XIII New Farmland

Windsor Forrest c.1860 (T A Prior).

At the beginning of the 19th century large areas of common were cultivated and awaited enclosure. By the end of the century all that was to change. The final enclosures resulted from an Act of Parliament directing that more land should be taken into cultivation. The General Review of Agriculture of Berkshire dated 1809 said about Windsor Forest:

The greatest part of the land within its present limits has been brought into culture; but there are still many considerable wastes which support only a poor breed of animals, and are in a great measure destitute of trees or plantations.  ... the importance of enclosure is now so generally allowed, its beneficial effects so well understood, that it is only extraordinary that so many impediments and discouragements shall be suffered to exist against carrying it universally into practice. No real improvements can possibly take place, where the owner or occupier of the land is obliged to depend on the caprice of others and where the awkwardness or ill nature of one bad neighbour may defeat the best interests of a whole parish. As a case in point I know in a neighbouring county, and the same may possibly have happened in this, a deserving young farmer, who, with the consent of the other parishioners in general, planted saintfoin and sowed turnips on a common field bargain; but a purse proud, overbearing wretch, in an adjoining parish who occupied only a few acres in the other, turned his sheep and cattle in at the usual period, and consumed or destroyed the greatest part of the turnips and the autumn feed of the saintfoin, for which there was no redress.

In earlier times, when clearings had been made in the forest, the boundaries tended to be irregular, following the curves of tracks, streams and rivers or existing clearings. On the other hand, when the boundaries were formed for the Parliamentary enclosures, they were very straight and regular.

Broad Common was divided into several fields and passed to several owners, Lord Braybrook and Robert Palmer being the main recipients. Part of Lea Heath was divided up into strips to form the boundaries of the gardens and fields that now exist along the west of Davis Street and Lodge Road. Hog Moor, Alder Common were also divided into the fields we are familiar with now. It is difficult to believe that once these broad expanses of farm land were open and free, and used for the benefit of all the community.

By 1827 just over 630 acres had already been enclosed at Ruscombe. This left 641 acres of newly enclosed land to be purchased at about £3 an acre. Of this Thomas Garth of Haines Hill purchased about eight acres and he received a further eight acres of Ruscombe lake. Fourty-one acres were allotted to John Leveson Gower of Bill Hill.

The largest piece of land in Woodley prior to the enclosure was Bullmarsh Heath. Here the Reading races had been held for over 60 years along with wrestling matches, cudgel matches and other sports. When the enclosure came the Chequers Inn, which had prospered while the heath was used for sport, lost much of its trade. The cottagers were deprived of fuel and grazing land and the gypsies lost another place to make camp.

The enclosure of Winnersh seems to have been a troublesome business right from the start. One of the commissioners, William Richard Davis died and a meeting was held on February 7th 1814 in the church to replace him:

The proprietor and person interested in the waste lands and ground directed to be divided, allotted and Inclosed in and by an Act of Parliament made and passed in the 53rd year (1812) of the reign of his present Majesty King George lll entitled 'An Act for vesting in his Majesty certain parts of Windsor Forest in the County of Berks and inclosing the open Commonable Lands within the said Forest.

The meeting appointed Henry Dixon of the city of Oxford to be the new Commissioner. Even then it was a long drawn out affair. The map and schedule were not lodged with Geo. B Morland, Clerk of the Peace for Berkshire, until October 1844. By that time the King, and many of the interested persons who had met in the church, had died.

Some lanes in Winnersh, like the commons, disappeared completely during the enclosure. Among these were Matts Pightel Lane, Binhams Yat Lane, Shepheards Lane and Green Lane. Of the commons and greens that were lost were King Street Common, Sindlesham Common, Piccadilly Common, Stroud Green and the green at Merry Hill. The enclosure produced 121 acres of new farm land, most of it coming from the commons and redundant lanes, but reducing wide road verges produced a few acres. Thomas Garth of Haines Hill had died and his heirs received the largest share with 31 acres; Robert Palmer who was lord of the manor of Sonning received 27, while the heirs of the Rev. F H Barker who owned High Chimneys received 19 acres. The trustees of the poor of Winnersh were allocated 24 acres of land for fuel, presumably as compensation for the loss of the traditional rights.

Bearwood, which had long resisted enclosure, was eventually taken by the Crown and subsequently sold to the Walter family. It became a private estate for the owners of the Times newspaper who paid £3,000 for the land. The second John Walter built the house which was the forerunner of the huge mansion that exists at Bearwood now. Tragically, in 1844 his daughter Catherine was drowned at the age of 23 and the church at Sindlesham was built to her memory shortly afterwards. The church became the focal point of the new parish of St Catherine's, Bearwood created in 1846.

John Walter died three years after his daughter, and was succeeded by his son John. He greatly increased the amount of land owned by the family and built a school, a public house, and several houses. The life of his eldest son, like his sister, ended tragically  when he was drowned while playing on the huge lake at Bearwood at Christmas, 1870.

Wellingtonia trees, Bearwood

The mansion stands at the end of a long row of giant Wellingtonia evergreen trees, and they must have been some of the first planted in England. William Lobb is credited with their introduction from North America. They were first described in the Gardeners Chronicle by Dr Lindley in December 1853, and he named them after the Duke of Wellington who had died the previous year.

During the First World War Bearwood was used as a convalescent home for Canadian soldiers, and afterwards became the Royal Merchant Navy Seaman's Orphanage. The orphanage, founded in 1827, required larger premises due to the increase in the numbers of homeless children of seamen lost in the war. They moved to Bearwood in 1921. Now Bearwood houses the the Royal Merchant Navy School and has accommodation for about 350 boys.

Bearwood, 1906, when used by Canadian troops as a convalescent hospital
(click for modern picture)

The land enclosures had been a civil affair, and was conducted on a local basis. When the tithes were re-organised, this was an ecclesiastical matter so the whole parish was dealt with at one time. For centuries tithes, that is one tenth of what was produced, were paid in kind, but this system had become cumbersome and difficult to manage. Under the Tithe Act of 1836, most tithes in kind were finally commuted by a fixed rent-charges, and in order to administer the arrangement, a detailed map of the whole parish was made, with an accompanying apportionment.

Hurst parish tithe map was surveyed by W H Fuller, land surveyor of Reading, and is dated 1840. Every house, field, stream and road were carefully drawn. Each has a number that provides such information as the landowner's name, the occupier, name and description of the land or premises, state of cultivation and the size and amount of rent-charges payable to the lessee. The tithe award makes it clear who this was:

The very Reverend Hugh Nicholas Pearson Doctor in Divinity as Dean of the Cathedral church of Sarum and Appropriator of all the Tithes as well as great as well as small within the said Parish and Robert Palmer of Holme Park in the said County of Berks Esquire as Lessee of all the said Tithes under the the said Dean of Sarum by virtue of a Lease thereof.

The value of the tithes in 1840 was calculated at £1,540. The right to benefit from the rectory had passed from the Barker family to the Palmers, and this benefit remained with them until 1874 when Miss Susan Caroline Palmer gave the tithes of Hurst for the endowment of the church.

The Tithe Award, which can be seen in the Berkshire Record Office, provides a wealth of information about the whole parish in the first half of the 19th century. It gives the total amount of land and its state of cultivation. There were 6,472 acres, 3 roods and 32 perches subject to payment. 6,461 acres were cultivated as meadow and pasture. 355 acres were woodland, and the amount of land used for houses, buildings and pleasure grounds amounted to 196 acres. Only 71 acres 3 roods were regarded as being uncultivated.

The need for a tithe barn had now gone. It was last seen documented on the enclosure map in 1820. It must have been pulled down quite quickly for in 1840 the site was occupied by a carpenter's shop run by Henry Hawthorne Wingfield. He also occupied Whistley Mill, then being used as a paper mill. Also about this time the site of the tithe barn was used to build the first vicarage in Hurst.

Gravel extraction in the parish is not a new phenomenon. Numerous gravel pits were listed in 1840, though obviously all much smaller than the ones that plague the area now.

It's interesting to note the variety of names used in the award to describe pieces of land. Pightel occurs frequently and is used in connection with small fields or odd bits of land; eyot refers to little islands in the rivers and streams, and more often than not were planted with osier beds. Some names are self explanatory like Ten Acre Field, Three Cornered Field, Gravel Pit Piece, Dipping Hole Field, Old Mansion House Field and Abbots Pond - a link with the time when the manor was owned by Abingdon Abbey. The origins of other names seem to be lost in history: Sherwell Wood, Rowney, Ice Mans Meadow, Dashes Meadow, Great Mongells and Caskings Meadow, and can Robin Hood really have had anything to do with the field that bears his name at Merry Hill Green? Both the Bath Road and King Street, as they passed through the forest, afforded perfect opportunities for highwaymen.

Thomas Colleton-Garth of Haines Hill, founder of the Garth Hunt.
(© Mr Alan Godsal)

Ownership of the large houses continued to change throughout the 19th century. Charles Colleton-Garth of Haines Hill died in 1818, aged 40, and he left no children, so his brother, Captain Thomas Garth, inherited the property. He set about enlarging the house by adding a servants' wing. His son Thomas inherited the property in 1841, just after the tithe survey was completed, and he is remembered for starting the Garth Hunt. The first meeting was held at Haines Hill on November 8th 1852. Rumour has it that when asked why he had not married, he replied, 'I can not manage the hounds and a wife, and I prefer the hounds'. The land the family owned at that time amounted to over 3,500 acres and included Hinton House, Hinton Lodge, the Pheasant public house in Winnersh, and numerous other houses and cottages. It was said that Mr. Garth was able to ride with his hounds from Ruscombe to Winnersh without touching any one else's land.

Samuel Nicholls, Mr. Garth's tenant at Hinton House, leased 143 acres and was described as a 'yeoman and Rod merchant'. Just down the road, William Hicks, who had moved there from Brighton, leased a small cottage across the road from Stanlake Park, together with 96 acres of land from Mr Garth. He must have made a success of farming because thirty years later he had moved out of the cottage and was living in Hinton House, and farming 290 acres. He was then aged 76 years and lived there with his 81 year old wife, Mary.

Interior of Hurst Church when lit by oil lamps (click for modern picture)

Hurst Parish Church with Revd. A A Cameron (right) and group of elegant people
(click for modern picture)

The Rev. A A Cameron was vicar of Hurst for much of the 19th century. He came from South Africa and moved into Hinton Lodge which he leased from Thomas Garth Esq. Just behind the Lodge is a plantation of trees called 'Cameron's Copse', a reminder of his days there. Eventually Mr. Cameron found the need for a residence more suited to a 19th century vicar and he purchased Hurst House, but before he moved in he had it pulled down and rebuilt. During the rebuilding the house was made, 'more commodious, according to modern notions of comfort'. Old doorways were preserved in the entrance hall, and the fine panelling restored in the dining room together with an exact reproduction of the original moulded ceiling. The old red bricks were re-used and the character of a 16th century house was retained. After the rebuilding the house only employed five living-in servants,  contrasting with the 16 who had been there to look after the former residents, the Conroys.

For at least part of his incumbency Rev. A. A. Cameron was very unpopular. In the mid 1850s he not only upset a large part of his congregation, but also incurred the wrath of powerful men like John Leveson-Gower of Bill Hill and Thomas Garth of Haines Hill. They were prompted to act against the vicar because of 'the unhappy state of the Parish of Hurst has now become a matter of notoriety'. Letters were even sent to the Times:

The daily press of this Kingdom has of late years teemed with complaints on the part of parishes against the Puseyite innovations of their pastors, but there never was a more flagrant case than that of Hurst, in Berkshire, as stated in nearly the whole of the metropolitan press last week.

Apparently Rev. Allen Cameron was holding services that followed the teaching of Edward Bouverie who preached a form of high church that intended to revive the relationship between the established and Roman Catholic churches, and many of the protestant parishioners were outraged. It was said that the poor, who attended church to receive bread from Mr. Biggs's charity, were the only ones left going to the services. A poll was taken and 'it gave an overwhelming majority against Mr. Cameron'.

On November the 5th 1856 a bonfire was planned, not to celebrate the gun powder plot, but so that the parishioners could burn the effigies of Mr Cameron, the Pope, the Bishop of Oxford and Mr. Welling, the curate. Fearing that an attack might be made on the church, the vicar called in the police. The church was not attacked and the presence of the five policemen deterred many people from attending the bonfire. Despite this, Rev. Allen Cameron was vicar of Hurst from 1833 to 1880.

Many of the 5,000 acres that Robert Palmer owned in Hurst parish were leased out as farms and private houses. Hurst Lodge, the old family home, was occupied by George Henry Elliot Esq. He made his mark on the area because just outside the lodge is a pond known as Frying Pan Pond, and the ground that surrounds it is called Elliots Green. James Gale leased Keysersbridge Farm, Edwin Gosling, Church Farm, John Nash Mungells Farm and Hurst Cottage was rented by Miles Pixell. He was something of an artist and he made a drawing of his home.

The Cottage, Orchard Road drawn by Milies Pixell

Mr Palmer seems to have been well thought of by his tenants, and this is confirmed by a report in the Agricultural Review of Berkshire:

When the estates are left wholly in the control of agents, the connection between the owners and the occupier is dissolved and  interrupted. ... It was observed to me by a tenant of a detached estate belonging to the late Richard Palmer, Esq of Hurst, a man whose premature death is a loss to his family, and his friends, his dependants, and the public, that the principal request he ever made to his landlord was that he might always be allowed to pay his rent to him in person. He knew the value of this intercourse, and I am convinced he spoke the general feeling of a respectable tenant.

Sir James Eyre had purchased the manor of Ruscombe from Richard Palmer in 1787, he also had land in Hurst at Whistley which included Whistley Court Mansion. Later this became part of the Leveson-Gowers' estate. In fact the family were responsible for pulling down the old mansion. It seems inevitable that once an old house becomes tenanted and owners are only interested in collecting the rent, then it will deteriorate for want of repairs. This may have been the case with the house at Whistley. It was no doubt very old and damp when demolished, and it is unlikely that in the previous 100 years, possibly not since it was owned by Mr Dalby, was it owner occupied  The Victoria County History said of its demolition:

The ancient manor house of Whistley, that had stood close to the Loddon, was pulled down in the middle of the 19th century by the late owner Mr Leveson-Gower. The fine iron entrance gates were removed to Bill Hill. An avenue of limes and chestnuts that led to the gardens, and some statues that adorned them, were in existence for some time after the demolition of the house.

The fields remained very much as Mr. Leveson-Gower left them until towards the end of the 20th century when they were used for gravel extraction and land fill.

The Leveson-Gowers owned well over 1,000 acres of land in 1840. Like the other land owners, they leased much of it to tenants. James William leased Broad Common Farm and 110 acres, James Glasspool Lea Farm and 155 acres, while Gabriel Glasspool leased St. Nicholas Farm and 225 acres. Since the early part of the 18th century, High Chimneys with varying amounts of land has seen a succession of tenant farmers. Some of the larger landowners did farm themselves, notably Thomas Garth and John Leveson-Gower. In Sindlesham, Major John and Charles Simmonds leased out some 19 cottages, but kept 862 acres of mixed woods and pasture for their own use.

Some farms have become known by the names of the people who worked them, Kebbles Farm from George Kebble, and Darvalls Farm from George and Richard Darvall who were there in 1854. The days when the big land owning families could increase the size of their holdings was coming to an end. High taxes, death duties, and the higher cost of labour made it impossible to keep the big estates together.

Mrs Woodley, Knight, Wheeler and Slade making hay at Hinton Corner, c1910.
(Twyford and Ruscombe Local History Society)

Whistley Green, c.1930s (click for modern picture)

William Dance of Dunt Lane with his shire horses, Colonel and Captain. He and his
brother, Arthur, were well known for breading horses in the 1930s