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