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)