lives and mourn for when he’s dead.
It may be six or seven years, or forty-two or three
But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for me?

He’ll bring his charms to gladden you and should his stay be brief
You’ll always have his memories as a solace in your grief.
I cannot promise he will stay, since all from earth return,
But there are lessons taught below I want this child to learn.

I’ve looked this whole world over in my search for teachers true
And from the folk that crowd Life’s lane I have chosen you.

Gail Tildsley  - Student at Ryeish Green School
Gail Tildsley – Student at Ryeish Green School

Now will you give him all your love and not think the labour vain,
Nor hate me when I come to take this lent child back again?

I fancy that I heard them say “Dear God, thy will be done.
For all the joys this child will bring the risk of grief we’ll run.

Robert Jones (1978-1993) - Student at Ryeish Green School
Robert Jones (1978-1993) – Student at Ryeish Green School

We will shelter him with tenderness, we’ll love him while we may
And for all the happiness we’ve ever known, we’ll ever grateful stay.
But should the angels call him much sooner than we’d planned
We will brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand.

~ Author Unknown

Beatrice then said a little  about the children of Ryeish Green and we remembered each of them one by one –

John Taylor
John Taylor

Gail Tildesley, John Taylor, Lorraine Denton, William Mearns, Simon Coster and Robert Jones.

We also remembered the teachers Richard Turner and Maureen Galloway.

Richard Turner (teacher at Ryeish Green School)
Richard Turner (teacher at Ryeish Green School)

All of them will have memorials in the churchyard.

Margaret Bampton, from the History group, then read from the New English Bible.  An extract  from The Gospel according to St Mark, chapter 10, verses 14-1: “He said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you,

Chair built by pupils of Maureen Galloway
Chair built by pupils of Maureen Galloway

whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like child, will never enter it.” And he put his arms around them, laid his hands upon them, and blessed them.”

Beatrice then completed the service with an Address and the Lord’s Prayer, before we sang “Give me oil in my lamp”, and we all left the church for her to bless the actual plaques, and a plant of remembrance was placed.

Our group would like extend their gratitude, although many people have supported making the service possible, in particular to Lesley Somerville, David Maloney, Anne Luckhurst, John Veale, the ex-pupils who came, those from the resource centre, and of course the Reverend Beatrice Pearson.

Thank You.

Ryeish Green Memorial Service – 15th September 2012

A Memorial Service will be held at St.Michaels & All Angels Church, along the Basingstoke Road in Spencers Wood, for the children and teachers that died whilst they attended Ryeish Green School.Robert Jones

When the History group were researching the Ryeish Green book we recovered a number of plaques from the school grounds. Although the School had tried to contact the relatives of the children or teachers commemorated, they had sadly not been able to contact them, and the plaques were set to go into a skip! We said we would keep them, without really knowing what we would do with them! They were in a very sorry state.

We  had them renovated, with the profits from the sale of the books, and tried to figure out where they could naturally be re-sited.

Robert Jones (1978-1993) - Student at Ryeish Green School
Robert Jones (1978-1993) – Student at Ryeish Green School
 After two years of sitting in one of the members houses, we finally got agreement, from all the powers that needed to agree, and the Rev’d Beatrice Pearson will be holding a short service to re-site them at the local Church.
Richard Turner (teacher at Ryeish Green School)
Richard Turner (teacher at Ryeish Green School)
The children that will be remembered are Simon Coster (1981-1997);   Robert Jones (1978-1993); William Mearns (died 1989);  John Taylor (died 1988), and  Gail Tildesley, for which there is a plaque and a fountain which has been converted into a bird bath.

Lorraine Denton (d 1979) plaque was returned to her parents on closure of the school.

There are also two ex-teachers that will be remembered Richard Turner and  Maureen Galloway.  Richard Turner was an English Teacher, and his inscription bears a quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce – “I go to encouter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”. Maureen Galloway was also a teacher at the school, and has a chair that her pupils built for her, and her husband has lovingly restored.

The  service will take place at 11.30am on 15th September (rearranged from 8th as originally published in Loddon Reach).

All are most welcome.  Please pass on this message to anyone else that you think might be interested in remembering these individuals.

Thank You.

Jubilee Bash – A “Diamond” Day was had by all!

On Monday 4th June 2012, Spencers Wood Local History Group collaborated with Shinfield History Group to put on a display at the Jubilee Bash on Spencers Wood Recreation Ground.

The display’s purpose was to show how the area we live in has changed over the period of the Queen’s Reign.

The information displayed was on each decade starting at the 1950’s right through to the present day. Each decade took a newsworthy event or topic –  whether it was the opening of a motorway (the M4 in 1971);  a celebration e.g. the 300th birthday of a school,  Shinfield Infant and Nursery School; or the 100th birthday of Lambs Lane School in Spencers Wood; or the opening of a new facility, the Health Centre in Shinfield; or the closing of another, Ryeish Green School in 2010.  The only criteria used was that each event had to be specific and important to the people of the Parish.


Additional informaton focused on maps of Shinfield and Spencers Wood and the changes in the development of the areas. There has been much building, with many new roads and houses being seen in both areas. Shinfield’s map included two aerial views and sited areas like Wychelm, Fairmead, Oatlands Roads being developed from the 1960’s; School Green area being built up and Chobham House being built; the M4 during the early 1970’s, and the NIRD closing in 1985 amongst others things. Spencers Wood’s focused on specific roads, for example Apple Tree Lane (1963); Askew Drive (1971) and the Swallowfield Bypass in 1981. Certainly we are also seeing a lot of development in this decade.

There was a summary of what activities the history groups undertake. The final piece of information was of the royal family tree from the Queeen’s father, George VI and mother Queen Elizabeth and all their descendants.

Jackie Blow & Jeannie Brice
Spencers Wood Display

There was lots of piece of memorabilia from the lifetime of the Queen – magazines , silver spoons and mugs. We also now have a “Junior Historians Box” which has all sorts of treasures in it! We will be showing the display and taking this box with us to the Lambs Lane Summer Fete on 30th June, so if you are interested in seeing it, please come along!

The Bash itself included bands – the Reading Scottish Pipe Band and others; Dog Shows; Classic Cars; Dancing Competitions; Food Stalls etc.

All in all a brilliant day!

A visit to Lambs Lane School

Lambs Lane School invited us to share our knowledge of the local area for the school’s special day about “Local People, Local Places and Local History” on 29th March. We sorted maps, photographs and displays from our archives and research folders, and prepared a selection for the day concentrating on the area near the school and along Basingstoke Road. In the hall we arranged boards with photographs showing local buildings now and the same sites in the past, illustrating changes and development over the years. Another board had photographs of the eight infant and junior schools that have existed locally, to see if the children recognised where they were. Maps on display showed Basingstoke Road with the premises and people who lived there in 1914, when Spencers Wood was a small community with many little shops and services. The children were intrigued and asked us many questions as they visited the hall during the morning.

Back in the classrooms, the children then asked us further questions about village life and what their school (and ours) had been like. They wondered how they would manage if their only water supply was from the well on the common, and indeed how strange was a world without computers. We gave presentations showing some ancient maps of Berkshire, and early editions of the OS maps from before and after the school existed. We discussed with Years 5 and 6 how the geography (and geology and soils) of the area influenced its history and development, then we guided these children and later the children in Years 3 and 4 to draw their own maps centred on the school.

In the afternoon the junior children walked with their teachers from school to explore the village and follow the historic route up the main road. Members of our group pointed out buildings and places that were on the photographs, highlighting the changes that have happened. It was possible to pick out parts of buildings that were old and the newer additions, and to spot the use and patterns of bricks while wondering which old bricks might have been made at the kiln in the woods. We looked at the fields around the buildings and appreciated the style of some recent development.

Our group certainly enjoyed the day, and to judge by their smiles and attentiveness, the children also did. We would thank the staff for inviting us, and who knows, there may now be some budding historians or town planners among the pupils.

Patricia Green

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Last month’s article requested items to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee this year and this prompted a memory of mine when I met Her Majesty, in 1968, in Queen’s Road, Reading. I had worked for the GPO and on marriage had to leave because they did not employ married women. I was given my insurance cards to take to Social Security.  Each person would have a card for National Insurance stamps which were affixed weekly or monthly according to when you were paid and cancelled with a written date. These were returned to DHSS annually. A big change today, when national insurance contributions are taken at source.

Talking to the clerk there, I explained my position and she said that their new ADP department was looking for employees.  My job initially, as Personal Assistant to the Head of the ADP Division of the Ministry of Social Security (Health was added later on) was to check and monitor the new building going up in Queen’s Road to accommodate an innovative computer. This venture was a joint project with the Ministry of Labour which would issue unemployment benefit and sick pay cheques.

Visit of the Queen to Reading
© The Reading Evening Post

The computer, when it was built, covered the whole of the ground floor, ran on tape, was kept at a certain temperature, and was a forbidden and mysterious area for most of the personnel except the programmers who were regarded with awe.  Compare this with today when I wrote this article on my home computer and paid for my nephew’s wedding present all via the ether, not necessarily needing a building to house the computer.

Naturally it was a highlight for me, to liaise with Buckingham Palace and Westminster to arrange the visit of the Queen, Prince Phillip and Mrs Judith Hart, the Minister of Social Security.  I didn’t actually speak to the Queen but was proud to have been the arranger of her visit and I have the picture supplement from the local paper to remind me.
Are there any other personal Royal stories out there we could use for the Parish celebrations in June? Please let us know.
Margaret Bampton

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