Fred Heyworth's History of Brightwell
The original booklet has been out of print for many years, but thanks to Dick Mason’s wizardry with the scanner and text-processing software, we are now able to put the full text online. We are very grateful to his daughter, Sue Haines, for permission to reproduce the text, and to Pat Owen for allowing us to use her wonderful cover.
I should like to acknowledge the help I have had from the facts on the history of Brightwell and Sotwell collected by the late Dr. Watts in 1930, from Mr. Turner of Australia with his description of coming to Brightwell Church in 19l4, and from my perusing of various Minute Books of the Brightwell, Sotwell and combined Brightwell and Sotwell Parish Councils.
I am also indebted to Mr. J. Blackie of Huntingdon for the loan of his scrapbook of press cuttings made covering the incumbency of Rev. Haldane Stewart. These fascinating accounts of events in the parish at this time were kept by a member of his wife's family, the Leveson-Gower's.
Finally, I must apologise to those who may think important topics and events have been left out. It has been quite a task summarising the amount of material available to go into a comparatively few printed pages, and I am only too conscious of many interesting topics which have not been covered.
F.V. Heyworth 198l
Some of the earliest inhabitants of our locality were, it appears, from the Iron Age. Brightwell Barrow (a barrow is a mound of earth raised over a burial place) was excavated in 1925 when interesting pottery of unusual type was found together with some human remains, both dating from the Iron Age.
We have no recorded evidence of Roman habitation though one of their roads came from Dorchester, across the Sinodun Hills, down by the pathway from Greenmere past the school and down Mackney Lane, its probable destination being Silchester. It is thus the oldest known right of way in the village. A fair variety of Roman coins (how careless these Romans seem to have been with their money!), have also been ploughed up from time to time on Mackney farm lands.
The Saxons were next to settle in our area. It probably didn't take them long to discover that here was excellent farming land where they settled, made their primitive homesteads and grew their crops and reared their animals and tried to cope with the many dangers which threatened them.
We are now at a time when historical facts are being recorded (not of course always correctly!) and legal documents, especially those relating to exchange of land and descriptions of privileges and duties, being made. The earliest of these Saxon charters, dated at about 854 records a grant by Aethelwulf, King of the West Saxons, to Winchester Cathedral of 30 hides of land at Beorhtanville (Brightwell). It must be explained that a hide of land was an area of land the exact size of which is unknown to us. Modern scholars describe it as an area of land sufficient to provide food for a family, rather ignoring the fact that this depends upon the size of the family, the energy of the provider and the fertility of the soil. This charter was signed 'by the Kings of Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia and was then placed upon the High Altar at Winchester in the presence of Bishop Swithun and other nobles and prelates. There follow further charters of land at Suttanwille, and Maccanie, with some 46 acres of land adjoining Welingaford to the thegn (Saxon Lord) Aethelgard, and finally the latter bequeaths these lands to the New Minister, or Hyde Abbey, at Winchester.
So those early Saxon peasants soon knew to whom they had to bend the knee and pay their homage. No doubt it was one of these early Saxon Lords who in the first flush of enthusiasm for the new religion of Christianity set his villagers about the task of building the first church, almost certainly on the site where St. Agatha's now stands. Here they would come to marry, baptise their children and in due course, for burial. Here they would come at Festivals, Saints Days and Holy Days. What, I wonder, did they make of the mumbled Latin prayers they would hear or the incredible Biblical stories their priest would tell them or have illustrated on the church walls. Did they stop and chatter after service as to-day's congregations generally do? Grumble perhaps about the weather, their rheumatism or the latest villainy of their lord and master of the manor? Beorhtanville's inhabitants were lucky at least in one respect. Unlike neighbouring Cholsey they seemed to have escaped the attention of the marauding Danes on their river cruises down the Thames. Fascinating, too, to speculate on what they knew of the Battle of Hastings. How long was it before news seeped through of their new ruler, William the Norman, being craftily welcomed in 'Wealingford' by the far-seeing Saxon noble, Wigod?
THE CONQUEROR RULES
Reality would dawn on them soon enough when they were faced with William's officials collecting their information for the famous Domesday Book. A frightening experience this must have been for most of them, but did no one, I wonder, manage to conceal the odd plough, the odd animal and so escape some of the tax due to their King?
However, let us return to reality. The Domesday Records show that approximately 48 families were resident in Brightwell and there was a mill and a church. In Sotwell. which was held by the Abbey of St. Peter of Winchester, about 22 families lived, and there was a mill. It is interesting to note that an amount 'of land in 'Walengeford' is also included in Sotwell.
It has been suggested that the site of the Brightwell mill might be at the Old Priory, and that the Sotwell mill could well have been situated at the north side of what is now called Sotwell House.
We can only guess at the excitement caused by the visit of these commissioners of the Conqueror to this small settlement. Certainly it provided an interesting new topic for conversation for some time! This excitement over, the peasants no doubt settled down to eke out some sort of existence under their new Norman masters, probably finding them not all that different from their Saxon overlords. Did some of them, I wonder, occasionally get their Lord's permission to visit 'Wealingford', perhaps to watch one of the tournaments which often took place in the castle court-yard or perhaps to see the arrival of royalty there?
Brightwell had its own castle, not of course approaching the magnificence of Wallingford's. It was almost certainly a wooden structure and was mentioned by one of the ancient chroniclers of the thirteenth century which says "There was formerly a castle at this place, Brightwell, which was in 1155 delivered up by King Stephen to Henry II then Duke of Normandy pursuant to an agreement made when peace was concluded at Wallingford. It was then demolished."
The site of this was almost certainly the partially moated land on which Brightwell Manor now stands. It is interesting to note that prior to 1655 the moat surrounded the probable site of the castle and the church. The depression of the lawn south of the Old Rectory probably represents its position. A bridge existed to give access from the Rectory to the churchyard.
Sotwell boasted two moated manors. One is on the site of the present Sotwell House, and it is here by tradition that Prince Arthur (eldest son of Henry VII) is said to have stayed when visiting Oxford or seeing his auditor, Robert Court, who lived at Mackney in "a pretie manor place of brik".
The other moated manor at Sotwell, on the site of the present Stonor Hayes, bears out the comment of a seventeenth century historian Thomas Fuller who said "The lands of Berkshire are skittish and apt to cast their owners" for the manors of Sotwell changed hands with some frequency until the two manors became united and passed into the hands of the Stonor family in l428, hence its present name Stonor Hayes! Mackney too had its own manor, dating from 1550, and like the Sotwell manors changed hands frequently. In its early days it belonged to a family of the 'De Mackneys' but by the fifteenth century had passed to the Robert Court previously mentioned. It held its own manor courts from 1372 to 1378.
CHURCH AND PRIEST
Whether the old Saxon church was damaged or whether some Norman Lord wished to ingratiate himself with Mother Church we do not know, but the earliest part of St. Agatha's Church dates from the twelfth century with additions in succeeding centuries. How did it get dedicated to a relatively obscure Sicilian Saint? Did some returning Crusader, name and rank unknown, return with St. Agatha's story which had captured his imagination? Did he have influence enough with the relevant authorities to make it their choice too? We, alas, can only guess.
The priest of this church was to become a person of some importance and consequence. Apart from his 'care of souls' and the necessity of employing him to marry you, baptise your children and bury you, he had considerable rights to.various privileges. A document of l654 lists a considerable amount of land which went with "A dwelling house with two gardens, two Backsides, a Barne, Stables and a Close behind the Barne". Moreover "all manner of tythes great and small are to be payed unto the Rector of Brightwell throughout the village and farms of Brightwell, the village of Mackney and Slade End..........".
In addition "On the Farme of Brightwell, belonging to the Lord Bishop of Winton (Winchester) the Rector hath power to and always had from the time of which there is no memory, and always ought to have, eight oxen and two cows, two cart horses and a hundred sheep with two rams with the animals to the Bishop, everywhere except in the garden of the Bishop".
Besides these he had other rights including tithes from a farm in Harwell, Easter dues from the villagers of Brightwell, Mackney and Slade End, and six pence a score for every score of sheep wintered with the parishes of Brightwell, Mackney and Slade End or else he had to be paid in tythe wool in kind. It is interesting to note that the Church-warden who signed that these particulars were true was one Richard Eldridge, a family name which we still have in our village.
With the continual struggle for survival, these dues which had to be paid at regular intervals to the church's representative could have made life no easier for your mediaeval peasant and it would not have been surprising, in an age when the odd dead body in the gutter would occasion little comment, if sometimes the parishioners harboured less than charitable thoughts against their priest. However, the murder which was perpetrated,in St. Agatha's in 1507 near the end of Henry VII's reign was carried out not by a parishioner but by a 'foreigner', one Robert Forde of East Hendred who confessed before the Mayor of Wallingforde that he himself "on the fourteenth day of May last, by force of arms, namely with sword and a dagger, made an assault one John Skatefield, Clerk, at Brightwell, and with one dagger struck him on the head, even to the brain, through which he died". That must have been a lively topic of conversation for the parish for some time!
A sixteenth century brass to the memory of the priest is found on the South aisle of St. Agatha's. Its inscription, translated from the Latin says "Here lyeth the body of Master John Scoeffyld who died on the 15th day of the month of May in the year of our Lord 1507, on whose soul may God have mercy, Amen"
John Scoeffyld does not appear among the names of the Rectors of Brightwell in the Bishop's Register. At this date the living was held by James Bromwich who also, in the way of the time, held other appointments. John Scoeffyld was probably serving as curate in the parish.
With the arrival of the Tudors the country quite soon found a relief from the various Civil Wars which had been the curse of preceding centuries, and these more settled conditions nationally were reflected in the growing prosperity of the countryside, the increased importance of the merchant, the yeoman farmer and especially those engaged in the wool trade. The successful yeoman and merchant building new houses or extending their homes to show off their prosperity to their neighbours no longer needed to plan their houses with a view to making them as defensible places in time of war, and so many of our now 'eminently desirable residences' were built at this period. 'Dobsons' situated a little west of Sotwell Church in the village street was one such house. Occupied by the Dobson family from 1585 to 1784 it is traditionally held to have been used by smugglers for concealing spirits.
Other houses of this period are Brightwell Manor, Slade End House, The Old Priory in Brightwell which is almost certainly a survival of an early Tudor farm house, Middle Farm and Abbots House with their intriguing and much examined remnants of wall paintings, the majestic 'Smalls' at Mackney built by a burgess of that name, and of course 'Woodleys' at the west end of the village which could well be the oldest domestic building in the village and dates as a home long before the Tudor period. The shape of the beams and joists suggest that they may well have been ships' timbers.
So the people of Brightwell settled to enjoy the comparative peace and prosperity which existed during the hundred years or .so the Tudors reigned. There were changes of course, many of them associated with the church, thanks to the difficulties Henry VIII found in ridding himself of one wife and taking another. The Litany and one chapter from the Old and New Testaments had to .be read in English. In 1549 the first Prayer Book of Edward VI was issued with the essential parts of several old service books used previously, in English instead of Latin. Various revisions were made, a new Prayer Book was issued in 1552 and then in 1555 with Mary Tudor on the throne there was a return more or less to the old forms and ritual! The poor congregation of those days must have been even more frustrated than our congregations of today coping with Series this, that and the other. Especially when, after a mere five years with Elizabeth Queen, the English Prayer Book was again restored. With precious few of the congregation able to read anyway, the printers couldn't have found overmuch profit from these frequent changes. During this period the parish had some quite distinguished gentlemen installed as Rectors, though few were resident in the parish. One, Mayew, left and became Bishop of Hereford in 1504, John Bridges became Bishop of Oxford in l604, William Langton was President of Magdalen College, Godwin came as Rector to Brightwell after being Chief Master of Abingdon School where he was "broken or wearied out with the drudgery of the School". He died in l642 and was buried in the Chancel of Brightwell Church.
THE CIVIL WAR
I often wonder what was the impact of the major events of the time upon the ordinary individual. What, for example, did he know of the alarms and eventual rejoicings at the coming and defeat of the Spanish Armada? Presumably when the beacons were lit, some sort of garbled story of the reasons for this excitement would reach the people. The Civil War would be something which would affect them much more closely, with news coming in from time to time of local skirmishes at Abingdon, Chalgrove, Thame and the much more exciting happenings at Wallingford where the castle and the town were held for the King under the command of Colonel Blagge. Perhaps some of the locals were even dragged off by enthusiastic landowners to fight somewhat less enthusiastically for the Royal cause. I imagine most of the population would be only too pleased to find that death and destruction would pass by their village and they could more or less go about their normal lives in the usual way until such times as the whole business was settled.
Our church did not suffer the destruction that ruined so many of our lovely old churches. Perhaps the decorations were not attractive enough, perhaps the most fanatical puritan soldiery did not pass this way, but the church did not escape the attentions of the new rulers. The Rector who was appointed in l645, Edward Hyde, D.D. was ejected from his living in l649 for belonging to the Royalist Party. He was described by the committee which sat in Reading to examine such cases as being a "scandalous Minister" and his successor, a man who no doubt was of suitable Puritan leanings, was appointed in his place. His name was John Ley.
ROYAL RULE RETURNS
The rule of the Commonwealth affected the people in other ways too. Traditional ways in which country folk had amused themselves for generations were frowned upon and 'Whitsun Ales', 'Wakes', Morris Dancing, Maypoles and "other suchlike licentious practices" were forbidden!
When Royal rule was resumed with the Restoration of Charles II, another Doctor of Divinity, Michael Woodward was appointed. As Warden of New College, he lived in Oxford, where in 1665 he entertained the Spanish Ambassador, though he occasionally visited Brightwell. Obviously the incumbents during the Commonwealth rule had neglected the upkeep of the furniture and fabric of the church, for the Churchwardensí accounts of this period show a considerable amount of money being spent on repairs. In 1671 Dr. Woodward himself bestowed upon the church "The King's arms, the making, painting and colouring of the Railes about the Communion Table in the Chancel and also the raising, colouring and building of the Pulpitt".
It seems that not all parishioners were enthusiastic about the return to the older ways of church worship after the end of the Commonwealth for on November 3rd l665 the Churchwardens are "presenting William Dobson, Richard Rowland and Joan Batten (familiar surnames again!) for not coming to Divine Service or sermon on Sundays nor holy-days not ever since we came into office this last year past".
The Great Fire and Plague of London is referred to in the Churchwardens' Accounts for 1665-6. "A booke for ye faste day.after ye fire att London" cost them one shilling, whilst a "faste day booke for the sickness" was the same amount. Enterprising work by some printers, perhaps?
It is surprising, perhaps, to read of charitable collections being made in the eighteenth century. These were known as 'briefsí and were legalised by Act of Parliament in Queen Anne's reign. If some disaster befell your church, you took out letters patent which authorised you to send letters throughout the land asking for help. These had to be read before the sermon and collections were either taken in church or from house to house. Thus in 1706 we find the village collected four shillings and five pence for Darlington Church which was going to have to find seventeen hundred and fifty pounds and upwards for repairs. How many of the donors even knew where Darlington was, I wonder?
One of the many intriguing duties of the Churchwardens comes to light in the mid-eighteenth century. An Act passed in Queen Elizabeth's reign for the preservation of grain ordered the Churchwardens to pay out of the Church Rates or the Overseers out of the Poor Rates amounts for the killing of creatures who were deemed guilty of feeding on grain. Thus in 1744, 110 dozen sparrows were paid for at 2 pence per dozen and in 1746 45 hedgehogs and 12 polecats were priced at four pence each!
SOME EIGHTEENTH CENTURY RECTORS
As in previous centuries the eighteenth century provided some most interesting characters in their Rectors. The Rev. Anthony Alsop B.D. was appointed in 1715. Within a year of his appointment at Brightwell he married the widow of his predecessor, Mrs. Margery Bernard. He then disappeared for some years, only returning for the annual Vestry Meeting to sign the Churchwardens' books. This, it was said, was due to the fact that he was involved in an action for breach of promise of marriage by a Mrs. Astrey of Oxford, an action which he lost, a verdict of £2000 damages being given against him. His end is described -in this somewhat bizarre fashion in the Reading Post of June 1726 which says that at about 11 o'clock at night, the Rector of Brightwell "was walking by a small brook near the College of Winchester, when the ground gave way under his feet, which threw him into the brook where he was found dead the next morning". Make of that what you will!
A son of Francis Bernard who was instituted in 1702 was also christened Francis, and according to the Parish Registers was baptised July 10th 1712. This Francis attained some historical notoriety. He became Governor of New Jersey in 1758 and of Massachusetts Bay in 1760 and was largely responsible for attempting to force new taxes on the American people with the result that the American War of Independence eventually ensued. For this brilliant diplomacy he was recalled and made a Baronet!
The dominant figure of eighteenth century parsons was of course Thomas Wintle who served in Brightwell from 1774 to 1814, practically throughout the whole long reign of George III. He left a book "containing sundry memoranda and particulars relating to the living of Brightwell". Its pages show how occupied he was with his management of his glebes and tithes, with his Parish Clerk acting as his Tithing man keeping a watchful eye over the parish lands lest anyone was crafty enough by some means to defraud the Rector of his rights.
Mr. Wintle was also keen that the boundaries of his parish should be known and remembered. He goes round with men and boys calling "About four o'clock with my neighbours at Ye Red Lion where they dined at ye joint expense of ye Parish and myself and then set out again to mark the boundaries of Slade End". The expenses of dinner and 'morning refreshment' amounted to the vast sum of one pound seven shillings! Ten years later in 1794 when "three younge men went ye whole circuit of ye Parish except ye Kitchen Mead, with a measuring chain, and ye whole circuit, according to their measurements (wise man to cover himself with this qualification) is very near 131/2 miles". The expenses for cake and ale etc. was one pound seven shillings, exactly what it had been ten years previously! Someone obviously knew how to control inflation!
In the Parish Register, under the date November 17th 178l, it is recorded that King George III rode through the village on horseback returning from a stag chase, (Good material there for the editor of any Village Magazine of that period!)
Mr. Wintle is also remembered for taking the first steps in organising some sort of education for the children of the village. In 1785 a Sunday School was set up. Mr. Wintle paid a guinea a year for its support, the rest coming out of the Churchwardens' accounts. The mistress was usually paid one shilling and sixpence a week with an allowance for fires, and an occasional supply of "littel" books was provided. The attendance he records varied between 20 and 40, and being a conscientious clergyman he usually visited it every Sunday. In addition to this, four children of Slade End were taught and the cost defrayed by Charity Money left "for bread and ye schooling for ye poor of Slade End" by Mrs. Frances Riggins in 1726. Its first teacher was Dame Sandell who was paid forty shillings a year and received her money twice yearly. Thus were the seeds of education sewn.
One other important historical event took place during Mr. Wintle's long incumbency. In l8l0 a meeting was held at Mr. Hedge's house at Wallingford to consider "ye propriety of applying to Parliament in the approaching session for an Inclosure of the lands". In l8ll the Petition was presented and leave obtained. The Bill passed through both Houses of Parliament and became an Act in May, and Mr. John Davis, Commissioner, gave notice of his first meeting-to be held at The Lamb in Wallingford on July 1st. This Inclosure Act brought to an end the ancient method of agriculture under the Open and Common Fields system. It also caused a great deal of distress amongst the smallholders many of whom could not afford to purchase land under the new system. One interesting old custom was still surviving in the late eighteenth century by which the Rector of the Parish was responsible for distributing on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) a large number of loaves of bread, some cheeses, cakes and beer to each housekeeper male and female belonging to the parish who chose to apply. In 1785 the number of applicants for these 'goodies' was about 160. For modern housewives, the cost of 51bs of butter was approx-imately 15 pence in today's currency and 5 Ibs of sugar 11 pence! About 1860 with the consent of the Churchwardens, the Rector of the time, the Rev. R. Milford, abandoned this custom to replace it with gifts for an approved list of 'aged poor'.
The Rate Book of Sotwell Church covering a period from 1727 - l831 holds some fascinating items. Amounts are paid regularly in connection with various members of the Royal Family, from ten shillings and sixpence spent at games on "Ye Kings Crowning Day on June 6th 1727" to tolling the bell for various Royal deaths. Finally, the princely sum of five shillings was given in June 1858 for ringing for Queen Victoria's Coronation. The bills paid to one Charles Gilling, Surgeon, for his attentions to one Hannah Whitman in 1765 make one thankful for modern medical treatment. Bleeding, fever powder and purging mixture figure largely in the account. The account ends with on December 15th the administering of "a purging mixture, several doses". Perhaps this was sufficient to put the unfortunate Hannah beyond need of any further medical attention! Two entries intrigue me. Why should Sotwell Parish have to pay in June 1760 fourteen shillings for carrying soldiers to Hungerford and again one pound one shilling for carrying the soldiers to Reading? Were they perhaps local volunteers who had taken the King's shilling after some recruiting campaign and were the responsibility of the parish to provide transport to their regiment?
To return after that digression to our clergymen. When the Rev. Marmaduke Thompson was Rector two very significant ecclesiastical changes occurred. In 1856 Berkshire was transferred from the diocese of Salisbury to the diocese of Oxford. The association of centuries was thus ended. Another Act put an end to the 'absentee Landlords' as it were, Rectors who from time to time held appointments in several parishes paying scant attention to any of them. This Act compelled residence in the parish for six months in the year and restricted the acquisition of more than one benefice. For future incumbents it was going to be a case of "I'll go no more a roving"! Our Marmaduke Thompson has the credit for building the first school. Land was purchased from the Parish Authorities and on the site of the present Village Hall was built Brightwell National School, which was to give some sort of rudimentary education to village children for the next thirty years.
During the Victorian Age we find many examples of philanthropy from the more well-to-do classes. Instead of providing vast churches or additions to them in return for masses and prayers as your wealthy mediaevalist did, it was realised that people would benefit from material help when the State did little to alleviate the suffering and poverty which so many people had to endure.
To Brightwell in l866 came the best type of Victorian clergyman, the Rev. John Haldane Stewart, M.A. The same year Mr. Stewart married Emily Leveson-Gower at Titsey Church. The village set about preparing for the bride and bridegroom's return with tremendous enthusiasm. The happy pair were expected to arrive at Wallingford Station and a notice went up on the Village Noticeboard which said "Wanted, 50 volunteers to draw the carriage of the Rev. J.H. Stewart on Thursday 19th July". (According to local press reports, upwards of seventy "stalwart villagers" answered this appeal.) Two bands were booked for the occasion, one being the band of the Eleventh Berks Rifles, the other the Wallingford Saxe-horn Band.
The train carrying the newly wedded couple duly arrived at Wallingford Station (naturally some 50 minutes late) and the bridal carriage pulled by the stalwarts set off "at a lively pace" in the direction of Brightwell. The decorations commenced at Slade End with flags which floated from nearly every dwelling. At the entrance to Brightwell parish a 'tasty' triumphal arch was constructed, the sides of which revelled in luxuriant green foliage whilst red flowers on a white ground bore the words "God Bless Them Both". Near the Rectory another ornamental arch had been erected which in large red characters wrought in flowers said "Welcome Home". Speeches were made on the Rectory lawn, refreshments were provided, the bells of the parish church rang out. The choir had intended to sing the 118th Psalm and a welcoming anthem on the Rectory lawn, but these delights had to be left for a later date as the hour was judged to be too late. (I guess there would be some mutterings of discontent from certain members of the choir about this!) However, they got their turn on the re-arranged date along with the children of the village school who were assembled as usual on the Rectory lawn where Mr. E. Fairthorne feasted them, numbering about 150, with a bountiful supply of plum cake and tea. Mr. Stewart was soon giving evidence of his enthusiasm for lecturing when on this occasion he gave a short (?) resume of his wedding tour to Switzerland and Italy.
Mr. Stewart soon had important matters on his hands. The old National School was now insufficient for the needs of the village especially now that the Government was beginning to set certain standards which had to be provided, and Mr. Stewart along with the first Master, a hard working and musical Mr. Hobley, set about enthusiastically raising money for the building of new accommodation. Donations from well-to-do parishioners and others provided a good deal of the money and Mr. Hobley ran a series of concerts to help augment the donations.
The. descriptions of these concerts, the details of the items given and the long reports of them in the local press are interesting comments on the social life of our village in Victorian times. "Rule Britannia", "0 Who Will O'er The Downs", "Annie Laurie" and "March of the Men of Harlech" figure frequently. Tickets for one shilling, sixpence and threepence for the first night, and one penny each for the second night were to be had from the Schoolmaster's House. On one occasion the press reports an excellent attendance of gentlefolk and "others". On another he comments on the amazing fact that residents varying in their occupations from farm labourers to our "worthy and respected Rector and his wife" should now appear together on the same concert platform.
However the aims of the worthy gentlemen were fulfilled. Mr. Stewart gave a piece of orchard behind the original site and on August 4th l869 the first brick was laid. The School was duly opened on June 2nd l870 by Dr. Mackarness, Bishop of Oxford. Morning service was held in the school at 11.50, there was the inevitable sermon from the Bishop, and equally inevitably tea and buns for the children on the Rectory lawn. About 100 guests sat down to luncheon in the New Room and the following day the workmen employed in the building had supper in the room. The total cost seems to have been about £1100.
Later on a Clock Tower was built costing nearly £400 and it struck twelve at noon for the first time on. May l6th l874 in the presence of the schoolchildren and others gathered - guess where? - on the Rectory lawn of course.
In l874 a new house was built for the Schoolmaster and in l877 the school fountain was erected as a joint gift from Mr. Fairthorne and the Rector. The school and its immediate surroundings were going to remain substantially the same for many a long year.
Besides his interest in the school the Rector had the physical well-being of his parishioners in mind. During the winter months money given by Mr. Stewart along with a few other subscribers bought the ingredients for soup which was doled out at very low cost to those who most needed it. This soup was sold at the rate of about 50 gallons a week for ten or twelve weeks. As the press said "It is indeed a boon and a blessing to the poor furnishing them with an excellent meal once a week".
He also organised a Clothing Club which was designed to encourage his poorer parishioners to save regularly so that they could purchase necessary clothes and shoes for their mostly somewhat large families. For every shilling that was saved a fraction was added from a fund raised by the Rector: by donations.
A man who for those days travelled widely, he would return to give his parishioners (and others) the benefit of his experiences, lecturing them on a wide variety of topics such as "A Ramble in the Southern States of America, in l853", "A steam engine pulled to pieces", "The Falls of Niagara", "A Gig Drive in Southern Africa in l863", and "The History and Progress of the Present War". (This was the Franco Prussian War of l870).
Other social outings he organised have their interest too. The railway had arrived in Victorian times and this opened wide vistas for exploration. Mr. Stewart had started a Night School to improve his parishionersí education and he took them to see the wonders of the Crystal Palace. They started off with bread, butter and coffee being supplied at the schoolroom and after "a nice morning's walk across the fields" caught the train from Wallingford. When they-returned to Wallingford at about ten o'clock did it seem such. a nice evening's walk back home along the fields, I wonder?
Another trip to London took Mr. Stewart's 'night scholars' and Mr. Fairthorne's farm labourers to visit the Zoological Gardens and Westminster Abbey. The night scholars had saved by instalments, the equivalent of 121/2 pence for their fare. Mr. Stewart had provided for other expenses. They went from Didcot by train and this time no walking was involved because Mr. Fairthorne had supplied two waggons and horses to and from the Railway Station. A note of appreciation of this outing says "We cannot leave off without expressing our pleasure at the great improvement that has taken place in the management of excursion trains. Instead of keeping us half the day on our journey and so materially shortening the holiday, giving us vexation instead of pleasure, we are now quickly despatched to our destination and so are allowed to have a good, long and enjoyable holiday. We hope the railway authorities will be rewarded for their promptness and courtesy by a good profit out of excursion trains." (British Rail kindly note!)
Mr. E. Fairthorne, the Rector's Churchwarden, was himself concerned to further the welfare of the parish. He gave generously to projects connected with the school and church, lent a cottage to be used as a Reading Room, gave land for a Recreation Ground and built the cottages next to our present Village Hall for use of tenants working in some capacity for the church as well as the cottages further up the street known once as Almshouses but which became ultimately a burden on the church as no money had been provided for their upkeep.
The excellent Mr. Fairthorne also endeared himself to the people of the village by building, in l875, a new road uniting the top of Mackney Lane to Sotwell Street, thus avoiding the narrow and wet Well Springs Lane. It is noted that this was "opened for traffic"!
His daughter, Miss Augusta Fairthorne, endowed the Free Church on land belonging to her father, and also built the Manse. The church was opened for Divine Service on Easter Sunday l885.
The well-loved Haldane Stewart went on another visit abroad, this time for health reasons and died quite suddenly in a Paris hotel. The Stewart Memorial Hall was built to commemorate him and his good works. This was used as a room for reading, recreation (a billiard table-was eventually installed in one of the rooms) and an alternative source of accommodation to the school for 'Penny Readings' and lectures.
Life in the village at this time must have been typical of that of most rural communities just prior to 19l4, a reasonably peaceful and well ordered place where each one knew and acknowledged his rightful place in society. Most of the men worked on the farms or were local tradesmen supplying in some way the needs of the village such as blacksmith, carpenter, baker or cobbler. One or two would work in Wallingford shops but before the bicycle became a reasonably comfortable means of travel, working in Wallingford would present its problems. Mothers of course were occupied in bringing up large families. Daughters would usually be only too delighted to find a suitable vacancy arising at the right time in one of the 'big' houses (even the Schoolmaster could afford a maid in those times) though occasionally a bright young lass (or lad) could become a Pupil Teacher and eventually through their hard work become fully qualified teachers without going to College.
World events however were beginning to make themselves felt even in this rural community. The Spanish Armada, perhaps even the Napoleonic Wars and the Crimean could have comparatively little impact on the individual. The Boer War in South Africa was different. .No doubt the odd brother or uncle in the village had enlisted in an effort to escape the rut of rural life. At any rate when the Relief of Ladysmith was made news, the Rector announced the news to the school children who, to their delight, were given a half-day's holiday. (That would be one historical event they would remember).
Soon they would be engulfed in more serious matters. 19l4 would see the beginning of a "war to end wars" and the end of an era. Life in town or village would never be the same again!
Before we touch on the impact of this calamity I have permission to quote from this lovely description.of a service in Brightwell Church in 19l4. Mr. Turner lived in Brightwell during the war (no relation of any local family) whose aunt was Housekeeper at Rush Court in the service of the Faber family. Every Sunday he and his brother walked over to Rush Court to see their aunt, returning in time for service. His brother he says "lightened the journey by telling me stories or singing me songs. He had sung alto in church choirs and could make up 'seconds' to most tunes; probably our Sunday visits made it impracticable for either of us to enrol in the choir at Brightwell which would have been a desirable social distinction. It was a full choir of men and boys - no women then - with old Mr. Holloway at the organ and Mr. Harry Brooker's tenor rising triumphantly above everything else. The church was always full, the Sunday School children marched across in a clumping battalion from their classes in the village school, and out again before the Sermon. We envied them this relief though apparently some obscure social grading precluded our joining their ranks. All the local gentry came, all the servants who could be spared from the preparation of Sunday lunch, every bit as much of a ritual as the service itself. The younger maids sat in a not always well-behaved group near the back where also could be found the younger farm labourers, loud of boot and cough, and having other things to do than try to follow the Prayer Book. The gentry always walked to church, except Mrs. Gordon from the Red House at the top of Slade End hill. She was very old and drove up in her carriage behind a top-hatted coachman, looking like Queen Victoria herself. Her house was one of the very few in the village to have electric light which was provided by an engine whose thumping we heard as we passed on our way to school."
Changes were afoot in the agricultural world and Mr. Turner recalls that the Home Farm (now Severalls) must have been one of the first farms to use machine ploughing; traction engines on either side of a field had a great plough shuttling between them, drawn back and forth by cables winding on drums.
It was in this period that a Dr. Bach came to live in Sotwell and practised his 'Nature remedies' - now more fashionably known as 'homoeopathy'. His followers continued his work and today of course operate (not literally!) from Mount Vernon serving a world-wide clientele with their remedies.
The four war years revolutionised many things but the Sotwell Parish Council Minute Book betrays little active reaction. In 1915 they were requested to make arrangements for a recruiting.campaign to be carried out in the village, and in 1917 a memorandum was received on the necessity for economising with food - perhaps the countryman with his own resources for food production needed reminding more than the townsman.
It seems that for some time a Yorkshire.Regiment was billetted in the village and children used to beg surplus rations (especially bread and jam) from them!
So village affairs continued, with the lucky ones who were unwounded taking up their jobs once again, easier at this period for the countryman than the townsman where there was much unemployment.
Communications were easier now. Three or four people in the village even had motor cars. The Schoolmaster (adventurous man) had a motor cycle combination. There was, too, a bus service, and in 1926 the Parish Council discussed a complaint that the City of Oxford Motor Bus travelled often at "excessive speeds" through the village. With these links to Didcot and Wallingford where trains could be caught it was now possible to extend the area where jobs might be found. Moreover, it was possible to use the train as a luxury, taking them on the odd day out to Oxford or London, even perhaps for a day at the seaside.
Social life was expanding too. The Cricket and Football teams formed in pre-war days were reformed and in 1923 there was an effort to resite the Recreation Ground on land west of Church Lane known as 'Tidlings'. This was an ambitious scheme, which would provide facilities for cricket, football, hockey and tennis. This was all too much for the worthy Councillors this time whose main aim seemed to be to preserve the status quo and not spend a penny of the money available to them!
Besides the sporting activities which were carried on, Brightwell was famous for its Musical.Society formed in the early part of the twentieth century. For many years under the inspired and enthusiastic conductorship of the Church Organist, Arthur Holloway, they entered local Festivals and were much feared by their competitors. As late as 1927 they are recorded as entering the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Music Society Festival at Abingdon. On that occasion they won the Banner for the fourth year in succession.
The Old Village 'Hall' which was a hut purchased when the war ended (and still sited behind the Stewart Memorial building) used to have many of its certificates hung on its walls. I imagine it must have often re-echoed to the sounds of choral rehearsals held there!
In 1923 the Councils (at this stage of course Brightwell and Sotwell each had its own Parish Council) were informed by the Wallingford Postmaster that the last post on Saturday should be at noon so that postmen should have a half holiday each week. This received a sort of reluctant agreement but later when it was found to cause "considerable inconvenience" the Postmaster was requested to return to the original time and also that Sunday morning delivery be re-commenced! There is no mention in the minutes as to the reply they received on this one!
One amusing item recorded in 1930 from the Sotwell minutes shows its anxiety over matters financial. Tithes were still being paid to the Rector for the Recreation Ground. These amounted in present money to about £4.60 a year. A new Rector had been appointed and the Clerk was asked when he made payment to the new Rector to inform him that the previous Rector had always refunded the money.
For some time some parishioners had been advocating the introduction of a house to house refuse collection and by 1931 the Annual Parish Meeting actually decided by eight votes to five (a good example of how poorly these meetings were attended) that steps should be taken with Wallingford Rural District Council to organise such a service. At the next meeting of the Sotwell Parish Council this was discussed and with the voting 2 for and 2 against the Chairman gave his casting vote against. They did not consider that they felt justified in committing the Parish to this expense!
They did however, pursue with some vigour the matter of erecting a telephone kiosk in the village. It took some two years to persuade the Post Office that this should be done. It then took a further six years of correspondence before the Post Office agreed to install a light in it! Ironically enough this was March 1939. In six months' time, a blackout would be in force.
Ominous signs of trouble were to be seen by now. In 1937 the whole of Sotwell Parish Council was appointed as an Air Raid Precautions Committee, and a few months later two Air Raid Wardens were appointed. By January 1939 the Council was requested to make a survey of the parish for the purpose of making arrangements to receive children who might be evacuated from the towns in case of war. It was not long before these preparations were to be tested.
WORLD WAR II 1939 - 1945
So war came again, not entered into this time with the same light-hearted enthusiasm as in 19l4. The young men who left to join the Forces were not quite the same unsophisticated countrymen as their predecessors in World War I had been. Fortunately. their commanders turned out to be a little more skilful too so that the names of the fallen which would be added in 1945 were only a fraction of those of 1919.
Mercifully, not even stray bombs found their way here. Evacuees from London came, overcrowded the village school and caused a good many problems and then returned in the quieter early days, returning later in the dark days of 1940. A Home Guard company was formed, special constables patrolled as did Air Raid Wardens. All sorts of voluntary groups were formed often to raise money for various aspects of the war effort. During these five years the social barriers in the village must have been broken down more than at any time previously with representatives from all classes working together to one end - peace.
By April 1944 the Wallingford Rural District Council was asking for details of the housing to be provided under the post war housing scheme. It was agreed that 32 houses would be sufficient, that they should all be three-bedroomed, and that the copper should be fixed in an out-house and not in the kitchen or scullery, and all should be adapted for piped water and sewerage. Progress indeed!
CHANGES IN POST WAR YEARS
In 1945 the war ended, and the next few months would see the men returning from the Services. Many of them would have travelled widely abroad (even if not under ideal conditions) bringing back a wealth of experience with which to face civilian life anew. Some would be leaving positions of authority and would find settling down to routine jobs irksome and unsettling. All would rejoice in the comparative freedom of civilian status.
At a meeting of the joint Councils in Brightwell and Sotwell held in October 1946 it was decided that an amalgamation of the two parishes would be beneficial. When the Clerk of each Council was one and the same person you had the Gilbertian situation of an official writing to himself. Naturally such a tremendous step was going to take some time to accomplish. The first step after agreement was to choose a name. A village meeting decided it should be called Brightwell-cum-Sotwell (one excellent reason being that a name like this would enable the British Legion to use the same banner!). It took two years for administrative consent to be given and it was not until April 1948 that the first meeting of the Brightwell-cum-Sotwell Parish Council took place.
The new Parish Council was soon immersed in affairs of. village life. The Sports Clubs were in being again and in particular cricket was revived with great enthusiasm so that the Parish Council was asked to consent to Sunday cricket being played on the Recreation Ground. The Football Club had difficulty finding a suitable ground. Eventually, after long hours of deliberation at every level, it was decided that money should be spent on a drainage scheme to make the ground usable by both Football and Cricket Clubs, and eventually with this in mind a combined Brightwell Sports Club was formed. From the many hours the Parish Council were to spend discussing this matter it is evident that the drainage scheme had only been partially successful!
More serious matters than this held the Council's attention. A tardy R.D. Council had to be prodded into producing the long-promised houses but eventually they were built and named, in 1949, Greenmere Estate. A piped water supply was brought into the village and at last after three or four years of effort a sewerage scheme was begun in the late spring of 1959. Naturally that summer was one of our very wet ones and the sound of pumps doing (or trying to do) their work was a familiar sound to all of us as we threaded our way up and down The Street in what looked like a First World War trench system.
These were improvements to life in the village but in I960 the Parish Council was informed that because not enough patients were using it, the Surgery in the village (held in a room at what was the Swan Inn) would have to close. Despite many protests, the Ministry of Health stuck to its decision and people without transport had to put up with the difficulties this caused.
There were changes afoot too, in the village school. In the post war period certain strict guidelines had been laid down by the Government to improve the standards of school buildings maintained by voluntary bodies. It was rather reluctantly agreed that the church (in the village that is) would be unable to find the money required to satisfy the new requirements of the State, and in 1952 the school became a 'Voluntary Controlled School' which in effect meant the Authority would be wholly responsible for improvements and maintenance of the building whilst the church relinquished many of the privileges it had held since the Rev. Marmaduke Thompson built the first school-room back in l84l. The 1944 Act had stipulated "Secondary Education for all" and eventually the Authority decreed that in 1953 Brightwell should become a Primary School. As there was no Secondary Modern School in Wallingford at this time the children over eleven were transported to Didcot. This continued until 1957 when Blackstone School was opened and the children then went there.
Even though the older children had left, numbers continued to rise due to the post war 'bulge', and eventually the Stewart Memorial rooms were used to house one class of children. This was the same room where many of the grandparents of these children had been taught as infants!
Eventually Berkshire County Council agreed to build new accommodation on the present Greenmere site. It comprised two infant classes, an Assembly Hall and a kitchen, and was opened in 196l. For the next eight years this was how the school remained and the writer has vivid memories of taking upwards of 70 children every lunch-time in all weathers up to the new site at Greenmere for lunch. Luckily, splendid dinners by the kitchen staff with Mrs. Wells in charge provided some reward. In January 1969 a further two classrooms were added and a minimum amount of accommodation for staff, secretary and Head to share. What a delight it was to have the children together under one roof again!
The old school building, which had seen so much life over the past century, was not to remain empty and lonely for long. The village decided it would make an admirable village hall. Steps were taken to purchase it, major reconstruction was carried out and in February 1975 the old school (with the fountain removed) became Brightwell Village Hall.
Meanwhile a major administrative re-organisation had occurred due to Local Government changes. On April 1st 1974 Brightwell-cum-Sotwell was transferred to the authority of Oxfordshire. Its centuries old link with Berkshire was broken.
Many other changes too numerous to mention in detail cover the years since the last war ended. The population of the village has increased, with most families owning at least one car, and with the development of the motorways making travelling thirty or forty miles a day to work and back possible, the occupations of Brightwell's inhabitants are spread widely afield. Culham brought a new class of professional people in our midst. With the decline of labour on the farms Brightwell no longer is the rural village it used to be, though our farms - arable, mixed and fruit - still remain a pleasing and dominant feature of the countryside.
There has been a deepening interest in all village matters and Annual Parish Meetings are well attended. Societies flourish and the most recent, the Community Association, has contributed much to the village.
May this lovely village with its farms and meadow land, its fruit trees and its beautiful old cottages in the shadow of its ancient hills long continue to flourish