XII  Commerce

In the year 1801 a census of the population was taken and the results entered in the Hurst Parish Register. There were 231 inhabited houses; 120 in Whistley, 78 in Hinton, 69 in Winnersh and 54 in Newland. The total population of the parish was 1,609. Hurst was in fact divided into many hamlets and liberties and it still had a large area that was considered to be in the County of Wiltshire.

Twyford, in the northern part of the parish, had complex boundaries which had come into existence through forest clearings and enclosures attached to either the manor of Whistley, Broad Hinton, Hinton Hatch, or Hinton Pipard. Wards Cross, Whistley Green, Nocotts Green, Elliots Green and Broad Common (sometimes called Happy Land) were Hamlets that now constitute Hurst village. Winnersh, Merry Hill Green, Stroud Green, King Street, Sindlesham, Bearwood and Newland were all included within the the parish.

A reorganization of the boundaries early in the 19th century altered the situation when the Wiltshire area was, by Act of Parliament, returned to Berkshire. Parts of Winnersh, along with Sindlesham and Newland, were formed into the parish of St. Catherine's, Bearwood in 1846.

In 1842 the Rev. Hugh Pearson, curate of Sonning who was required to travel to Woodley to hold services, was thrown from his horse near the Sonning cutting, receiving an injury from which he suffered for the rest of his life. In 1881 Woodley was formed into a separate parish and, two years later, with the help of the Palmer family, St. John the Evangelist Church was consecrated.

John Snare wrote of Twyford in his 1842 directory:

Situated on the banks of the Loddon water, is a handsome and healthy village in the parish of Hurst, 5 miles from Reading, 8 from Maidenhead, and 34 from Hyde-Park corner. There is no living but the Rev. Leonard Hampson Rudd, M. A. incumbent of Ruscombe, in the same parish, does duty in a small chapel, the gift of - Polehampton Esq., who endowed it and a school with a sum adequate to the education and clothing of 10 boys, with a salary of £40 per annum to the said Rev. Leonard Hampson Rudd, chaplain and master of the school. There is now a small church on the eve of completion (close to the Great Western railway station,) dedicated to St. Mary, but not yet consecrated.

Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Twyford, 1984 (click for modern picture)

St. Mary's Church was built mainly with financial help from Miss Dorothea Curre who was the sister of Mrs. Cameron, the wife of the vicar of Hurst. It was consecrated on the 26th of May 1847, resulting in the closure of the Polehampton chapel. Twyford was made into a separate ecclesiastical parish in April 1876 and a separate civil parish in June 1895. All these new parishes, together with Hurst and Ruscombe, were eventually transferred from the diocese of Salisbury to that of Oxford.

In the mid 1800s Twyford had developed into a thriving community with a population of about 850 people. Amongst the traders were a clock and watchmaker, a boot and shoe maker, rod merchants and basket makers, a saddler and collar maker, a hairdresser, a plumber, glazier and painter, and a straw bonnet maker. George Webb acted as grocer and carrier. He left at 9. 30. every morning for Reading. Mr. Dixon's coach passed through every day except Sunday. By 1854 the coach service had been replaced by an omnibus that ran to Henley twice a day, at 10. 30 am and 5. 30 pm. Twyford's streets were lit by locally manufactured gas by 1860.

The water from the river Loddon worked several mills before it emptied into the Thames at Sonning. Arborfield, Sindlesham, Sandford, Whistley and Twyford all had water powered mills. Twyford's was possibly first recorded in 1168 when Wimund, the miller, submitted an account for half a mark for thieves found on his court. In 1601 Twyford mill was held by William Hide.

Twyford Mill
(click for modern picture)

In the 17th and 18th centuries, silk weaving had become an important industry in the area, and Wokingham was particularly noted for manufacturing fine silk stockings. Elizabeth I had promoted the growing of mulberry trees on which the silk worms flourished. Encouraged by the profits, two brothers from Macclesfield, Thomas and George Billing, started to process the silk using a water-driven mill at Twyford. The enterprise lasted for about 30 years, it prospered with the help of cheap labour in the form of the poor boys who should have been attending the Polehampton school.

The silk spun in the mill was woven on looms set up in cottages in the High Street. Trade declined when an agreement was made with France allowing their silk to be imported without restrictions, and only mills with modern machinery could compete. Not long after 1824 when Thomas Billing died, the mill found new owners and became a flour mill. The old wooden mill was burned down in 1841 and the weavers' cottages were pulled down in 1937.

Sindlesham Mill
(click for modern picture)

At the start of the 19th century Ruscombe Lake was still largely full of water, though it did become almost dry in hot summers. The stream called the Broad water ran through it causing floods in winter. The lake was drained in 1820 when the Bray Cut was made and provided about 100 acres of good farm land. Formerly it had a plentiful supply of fish such as pike, perch and eels. Fishing in the Loddon was much more rewarding however, as it boasted eels, pike, perch, roach, dace, gudgeon, tench and a few carp. But was it being over fished? Mr. Nicholls of Hinton House said:

The numerous large wheels and bucks which are placed upon every stream prevent the fish from entering these waters long enough to grow large. Pike of 5 to 6 pounds weight are sometimes taken, eels seldom exceed 2 to 3 pounds.

The main crops under cultivation in the district were wheat, barley, oats, house and tick beans, known locally as redwells. Also grown were hog beans, turnips, clover, rye grass and some lucerne. Mr. Nicholls was a respected farmer among his colleagues. He introduced the Hinton plough which could plough a well-turned furrow with much less effort for the horses. He also improved the scuffle, and made useful improvements to the draught of carts and wagons.

He grew over 12 acres of osiers on the banks of the Loddon. In 1809 the expense of digging, planting and cutting the willows amounted to about £14 an acre, but if the plantations were kept hoed and clear of weeds, they could produce £8 profit an acre after the first year, that is 'provided the price continues as high for rods as at present which is not very probable from the increasing plantations'.

Mrs Frazer, whose maiden name was Chapman, was born in Twyford in 1850. She could remember as a small girl seeing soldiers walking about the village during the Crimean war. Her father rented osier beds from Mr. Garth of Haines Hill and supplied the basket trade with rods for many years. It is clear from the number of people like Emanuel Clark who was a hurdle maker, or Richard and Thomas Gray who were basket makers, and Richard Giles who was a basket and rod merchant of Twyford, how large an industry the growing and processing of osiers was in the 19th century. The end of the osier business in this area came in the 1930s, killed, they say, by foreign competition.

There were of course numerous servants who were required to keep the large houses running and their owners in comfort. Some junior servants were even employed to look after the more senior ones. Thomas Colleton-Garth at Haines Hill was making good use of the servants' quarters built by his father. In 1861 he employed a housekeeper, six maids, two ladies' maids, one butler, two male servants, one coachman and four grooms, plus many other servants were living in estate cottages. But all would be redundant now, as would be Thomas Allen the Wheelwright of Lea Heath, Richard White, who was one of several thatchers, Edward Abbot, toll collector at Loddon Bridge, the paper makers from Whistley Mill, the lace makers from Twyford, and the village blacksmiths.

Thomas Brent's grave, Hurst churchyard

Adam Holloway ran a blacksmith's shop in Dunt Lane in 1840 on land leased from Oliver King. Thomas Collis and Thomas Brent were blacksmiths at Wards Cross. In Hurst churchyard there is a memorial to Thomas Brent made entirely of wrought iron. A plate fixed along the grave is inscribed: 'In the memory of Thomas Brent who died September 22nd 1855, aged 80 years'. At the head and foot of the plate are scrolls and decorative iron work, and the corners of the memorial has a tiny anvil, two hammers and a pair of tongs.

Alfred White (right) and his son, Joe, outside their blacksmith's shop

Alfred William White born in 1856, one of 4 sons of Thomas White of Hurst. He was educated in the local village school for a fee of 2d per week. He left there at the age of ten and went into farm work, earning 2/6 a week. At the age of 14 he ran away from home and went to work at Huntley and Palmer's biscuit factory in Reading, as a mixer of finished biscuits. He worked 15 hours a day and in addition all night on Friday. By 1872 he had saved enough money to leave the factory and he apprenticed himself to a blacksmith, Mr. Holloway who lived in Dunt Lane (Byways) and ran a forge next to the house. Later he worked for Arthur Cox who operated the blacksmith's shop at Wards Cross. In about 1894, Thomas White became the owner of his own smithy when he bought Holloway's Davis Street business.

He traded there for about 20 years with side lines such as a milk round, selling paraffin and petrol and general dealing. At about the time of the First World War, he passed the Davis Street blacksmith shop over to his son, Joseph, and later it was run by a former apprentice, Henry Booth.

In 1852 George Ford leased Hatch Gate Farm from the Bill Hill estate. He became more interested in dealing in corn and cattle foods than in farming. He purchased some threshing equipment that he hired out to other farmers. Instead of cash, he often received corn as payment, and this he would store and sell when the demand for it was high.

George Ford was succeeded at Hatch Gate Farm by his son George who, after a spell at farming, built a house and store in Davis Street which became known as Lea Heath Stores. He found the venture so successful that he gave up farming and concentrated on selling animal foods. The company he founded whose activities have spread well beyond Hurst, now operate from premises in Twyford.

George Ford was one of the instigators of Hurst Show. Originally it was called 'Hurst Horticultural and Cottage Garden Society Show'. It was first held in the grounds of Hurst House. Now it attracts thousands of visitors from neighbouring towns and villages.

His elder brother, Joseph Ford, started a business at Winnersh Farm based on the new steam engines. He had threshing and sawing machinery, and later the firm had steam rollers which were used when the dirt roads were surfaced. He was one of the founder members of a nonconformist chapel in Winnersh. The little wooden building they used later housed the Methodist Chapel.

Winnersh Methodist Chapel

Few children had the opportunity to be educated at the beginning of the 19th century. The more affluent families, then as now, sent their children away to private boarding schools. But there was a need for a modest private school in the village. One such school opened near the village pond in a house called Pond Cottage, now called Peacocks. Here about ten children of both sexes were taught by Mrs. Duntford, who charged 2d per week per child for her services. At that time it was part of the Bill Hill estate and remained so until 1870 when it was closed as a school.

There was a finely shaped yew tree about the same age as the cottage standing in the garden by the roadway. It had to be pruned from time to time to allow loaded wagons and other high loads to pass. Wagons have no trouble getting passed now because the tree blew down in strong winds in 1978.

In 1840 Pond Cottage was leased to William Townsend. The pond opposite, now called Townsend Pond, had a road leading into it so that horses could be watered and carts washed.

Townsend Pond, with road leading into it (click for later picture)

Tape Lane, Hurst. The white house at the end of the row was used as Hurst and
Ruscombe National School (click for later picture)

Miss Critchley with pupils, 1893. In 1871 William Critchley and his wife, Mary A, both from
Gloucestershire, were in residence at the National School

The Hurst and Ruscombe National School opened in 1818 in Tape Lane. The cottages were purchased with help from Sir Nathanial Dunckenfield, Mr Colleton-Garth and the Revd. Golding. One of the cottages was used as a school, and the other used as a residence. The present school in Hurst was built in 1843, originally for girls and infants. It cost £783 to erect. The sale of the old cottages and a government grant only amounted to £235, so local people had to give liberal support.

Hurst Girls and Infants School, School Road, built in1843 and still used as the village school
(click for modern picture)

Hurst girls, c.1890s

Hurst Girls School, 1913

The Boys School was built in 1881 and financed by voluntary subscription. It has now become a private house.

Hurst Boys School - now a private home

Hurst boys, c.1890s

Hurst Boys with their schoolmaster

The medical needs of the parish in the 19th century were looked after by Mrs. Bearfoot of Twyford, the midwife, and William Davis Esq., the surgeon. A visit to the doctor cost 2. 6d, and he would supply the medicine too. Dr Davis went round the villages on his horse calling out patients' names; they had to go to him while he sat on his horse, to get fresh supplies. If the doctor and the surgeon failed, there was always the undertaker, who was appropriately called Henry Snugg.