XV  Recently

Modern map of Hurst and district
Select a name for more details, or click the map to scroll through the maps
(Map distorted and not to scale)

At the start of the 20th century the population of Ruscombe was 323 and it has had a comparatively modest rise since then to reach 1,075 persons by 1981, and 1040 in 2001.

Earlier in the century much of the land to the west of the village was farmed as part of the Haines Hill estate, but Henry Randall worked Southbury Farm and Richard Cottrell ran two other farms. The chief crops were wheat, oats and barley. One of the family realised that the clay soil could be used for making bricks and turned over part of his farm for that purpose. Brick making in Ruscombe survived until 1939.

Ruscombe Brick Works, early 20th century.
(Twyford and Ruscombe Local History Society)

Ruscombe Iron Works (Twyford and Ruscombe Local History Society)
Top: Stan Webb. Middle: Jim Clark and Tom Pomeroy. Bottom: Mileham, Bosley and Goodson.

Another local industry, and one that catered for the needs of the farmers, was Smith's iron works. This was a branch of Fred Smith's Ltd. of Basingstoke who opened the Ruscombe works shortly after the turn of the century. Over the years they supplied and repaired all types of farm machinery as well as installing deep well pumps and making cast iron fencing. The business ceased to operate in 1958.

In 1911 the population of Twyford had reached 1,157, nearly doubling in 30 years. The increase is reflected in the work done on St. Mary's church at that time. The north aisle was added in 1883 and the church was enlarged again between 1908 and 1910. Six bells were added to the two already in the tower in 1913, and the Congregational chapel was built in 1897.

Jack Giles with a lorry load of baskets outside Twyford cottages in the 1920s.
(Twyford and Ruscombe Local History Society)

In the 1920s and 30s there were still a number of traders who made a living from the rural surroundings of Twyford. Mrs. Sarah Ann Giles was one of a number of people making baskets from locally grown willows. Frank Burton was the wheelwright and William Burton a blacksmith. There were two saddlers, Ernest Skidmore in Station Road and Seymore's in the High Street.

A new mill was built at Twyford to replace the one which burned down in 1891. This in turn lit up the sky at Twyford when, in 1976 it too caught fire, but the tradition of milling was being carried on in a modern food processing plant, fully computerised, with a turnover that reached more than £25 million a year. Now the site has been redeveloped.

The fears of those who protested about the new road in 1928 were not realised, and over the years, Twyford has developed into a modern busy town. The real growth in the population came in the ten years between 1961 and 1971, again it nearly doubled from a total of 2,206 people to 4,319. Brunel's railway, with its extension to Henley, carries commuters to Reading and London. For those who are employed in Twyford there is a busy shopping centre with a large supermarket and several antique shops. One link with the past was broken when Seymore's saddlery closed down.

Church Street, Twyford. W T Foster was a plumber and decorator.
The shop next door was a coal and corn merchants
(click for modern picture)

Now the Twyford by-pass has had to be by-passed itself by the M4 motorway, and currently the traffic is such in the area that this motorway is so overcrowded that it needs another relief road.

Just to the west of Twyford is the community of Charvil. Until relatively recently all that existed there was Charvil Farm and Charvil Hill, and a memory of the Turnpike on the Bath Road. Now it has a population of more then 6,294 people, and is still growing.

The population of Winnersh rose from 673 to 6,538 in eighty years. The 2001 census recorded 7,643 people living in 2,786 houses subject to council tax. In 1981 the railway carried some 465,000 passengers between Reading and Bracknell. Many of these passengers are boys who come in large numbers from a huge catchment area to attend the Forest School. It was founded in 1941 when a school for boys was established at Woodley Hill. The transfer to Winnersh was made in 1957. Now over 1,000 boys take lessons there.

Woodley Hall Boys School, 1947

Forest School, Winnersh, teachers and class, 1950. (by permission of Forest School)
The Forest School replaced Woodley Hall School in 1957

When a large part of the Haines Hill estate was sold by auction earlier last century, it opened the way for ribbon development along King Street. Factories, garages and shops which line this busy road provide much employment, and because it has a junction with the motorway system more industry was attracted. With the arrival of high technology companies, Winnersh is part of Berkshire's silicon valley.

Sindlesham Baptist Church (left) and Church Hall

Down the road at Sindlesham, a small village that was almost completely rebuilt by the Walter family of Bearwood, there is a golf driving range, a squash court and a Baptist Church. The old mill has been turned into a restaurant and Hotel. Bearwood too caters for the needs of local golfers with a nine hole course. The land at Bearwood surrounding the Victorian mansion is still wooded and contains numerous fine forest trees that have survived the years. But the landscape has changed with the arrival of wild rhododendrons, which owe their origins to northern Turkey rather than Windsor Forest.

Perhaps the greatest change in the shortest time took place at Woodley. Robert Palmer of Holme Park was responsible for building the school and St. John the Evangelist church, as well as many houses and cottages. In fact the Palmers did much to establish Woodley as a community in its own right. But by 1910 the Palmers had become victims of heavy taxation and death duties, and much of their estate was sold off. Their home at Holme Park subsequently became the Reading Blue Coat School.

Coblers City, one of Woodley's older established communities, 1984

The Bull and Chequers, Woodley Green, 1984

One venture which has caused considerable change occurred in 1929 when Phillips and Powes, a Reading firm, opened the airfield on land owned by Mr. Lee of Sandford Farm. They began a flying school, and he famous Second World War pilot, Douglas Bader, crashed there in 1931 and lost both his legs. Despite his accident, he went on to become a national hero.

In 1932 the Miles family came to Woodley and co-operated with Phillips and Powes in the design and manufacture of small aircraft. The Miles Hawk, one of the first aircraft they produced, achieved great success. This inexpensive little plane formed the basis of the Miles Aircraft Company which produced many highly successful civil and military aeroplanes. One of the most popular being the Miles Master. They built a special aircraft for the American pilot Charles Lindbergh, and one for General Montgomery which he used on his campaigns. During World War Two, the R.A.F. used Woodley airfield to train air crews, and after the war Handley Page made the first of their Herald aircraft there.

Miles Whitney Straight aircraft built at Woodley parked in front of the control tower
(Adwest properties Ltd.)

Miles Master trainer. More than 3,000 were constructed before 1942.
(Adwest properties Ltd.)

Aircraft workshops, Woodley, 1960s

New housing estate, Colemansmoor, 1984

New factories have been built alongside the old buildings creating much needed employment. One factory is credited with the 'birth of the biro', and now all kinds of goods are made there. With the closing of the airfield, a large amount of land became available for development. This land, together with that of Bullmarsh Heath, Colemans Moor and Woodley Green, has provided housing for the rapid population growth. From 978 inhabitants in 1901, to 27,000 in 1981.

Hurst Home Guard, possibly taken in the summer of 1943 at Lee Farm.
Mr Reggie Palmer of Hurst Grove is seated at the centre.
Mr John Barfoot in at the bottom left.

Children in fancy dress celebrating the Coronation of Elizabeth II, 1952

Surprisingly the population of Hurst did not increase so much in the same 80 years; only rising from 1,077 to 1,220 by 1981. In 2001 the census recorded 1,941 people living in 809 houses. But those statistics hide the fact that Hurst has changed from a quiet rural and peaceful village, into a village with streets full of traffic as people pass through to and from the new large residential areas.

Hurst Football Team, 1952-3

The Hurst Brownies planting a pseudo acacia in the grounds of the Village Hall.
One of the many trees planted by the Hurst Village Society in 1973

Construction of the M4 motorway, Winnersh, 1970s (© Evening Post)

The building of the M4 motorway gave a surge to the development of this part of the forest. It did not simply fill a need for a new road, it created still more growth and brought London within easy commuter distance. Many have found the recently developed housing estates in Twyford, Woodley and Winnersh desirable places to live.

Children playing on the bridge over the Emm brook, Merry Hill Green. (click for modern picture)

The same bridge as above with the Emm brook in 1984 (click for modern picture)

Dinton Pastures Country Park, at first a modest attempt by Major Oldfield to profit from the lakes created when gravel was dug for the M4, caters for the recreational needs of many local people. He stocked the lakes with fish and made a nine hole golf course on what had been part of Lea Heath.

In 1978 Wokingham District Council and the Countryside Commission found £200,000 to purchase the park. They improved the landscaping and provided more facilities, and now between 800 and 1,000 people enter the park on a busy day. The public houses in Hurst also attract customers from outside the village, offering good beer and a friendly atmosphere. Even the village hall and the church are used more by neighbouring villagers than local people.

Once when the church catered for a larger parish, and the lords of the manors controlled the area, Hurst gained some importance among the communities that surrounded it. Now those communities have demanded their own churches and schools, just as the people of Whistley did all those years ago, and have achieved importance in their own right.

St Mary's Church, Winnersh

The forest has been well and truly cleared. Some lanes and tracks have been converted into highways. Elm trees that once lined the roads and were a feature of this part of Berkshire have died from Dutch elm disease. We all hope that tree planting by local authorities and the Hurst Village Society will continue in an attempt to retain something of a rural aspect.

An increasing population demands that more and more land should become housing estates, more gravel is needed, and until a better system is introduced, more landfill sites are required. But with a limited amount of land available, let us trust in the years to come, that we shall be able to keep a proper balance between what can be used for development, and what can be retained as countryside and forest.

Recent Housing Development by Annette Drake