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.
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…
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.
Recently, four things have been brought to my notice and all refer to the same place. We are grateful to all who have provided the two maps, a photograph and information. The area concerned is Woodcock Lane which borders Spencers Wood and Three Mile Cross, runs alongside the Swallowfield Bypass and reaches the Devils Highway at Beech Hill to go onto Silchester. A major route in times past. Firstly, I was given a map by a friend who worked for the Thames Valley buses showing the area in 1936 and before the M4 was built. It showed two commons namely, Whitley Wood Common and Lea Common which were both cut in half in 1971 by the M4. The Swallowfield Bypass which was approved in 1963 went from Lea Common to Riseley protecting Three Mile Cross, Spencers Wood and Swallowfield from excessive traffic. It also divided Shinfield Parish cutting off Grazeley Road where the new development in Three Mile Cross has recently been built. It was at this point, so Ian Clarke of the Council informed me, that the developers had cleared out the pond and it was remarkable in that it was a circular brick built pond with an overflow making it tear shaped. It is worth looking at. There are pictures of it on our website (www.swlhg.co.uk).
This pond is shown on the photograph I was given by Bob Watkins, in January, and although obscured by trees looks like the same pond in front of a farm house called Great Lea House Farm. It is not to be confused with
Great Lea Farm which lies the other side of the Bypass close to the caravan site, in Grazeley.
The picture shows Grazeley Road behind the farm and Woodcock Lane in front. Bob discovered the picture when clearing out his late uncle’s house and had it copied and enlarged for us. The property was once owned by the Body family who owned many other properties in the area including Hyde End Farm and Manor Farm on Basingstoke Road in Reading. One of the family was implicit in the building of Three Mile Cross Chapel at the end of Grazeley Road and a copy of our history book about the Chapel, called A History of Three Mile Cross Methodist Church, can be found in the Swan Public house. The house was demolished though to build the Bypass which thunders past the pond today.
The final item I was given was another map from the 19th century showing that the house was called Woodcock Lane Farm. This map is detailed to show the layout of the farm buildings and it confirms the picture is the same farm. It also shows that Woodcock Lane is the drive to the farm with an avenue of trees lining it and how the lane got its’ name. Woodcock Lane is also well worth a visit.
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.
There is a well in front of a property in Three Mile Cross. It is not used now, but less than eighty years ago, many homes locally relied on getting all their water from wells. The 1871 Ordnance Survey map shows eleven wells in this area which were probably those for communal use. The geology here is London Clay, hard, sticky and relatively impervious, which is overlain in places by gravel beds through which rain percolates. Valley Gravels occur on wet land near the Loddon and around Hyde End Road roughly from Sussex Lane to School Green, while Plateau Gravels lie on the drier high ground especially around Basingstoke Road. Wells were dug in the clay, but the gravel sites were easier to excavate and flowing water would be found there. (The nursery rhyme is correct in making Jack and Jill go UP the hill to their well.)
Private wells were dug sometimes at the edge of a property near a small stream or ditch, or they were put by the side of a cottage, even inside the kitchen where water was pumped up to a basin or sink. Outhouses for laundry, cooking or making ale often had a well in the floor. An important communal well was on ‘The Common’, opposite Spencers Wood Post Office. It was at a dip in the ground, and the head fittings with the pump and its enclosing shed were still in place in the 1980’s. Local families remember their parents collecting all their water here. Evacuees from London in WW2 recorded their astonishment at such primitive conditions!
Digging a well was a complex and potentially dangerous job. We have a photo showing six men with their horse and cart from Grover’s, ‘Water Supply Contractor’ from Beech Hill, with timber for shoring the sides as they dug, and bricks to construct the well. Bricks were shaped as wedges to form the circular outline, and it is probable that the brick works west of ‘The Common’ made these special bricks.
The Arborfield Brick and Tile Works provided hundreds of wedge-shaped bricks for many years. The well head would be a timber structure supporting the bucket and its winch. Later hand pumps were introduced to facilitate raising the water, often on routes between towns and near milestones. A farm in Grazeley still has a pump standing on the water supply line from a small reservoir through fields to the farm buildings. Electric pumps are now used where people have extraction rights to draw ground water for their gardens or animals.
Woodcock Lane is an ancient track in Three Mile Cross, passing south between the villages of Three Mile Cross and Grazeley. It lies in the Foudry Brook valley and skirts the hills rising to Spencers Wood. The Lane is shown on old maps and is named on Roque’s map of 1761, and Thomas Pride’s map of 1790. It is possibly named after after an old manorial family living in the area. Local land formed a detached part of Wiltshire until the county boundary revisions of 1884. In mediaeval times, lands were passed by kings to favoured religious groups and temporal knights, and just as land around the former Battle Hospital in Reading belonged to Battle Abbey, it is recorded that Robert Woodcock of the Hartley Battle estate paid dues to the Abbot of Battle in the fifteenth century.
The Lane at one time lead to a modest manor house, Woodcock House. Three Mile Cross was a busy village community even before Mary Russell Mitford wrote in the 1820’s and 1830’s her series of famous articles later published in the book ‘Our Village’.
She describes the lane with its trees and wildflowers. In wet weather the track becomes muddy, and people preferred to travel up the hill to the south where the ground was drier. The author tells of seeing John MacAdam surveying both routes, to decide which to pave as the main road between Reading, Winchester and the south coast ports. It was decided to tarmac the high road, and Woodcock Lane became a quiet green lane. Mary Russell Mitford chose to walk along the lane when she moved from Three Mile Cross to live in Swallowfield, sending her luggage by cart on the high road.
Photographs and drawings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries show the Lane as a wide grassy track bordered by tall oak trees, with a double line of the trees on the east. Only a few old trees remain, and new younger growth surrounds the path. Land adjacent to the ‘low road’ was chosen for the A33 by-pass, leaving Woodcock Lane intact but subject to the noise of traffic. However, the Lane is a bye-way and footpath, and can be followed south into Hampshire. Within Shinfield parish, it is part of Parish Walk no.5, going along Woodcock Lane, up through wooded hillsides to Spencers Wood and back across fields to Three Mile Cross.
Walks leaflets are available from post offices, the library and the parish office as well as on the parish web site- The one for Woodcock Lane can be found here.
I don’t know why but at this time of year I always think of Mary Russell Mitford and Three Mile Cross. Recently, we have been talking to three people about the village. We have gained much information, particularly about the west side of the village where the new housing estate is going up. There used to be a saddler’s, garages, two public houses and the Post Office. The PO moved across to the shop called Farm House Stores sometime after 1900, and was run by the Becconsalls who were relations of Wendy Fruen. It eventually moved to where it is today, next door to Wisteria Cottage whose exterior delights us all every Spring. The garden of Wisteria Cottage used to contain a terrace of three cottages which shared a water pump and outside toilet. The cottages were condemned and pulled down and the occupants were rehoused in Shinfield village.
The two public houses were The George and Dragon and The Fox and Horn. The latter was taken over by Wendy’s grandparents, who converted it to a café. Wendy’s parents took The Black and White Café over in 1954, and introduced a juke box, pin ball machine and an one armed bandit. Granddad said that they would cause trouble but it was quite the opposite – a great success. Muriel, Wendy’s mother was Grandma to the Teds and nicknamed Ma. Muriel would open the café two nights a week for the motorbike boys and their girlfriends. It was extremely popular and only once was a complaint received about the noise the motorbikes made. Muriel suggested they wheeled their bikes to the end of the village and started them up there. There was never any trouble after that.
Our thanks go to Wendy mentioned above, Dor Evans and Colin Hearn who have given some of the information above and some pictures and documents to copy. All our villages in Shinfield are changing and we noticed that some businesses are leaving. In Spencers Wood, Marlborough House is up for sale and Anita’s has gone to Wokingham. There are plans for changing these premises and we would be grateful for further knowledge of these buildings so that we can feature them on our web site along with Warings and the Judd sawmills which we also hope to feature. Margaret Bampton.
This Chapel is closing after 137 years of having a significant role in the religious and social history of Three Mile Cross and the neighbouring villages of Shinfield, Spencers Wood and Grazeley.
Spencers Wood Local History Group was commissioned to research and write this book and we were pleased to do so.
The Group had already carried out some historical research in the village of Three Mile Cross.
This book puts together information and anecdotes from various sources to tell the story of the chapel and the people who made it a part of their lives.
The book will be launched on Sunday 2nd June on the grounds of the Chapel. It will be sold at a cost of £5, but will also be available after from Mrs Dor Evans (0118 988 3422) or via the group on our usual email . If via post, please add £1.50 for p&p & cheques should be made payable to Three Mile Cross Methodist Church.