VE Day and the Impact of the War on the Village

Although Shinfield’s VE Day Commemorations had to be cancelled due to the current restrictions we’ve taken the opportunity to update our website to create an area about the impact of the Second World War, and the Great War, on the Village and its residents.  This includes information from previous posts including accounts of evacuees and the impact of the wars on our village schools as well as new information.

The former United Reform Chapel, Basingstoke Road

We’ve also created a new Resources area on the website which will contain free downloadable files and information. With so many people taking advantage of the current restrictions to explore the area by bike or on foot, the first item to be uploaded is a history-focused walk along the Basingstoke Road.

Some people may feel that somewhere like this doesn’t have much of a history to speak of but we would beg to differ. All along the Basingstoke Road from Three Mile Cross to Swallowfield there are hints and clues to be found which add interest to an afternoon’s walk, for instance the old orchards that used to grow where Apple Tree Lane now stands, a reminder of the village’s former history of market gardening. No need to walk the whole distance in one go but if you’re feeling energetic…

Jeremy Saunders, May 2020

Sussex Lane off Hyde End Road

Sussex Lane is marked on old maps.  The 1740 map shows some plots of land that were unchanged for centuries.  The plot where “Hardy Cottage” was built in 1889 was marked on the map of 1740 with a “bothy” and the plot outline was exactly the same when it was purchased by Harry Cook in the 1960s.  The Lane is part of the route from Swallowfield to St. Mary’s Church in Shinfield, which goes partly across fields as a footpath, and partly on tarmac roads.

When St. Michael’s Church was built and the new ecclesiastical parish was carved out of the original St. Mary’s parish in 1911, the centre of Sussex Lane formed the boundary between the two, with houses on either side in different parishes.  The Lane still forms the boundary between the separate parts of the civil and ecclesiastical parishes.  The fields at the southern end of the Lane were worked for gravel extraction from gravel pits owned Mr and Mrs Robbins of Glenwood, and local children used to swim in the lakes.  The pits were filled in with rubbish during the 1960s by Wokingham Council.  At that time the Lane was called “Gravel Pit Lane” or “Pits Lane” and the later residents had to petition to change the name to Sussex Lane.

Only three dwellings along the Lane date from before the second half of the twentieth century.  The oldest property is Meadow Cottage, formerly “Glenwood” and originally two Elizabethan cottages.  It now retains parts of the sixteenth and eighteenth century Georgian building.  Wooden stables with a loft over were pulled down in the mid-1960s to make room for the Meadow Cottage Nursery School which took children between the ages of three and five years.  Sussex Lodge has deeds dating from the mid-1850s.  Hardy Cottage, previously called Lane End Cottage, was built in 1889 and was lived in by the gardener to one of the local estates.  The soil there is a deep rich loam built up over the years and there is still a working well in the garden.  At the entrance to Sussex Lane there was a market garden where no.205 Hyde End Road now stands.  The production of fruit and vegetables for markets in the Thames Valley was a major land use in Spencers Wood during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Beyond Hardy Cottage, the land where Laburnum was built in 1958 had been a small-holding.  The Lane and Hyde End Road were re-aligned in the 1960s and further properties were added in Sussex Lane during the 1960s – 1980s.  Jordan Close and new houses fronting Hyde End Road were added in the 1990s.

Sources

Mrs Kay Kennedy, Sussex Cottage 2004

Mr Harry Cook, Hardy Cottage 2004

 

Patricia Green, February 2011

World War Two – Evacuees in Spencers Wood

Evacuees came to Spencers Wood in September 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two.  In a wish to keep at least our future generations safe, young children were removed from the cities and towns which were likely to be bombed, and taken to country villages.  Spencers Wood, Ryeish Green, Three Mile Cross and surrounding villages were designated reception areas particularly for children from London.  Mothers with very young children came also but most children came alone or as a group from school with a teacher.  The children for this area travelled from Waterloo Station to Wokingham, where they transferred to coaches for the rest of their journey.  They each had only a small case and the all-important gas mask in its box fastened with string round their necks.

Children were allocated to local residents and it is heart-warming to know that many children regarded their time here as some of the happiest of their lives.  Not all placements were successful, of course, and some boys and girls returned to London when there was little or no bombing during the autumn of 1939.  However most of them returned when the air raids began in earnest.  The John Ruskin School and the Cypress School in Croydon brought whole classes of children here.  The children had to continue their education and the local school buildings had to accommodate the extra pupils.  At first, Ryeish Green (then a junior school) and Lambs Lane schools arranged to have separate sessions with their own children taught by the original staff attending in the mornings, and the London children having their lessons in the afternoons.  This was soon changed and the children were mixed together to have lessons for the whole school day.  It was quite a culture shock for both groups of children and rooms were described as “bursting at the seams”.

As the town children settled in, they regarded their surroundings with amazement.  There were few of the amenities they were used to – no street lighting, few houses with electricity, many with no mains water.  It was strange to get water from the well in the garden or from the communal well on the Common off Basingstoke Road.  Instead of narrow streets with their neighbours’ houses and industrial buildings, there was all that sky and lots of open space with green fields, woods and animals!  Children had to fit in with the customs of the families they were staying with, but many found plenty of time for play and for exploring the wide countryside.  Children roamed with their new friends to Shinfield or to Grazeley, enjoying streams and woods. Clocks were put forward two hours in summer to get the most daylight in the evenings and everyone was expected to assist in getting in the harvest.  Schools closed so that the children could help in these vital labour-intensive tasks since all the younger men were away at war.

With the abundance of children in the villages, special efforts were made to entertain them during holidays and at Christmas.  Church and chapel were important.  Concerts were put on and shows at schools were rehearsed and polished ready for performances there and in the village hall.  Local children recall that some of the refugees were “rather boisterous” but that they all learned to become tolerant of one another and some formed lasting friendships.  Several of the refugees who attended Lambs Lane School recorded memories reproduced above.

Patricia Green   September 2009

Memories of Evacuees during WW2

Thank you to the residents who have recently given us their memories, including war-time ones.

We heard about the family that lived in Church Lane, Three Mile Cross, where a bomb fell in the field opposite and damaged their house and they had to move out. Another bomb fell in a garden in Grazeley Road and blew off the front door of the house during the night while the family continued to sleep upstairs. We spoke to another resident who had been a child evacuee to Reading who was separated from her mother and younger siblings and housed with many different families and, at one time, even had to sleep in a garden shed.

The evacuee children from the London area came from Waterloo Station to Wokingham, where they were transferred to coaches for the rest of their journey to Spencers Wood. They each had a small case and the all-important gas mask in its box, fastened with string round their necks.

The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 caused a halt in the installation of main infrastructure services. Spencers Wood remained a rural village, causing amazement to the evacuee children who were sent from London and other cities. It was a shock to find no electricity, no piped gas, no running water. Dotti Johnson who was 7 when she came to Spencers Wood told us: “The grey stone cottage was without sanitation or running water. Drinking water came from a well in the back garden. Lighting was obtained by oil lamps and candles. Cooking was done by a small kitchen range.” Many houses had wells in their gardens or in their outhouses where fresh cold water could be pumped directly into a sink.

There were no street lights, and the wide starry skies sometimes over-awed the city children. However, they generally loved the freedom of the countryside, exploring and playing in the many surrounding fields and woodlands and picking fruit, nuts and flowers according to the season. Schooling was shared with the village children, and some teachers came with the evacuees. The resident grown-ups (all able-bodied men were called up into the armed forces) often felt that the village was over-run with children, and they arranged many concerts and other activities in the village hall. These delighted the youngsters. We have records from evacuees saying that this was the happiest time of their lives.

Jackie Blow and Patricia Green   June 2017

The Landscape of the early Twentieth Century

Percy's Farm
Aerial View of Percy’s Farm

Before the M4 and the By-pass, the local landscape was one of fields, hedges and orchards with small clusters of houses. It
was truly rural: people lived ‘in the country’. Old photographs and maps show many groups of trees, particularly the double avenue of Wellingtonias surrounded by even older oak trees near the hilltop. The west side of the main road through Three Mile Cross and Spencers Wood was thickly bordered with trees defining boundaries of farms and estates. The grounds of Highlands and Stanbury House were enhanced with more ornamental trees and, beyond the common, a mix of native trees formed a wooded skyline.

Footpaths had developed for people to get to church, work, and to the new schools. One took people from the Stanbury estate down to Grazeley Church (part of Spencers Wood was in Grazeley parish). Important paths were paved, but not Woodcock Lane. Beneath its avenue of oaks, it developed a wooded complex of trees, shrubs and ground flora. Woodcock Lane joined Basingstoke Road north of Three Mile Cross, passing the pond at the end of Grazeley Road. There were many ponds in corners of fields and
beside footpaths and roads. The largest one reached to the side of Basingstoke Road and had an eastern outlet stream which continued partly culverted in a series of ponds and damp ground south of Hyde End Road. A pond at Three Mile Cross and one near the entrance to Basingstoke Road allotments were later filled in.

Other ponds survived and trees shaded them to create rich wildlife habitats. The ponds held rainfall run-off from fields and roads, fed through open ditches protected by banks and verges. These were a major feature among the small late-enclosure fields north of Hyde End Road. Here corners of dense hedgerows grew into copses complete with hazel, elder, wild roses and brambles, giving a harvest of nuts, berries and fruit for animals and people. Many houses were for farm workers who were expected to feed their families with produce from their long back gardens. After World War I, allotments were established on fields in Beech Hill Road, behind Basingstoke Road and Clares Green Road, in Ryeish Green and Three Mile Cross.

The area was renowned for the many small farms and orchards. Food and flowers went to market in Reading and by train to London.Priors Market Garden was on the hillside south of Three Mile Cross and Dearlove’s Nursery in Spencers Wood supplied their shop in Reading. Dairy farms delivered milk, and there were poultry farms, a pig farm and even a tomato grower with greenhouses on the hilltop. The Ordinance Survey maps show many orchards, for instance in Three Mile Cross, along Basingstoke Road and Hyde End Road, around the junction of Croft Road and Hyde End Lane, and even in the centre of The Square. There was a large orchard off Clares Green Road – now the Appletree Lane area where many houses had an old fruit tree left in their garden. The blossom of these orchards and the hedgerows was a splendid sight in spring.

Patricia Green      October 2019

Brief Early History of Spencers Wood

The earliest settlement in the Shinfield/Spencers Wood area was in Anglo-Saxon times and Domesday book records that the land had been held by Sexi from King Edward the Confessor. The report of the late eleventh century continues:

 

There is land for six ploughs.  (There are) eight villeins and five borders with

seven ploughs. There are two serfs and a mill worth five shillings and 150 eels

and five fisheries worth  550 eels and sizteen acres of meadow and woodland

to render ninety swine. It was (formerly) worth seven pounds, now eight pounds.

 

This was an insignificant area on the western edge of Windsor forest, with the River Loddon its main asset. The church at Shinfield and any early village settlement on the well-drained land nearby would have been the local centre. Villagers were bound to the open field farming system where each man had scattered strips and all had to cooperate in deciding the rotation of crops and sharing the oxen to draw the plough. Until the middle of the fourteenth century most men were also bound to the lord of the manor to work his land which was in the east of the parish, away from Spencers Wood. In 1229 the king had sold some of these lands to Geoffrey le Despenser, whose name may be the origin of ‘Spencers Wood’. The Black Death and recurrent plagues during the fourteenth century created a shortage of farm labour and made the opportunity for labourers to rent their own farms. In due course increased prosperity lead to more independent farmers, and the emergence of tradesmen to serve their local community.

 

However most people in rural areas like Spencers Wood lived in great poverty and this became an acute problem during the late eighteenth and early nineteen centuries. The Poor Law was intended to help and the Overseers of the Poor were appointed to deal with poverty among their communities. Substantial farming families like Pither and Body cared about this, made decisions and paid much of the poor rate. One scheme started in 1700 was to provide land or parish cottages on the edge of the common at Spencers Wood where families could have room to grow vegetables and keep pigs and geese, but life was still hard there. In the 1770’s a new workhouse for the poor was built at Great Lea Common just north of Spencers Wood. People hated having to go to the workhouse, and preferred to take ‘outdoor relief‘, in which the Overseers provided items like ‘a truss of straw to lie on’, shoes, smocks, or coals for the truly destitute. Many families living in Spencers Wood were very poor, which does not feature in the writings of Mary Russell Mitford in the first half of the nineteenth century. She wrote ‘if anything be ugly you strike it out’, which was following the tradition of Jane Austen and Charles Lamb.

 

However she does record the trades that catered for the local people – blacksmith, butcher, and bootmaker for example. Also she relates how the main roads through Spencers Wood were surveyed by Mr McAdam  who decided that the low road – Woodcock Lane –  was less suitable than the road along the higher ground for his new system of paving. Improvements from tracks to paved road surfaces made a great difference to movement between communities.

 

By the end of the nineteenth century the trades listed in the census returns and the directories list more trades catering for a wealthier population. Spencers Wood had been farmland in 1872, and continued to supply food which now could be taken on improved roads to the quickly expanding town of Reading. Much of the better drained land on the hillsides of Spencers Wood was used for market gardening and orchards.

Patricia Green  January 2020

Village Hall – Celebration dinner on ending of WW1

After World War I, one hundred years ago on 3 September 1919, a banquet was arranged to welcome home all those from Grazeley, Spencers Wood and Three Mile Cross of the United Services that had survived the War. This was held in Spencers Wood village hall, then called St Michael’s hall.

The Village HallThe menu for the banquet seems modest to us today but would have been a luxury after all the shortages then, was salmon with mayonnaise sauce, ham, roast beef, lamb with mint sauce, and steak and kidney pie accompanied with salad and potatoes.  This was followed by plum and apple tarts, blancmange, jellies, fruit salad and trifle.  There was also cheese and biscuits with fruit, following the deserts.  Ales, minerals and cigarettes were also provided.  The catering was provided by J Allen of Farley Hill.  There were many Allens in the area.

Reverend Lewarne, vicar of St Michael’s church, said the grace and the toast to the King was made by the Chairman of the event, Brigadier General Crowe who also proposed the silent toast to all those who had not survived the War.  The Chairman also compered the concert that followed, during which another toast was made to all the United Services.  A W Dodd opened and closed the concert with a piano solo and the Brigadier General also sang twice as did Mr Percy Cooper, who was connected with the United Reformed Church (URC).  Mr C Holloway also sang once.  There was an Holloway family living in Grazeley.  During the concert there was a call for volunteers to sing and the concert finished with Auld Lang Syne and God Save the King (George V).

The Committee who organised the banquet consisted of three clergymen, Reverend Lewarne who was the chairman, Reverend Cole, the pastor of the URC and Reverend Jones from Grazeley Church. There were two Lieutenants, J Middleton and Salmon and others namely Messrs Alexander, Aldridge, Bullingham, C Double, Eggleton, Hayes, Steel, Turvey and H W Salmon.  The Vice Chairman was E R Horton, the Treasurer, M T Temple, and the Honorary Secretary, Mrs E R Grover.  The Grover families lived in Basingstoke Road and Hyde End Road. The Salmons were market gardeners in Clares Green Road and the Apple Tree Estate has a road named after them.  The Middletons were grocers on the corner of Hyde End Road but before 1919 had moved to Grovelands Farm.  (See our latest book.)  The Alexanders came from Grazeley as did the Holloways. One Aldridge married into the Wheeler family.  The Bullinghams were connected to the village hall and James Hayes lived in the Square.   There was a J R Horton at Highlands around this time and may have been a relative to E R Horton. The C Double was Charles who had the Forge on the corner of The Square.

In Reading Library there is a copy of the Reading Standard’s Pictorial Record of the War in four volumes.  In volume four, 1919, on page 983 is a flashlight photo of the returned warriors of Spencers Wood, Grazeley and Three Mile Cross at the banquet, should anyone wish to see it.

Margaret Bampton and Jackie Blow.

Memories of ‘the Rec’

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As the Carnival is taking place this month on the Recreation Ground, this article has little snippets from our memories file about the ‘Rec’.

Chris Clarke wrote to us about her mother, Dorothy Edwards, who was well known in the village for all that she did for the Muscular Dystrophy organisation. Dorothy set up a local branch of the Society called the Loddon Vale Branch and every year would hold a fete on the Rec. She would get a personality from the television to open it. Not only that she would arrange for a dance with a brass band in the village hall, as well.  At one time, Dorothy held a grand dance at the Great Western Hotel at the station in Reading and persuaded Roy Castle to entertain the dancers, with his tap dancing and playing his trumpet. All for the charity.

Other contributors to our memories file are Irene and John Elliott who told us about the Carnival Queen.  Irene’s sister, Joyce, was once the Rose Queen who was voted to the position by the villagers of Spencers Wood.  Mrs Magill of Highlands used to crown the Queen.  Mrs Magill was married to Sandes Magill who was one of the first trustees of the village hall.   The Magill’s would hold the Swallowfield and District Horticulture Show at Highlands every other year according to Janet Bunch. It was here that Janet would meet her friends Shirley and Melita Gregory who lived in painted wagons parked down Brookers Hill.   Sandes Magill was well known in the neighbourhood for his community spirit being the vice-president of Spencers Wood British Legion, Chairman and one of the first trustees of the village hall, President of Spencers Wood Cricket Club amongst other positions.  Mrs Magill also took an interest in local affairs and organised many fund-raising events.

The final piece of information comes from Debbie Johnson Wait who with Liz Ratcliffe established the Spencers Wood Carnival back in 2007.  Debbie and Liz wanted to do something for the community on a larger scale than just a fete. Liz had the idea of a carnival because living opposite the pavilion had noticed that very little happened there. Everyone looks forward to this as it involves local charities and everyone can take part. The local history group love it because we get so much information from local people and others who come from far and wide to attend the event.   Not only that we share in the profits which pays for our website. You can hear more from Debbie on our website.

Margaret Bampton.

The line not built

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This month’s column is a guest contribution by Professor Richard Hoyle who lives in Spencers Wood (and who contributed to the recent book, More from Our Village of Spencers Wood).

History is not only about what happened; it is also about what might have happened, the road not taken. So it is fruitful to discuss what might have happened if the Armada had landed in 1588 or if there had been an invasion in 1940; or if Jim Callaghan had called an election in the autumn of 1978 rather than the Spring of 1979. Here we consider a ‘might have been’ on a smaller scale: the railway through Spencers Wood.

The year is 1909. Private cars are beginning to appear, as are petrol-driven buses and lorries. But the future was not so obvious at the time and public discourse was still about trains. The Berkshire Chronicle carried a flurry of articles about stations and train services, prompted by the success of Reading West station (opened in 1906) and suggestions that a station might be built to serve Palmer Park (then a developing suburb). But an article by ‘Q. T.’ drew attention to another grievance: the poor connections at Basingstoke between trains from Salisbury and the south-west (the London and South Western Railway) and trains from Basingstoke to Reading (Great Western Railway). The last train of the day from Exeter arrived at 9.11: the last connecting train to Reading left at 9.10. Obviously, this was no accident. Q. T. wanted a much better service.

The following week the President of the Reading Chamber of Commerce made a different suggestion: that the LSWR should continue its recently built line from Alton to Basingstoke through Sherfield, Spencers Wood and Three Mile Cross to Reading. This would open up the area to the south and west of Reading which had (and indeed has) poor railway facilities.

A couple of months later ‘Q. T.’ reported on a meeting of the Railway Institute at Reading where this idea, and others, were discussed. The idea which the Institute favoured was a new line, leaving the Waterloo line west of Earley station and then travelling cross-country through Shinfield, Spencers Wood, Swallowfield and Sherfield, before connecting with the Basingstoke-Waterloo line near Hook. The Institute thought that the line would not be expensive to build, being only 15 miles long and without any great engineering problems to overcome. It would serve the ‘populous districts of Shinfield and Spencers Wood’ whilst giving a direct route to Portsmouth, Bournemouth etc.

The Berkshire Chronicle was all in favour: but little more was heard of the idea. Whether the London and South Western Railway gave it more than a moment’s thought is unknown and the agreement in the summer of 1910 that the LSWR and GWR should co-operate more closely made it redundant anyhow.

In retrospect the idea was completely daft. And if the line had been built, it would probably have never carried much traffic, making it exactly the sort of line that Dr Beeching would have identified as hopelessly uneconomic half a century later. It seems unlikely that readers of Loddon Reach would ever have had the option of waiting for the Reading train rather than the Reading bus. On the other hand, a station in Spencers Wood would inevitably have changed the character of the village and encouraged house building: indeed, as we have seen, the development of the area was part of the justification for the building the line. And so, if the line had come to pass, twentieth-century Spencers Wood would have been very different, but this was not so much the road not taken as the line not built.

Professor Richard Hoyle

Spencers Wood ‘Off the Map’

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When we were researching the first chapter of our book, More from Our Village of Spencers Wood, ‘Before the Village’, we discovered that the common ‘belonged to’ not one but several manors. In the Berkshire Record Office there are maps of three of these manors, Diddenham to the north-west (c.1760), Shinfield to the north-east (1756), and Little Shipridge (Sheepbridge) to the south-east (1625). If we’d found a map of the manor of Bealmes, we could – we fancied – have put them together and the hole in the middle would have been an outline of the common.

The maps of Diddenham and Shinfield are gorgeous but it was the 1625 map that fascinated me. It’s not very big, and it’s extremely dark and mottled. We could only see the detail by ‘enhancing’ the photos in Photoshop! (What you see here are my ‘tracings’ of the map.) There were two things in particular that I loved about it: the detailed drawings of scattered houses and even the mill (1), complete with mill wheel! The manor house is a larger, more detailed version of the others (2).

North isn’t at the top of the map, because the manor’s southern boundary was the River Loddon, which they put along the bottom, with the moated manor house half way along it. ‘Spencers Wood’ is written across the top, twice, hinting that there was then a long thin wood running roughly N-S.  You can see Lambs Lane (3) and Back Lane (4), both marked ‘to Spencers Wood’. There are two buildings drawn at the top end of the field across the main road from the junction with Back Lane (5), two on the bend where ‘Sheepbridge Cottages’ are, and one opposite them (6). The ‘Highway’ (marked ‘to Reading’) corresponds to the current main road until it reaches the corner of the field just before the two houses opposite Hill View (7). You can then see two buildings, one about where Body’s Farm now is and another just below it. The road is shown as running between them.

The other interesting thing was that many of the field boundaries of 400 years ago were almost exactly as they are today. Most of the fields marked on this map, with their size in acres, roods and perches, are still farmed: the built-up bit we now know as Spencers Wood – on both sides of Basingstoke Road – was part of the common, and therefore off the map – indeed it was off all the maps! Before the late nineteenth century, Spencers Wood could only be seen out of the corner of your eye.

(Published in Loddon Reach in March 2018)

Catherine Glover