Memories of ‘the Rec’

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

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’

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

Farms and Farming in Spencers Wood 

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Percy's Farm
Aerial View of Percy’s Farm

So many farms are named on twentieth century maps of Spencers Wood that you would guess that they had to be small individual holdings. Indeed the land is not particularly suitable for extensive farming. The steep slopes down towards Grazeley and the poor soils generally are often wet and were difficult to cultivate. The Enclosure Acts formed the small regular fields as late as 1864. By then there was improvement in farming methods and machinery, and an urgent demand from the growing population of local towns for fresh food.

Farmers could supply and transport milk, fruit and vegetables as well as fresh meat to Reading and even to London by train on a daily basis. For a time farming was reliably profitable, and a farm owner could make a decent income. Some village farms belonged to an owner who lived elsewhere with larger land holdings, and the farm here was run by his tenant. The owners of other farms lived on the land and either farmed themselves or had labourers working under the direction of the bailiff or farm manager. The ‘gentleman farmer’ was an important person in local society.

This variety led to a mosaic of arable and livestock farming. There were dairy farms, orchards, soft fruit farms, pig and poultry holdings, and growers of flowers and general ‘market garden’ producers. Goats were kept by the Red Lion opposite the post office. Local businesses developed to support these farms: the farrier, saddler, the local abattoir, the carter, vehicle maintenance and tool suppliers and repairers.

Individual farms could change hands quite frequently. Sometimes the farm name did not change, but often it took on the new owner’s name. Mullins Farm on Basingstoke Road is named on the first and second (1871 and 1900) editions of the Ordnance Survey maps, but by the 1911 edition it is called Body’s Farm. It retains that name to the present day. Farming was a widespread activity in Spencers Wood until the second half of the last century. Then pressures for housing and rising land prices resulted in the changes we see today. Eventually small scale farming could not last and houses, infrastructure and solar panels stand where fields and hedgerows once marked the farmland.

The History Group has information from some residents, and from varied sources such as Mary Russell Mitford writing in the 1820’s, and the Government Agricultural Census taken during World War II. We would be interested to hear from anyone who can tell us more about farms and farming in Spencers Wood.

Patricia Green

 

Women’s Votes in Spencers Wood

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As we celebrate 100 years of Women’s right to vote in the UK, our group wanted to show what impact this had on the local community, and how many women’s lives this fundamentally changed.

The campaign for women had begun in 1866, when a petition was handed in to Parliament by John Stuart Mill M.P. The petition, with 1,499 signatures was received with ridicule.  52 years later, on 6 February 1918, the Representation of People Act gave the vote to all men over 21, and all women over 30 (falling into certain categories) the vote.

Two of our members went to the Berkshire Records Office to investigate the electoral roll for the area.  In 1918, Spencers Wood was in the Swallowfield Polling District, which fell in the Newbury Parliamentary Division.

In the electoral role, each person who was eligible to vote is listed and categorised for their “eligibility” to vote. Their residency isn’t shown (like now) merely a house name, or street, and the area – e.g. Spencers Wood, Riseley, Three Mile Cross etc.  The qualifications on the electoral role are listed as:-

  1. Evidence based
  2. Business premises qualification
  3. Occupation qualification
  4. Qualification through husbands occupation
  5. Naval or military career

Women could only vote via one of four categories:-

  1. If they were home owners;
  2. If they were wives of home owners, or
  3. Occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or more, or
  4. Graduates of British universities or similarly qualified.

One criteria had to be met, and that they must be over 30 years of age. There were three listings of electoral rolls – presumably for the categories a) to c). As a percentage we found that Spencers Wood had 81 women who gained the vote, a percentage of 13.68% of the total electorate. Of that, 63 were because they were married to a home owner (77%) & 17 because they were a home owner themselves (21%). Only 1 was on the last register – an occupier of substantial of land in Beech Hill. Whilst the category of home owners themselves, we thought was particularly high, this is offset with the time & the country just concluding the Great War. Many of the men in the area were still away at war, and had gained their right to vote through their naval or military career.

Crucially the act for men changed the criteria from being a home owner, to those being aged over 21. These changes saw the size of the electorate triple from 7.7 million to 21.4 million. Women now accounted for about 43% of the electorate.

It was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women over 21 were able to vote and women finally achieved the same voting rights as men. This act increased the number of women eligible to vote to 15 million.

It was not until 1969 that the voting system enabled people to vote over the age of 18.

Lesley Rolph & Jeannie Brice

 

Christmas Window at St Michael’s Church

2017 Christmas Window Display at St Michael’s and All Angels Church

This year’s theme for the church’s Seasonal Window Displays was ‘The Nativity’.

Being the Local History Group, we always like to try and link our window display into the history of the village.  Therefore, we decided to concentrate our efforts on the word ‘Inn’, especially as St Michael’s Church is positioned between The Hop Inn (formerly The Cricketers) and The Farriers Arms.

Our display consisted of three areas.  On one side of the windowsill we created an arid scene with stones, drought tolerant foliage, and spices and almonds, to represent Bethlehem.

Christmas Window 2017
No room at the Inn

In the middle section we displayed a beautiful traditional manger together with a children’s Nativity Book, opened at the page explaining that there was ‘No room at the Inn’.

The final part of the display created the illusion of an Inn with tankards, beer bottles and mats to represent the pubs past and present in our village.

We also displayed on the wall, further information about The Cricketers and The Farriers.

Additionally, at the St. Michael’s Christmas Fayre, held on Saturday 9th December, we had on display, a ‘Work in Progress Folder’ containing detailed historic information about Inns and pubs in Spencers Wood, Grazeley, Three Mile Cross and Shinfield.

Lesley Rolph

What are our Local Assets?

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In reviewing our new book, it occurred to us that for such a small village which is expanding rapidly we are blessed with some lovely buildings and other assets.

We have the old United Reformed Church building now turned into housing as is the Three Mile Cross Chapel.  The memorial board commemorating the two world wars that stood in the grounds of the URC can now be found in the entrance of St Michael and All Angels church.

 

Another lovely building contributing to the village community which is thriving.   Next to this well-used church is the village hall which is held in trust for the residents of the ecclesiastical parish of Spencers Wood.

 

We are so fortunate in having the hall which was given to the residents by Anna Hunter, in 1948, after her mother had given the use of the hall in 1911, in memory of Anna’s father, Henry Lannoy Hunter.   If you live within the church parish of Spencers Wood the hall is in trust to you. It cannot be disposed of without all the residents agreeing to it. The residents certainly make full use of it.

The other building of note in our parish of Spencers Wood is the Library.

This lovely building was first built by Frederick Allfrey to be used as a school.  On Allfrey’s death the school closed in 1915 and it passed to Allen who bought Allfrey’s estate.  Charles Allen then sold the school and school house to Berkshire County Council (BCC) and on the dissolution of the BCC the building passed to Wokingham District Council as it was then called.  Since that time the library has occupied the building and as such has been an asset to the village.  We should treasure it.

Another donation to the village by Capt Cobham was not a building but allotments and recreation ground in Clares Green Road as part of the enclosure of Shinfield in 1856. Although in Spencers Wood, they were given to Shinfield Parish.  The Rec’ is the only open space in Spencers Wood and is used by many including the history group.  By the time this article appears the Carnival will have been held there in September. Always a great occasion.

The three assets of the Village Hall , the Library and the recreation ground are all held civically by residents, Wokingham Council, and Shinfield Parish and are well used and loved. For more information see our new book.

Margaret Bampton

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.

Book Launch

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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).

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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.

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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.

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All Members of Spencers Wood Local History Group, Contributors (Sarah Codling & Richard Hoyle), and Marion Pyke.

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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.

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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

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More from our Village of Spencers Wood

 

 

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