The 18th century

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Enclosures Act

Before 1800 much of the land in Wraysbury was common land and waste ground. The Lord of the Manor of Wraysbury in 1799 presented a bill to Parliament which would divide this land (and other land in Wraysbury) into separate enclosures and award these enclosures to certain individuals who would then own the freehold.

A number of villagers objected to the bill and presented the Lord of the Manor with a petition. To ensure the smooth passage of the bill he subsequently agreed to insert a clause which awarded the eight yards either side of the River Colne in perpetuity for the use of the inhabitants of Wraysbury. When each of the enclosures was divided the boundaries all ended eight yards from the river.

The common rights which the inhabitants had enjoyed were therefore exchanged for the right to walk along an eight yard strip of land which bordered the river Colne, to cut withies from the stream and throw mud from it upon the bank. The right to hold an annual fair at
Whitsuntide1  and the land on which it should be held was also ensured.

On the 17th June 1803 the Wraysbury Inclosure2 Award was granted with the following to say about the 8 yards: 

" AND FURTHER KNOW YE that they the said James Taylor Richard Davis and Thomas Wyatt the Commissioners as aforesaid in pursuance and further performance of the Directions of the said Act before setting out and making the several Allotments of the said Commons and Waste Grounds by the said Act directed to be made HAVE set out appointed and awarded and by these presents DO set out appoint and award unto and for all and every the inhabitants of the said parish of Wyrardisbury otherwise Wraisbury for the time being ALL those Spaces Pieces or Parcels of Land or Ground part and parcel of the Lands and Grounds by the said Act intended and directed to be divided allotted and inclosed being of the breadth of eight yards on each side of the River Colne or Mill River as the same is marked and distinguished by dotted Lines on the said plan hereunto annexed and which said space of eight yards on each side of the said Colne or Mill River is so set out by the said Commissioners for the purpose of being used for ever by the Inhabitants of the said Parish for throwing mud cutting weeds out of the said River and for such other uses and purposes as may be necessary for their accommodation and to the same Extent and in such manner no they enjoyed the same at the time of the passing of the said Act."

(page 9, para 1 certified copy 24 Feb 1944) 

An interesting insight into the numerous occupations in Wraysbury at the time can be gleaned from the entries for summonses in the Court Rolls:-

1724 Thomas Potter  farrier2
1726 Weedon Grove brazier3
1732 Willaim Harris distiller
1732 Francis Long tailor
1744 John Harris maltster4
1761 Joseph Burt apothecary
1761 Joseph Adkins cordwainer5
1783 William Thomas copper roller
1794 William Whitmarsh blacksmith
1801 Nathanial Wilmot wheelwright and carpenter


The coming of the railway in 1848  improved the lot of the villager and widened the scope of employment but the population remained fairly static until the end of the 19th century.  Hirings took place each Michaelmas which resulted in some fluctuation of population.

Prior to the close of this stage, the village was rural in character, depending on the mills and agriculture for employment.  A small number of workers did, however, obtain employment in Slough and Staines, often walking to work each day.

The Mills

Two aspects of local life together provided the means of employment of the local inhabitants from earliest times until quite recently.  The background and development of these is given below.

The Growth of Wraysbury and Hythe End Mills.

The Colne Brook has been harnessed in Wraysbury for more than 1,000 years to provide power for both the mills.  They were mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 as having a value of 40 shillings per annum.  They were owned by the lord of the Manor and were the centre of activity.  Tenants were permitted to grind their corn only at the Lord’s mill .

Water mills were the earliest form of power known to man and as such were successively used for a variety of tasks as technology advanced.  Wraysbury Mill is situated near the Horton boundary of the Parish.  It had Saxon foundations  and was the principal mill on the Colne stream, the actual site of the mill head and race being the same as at the time of the Domesday Survey.  The flour mill derived its source of power from an undershot paddle water wheel which was driven by the millstream.

John de Remenham, one of the Wraysbury barons who was present at the signing of Magna Carter, held the mill in 1289.  In 1605 it began to be used as a paper mill.   It was worked night and day all the year except on Sundays.

In 1722 the mill was tenanted by Jakes Colson who worked it as an iron mill.  It was turned into a copper mill in 1777 by the new owners, Gnoll Co. of Neath.  The copper for the mill was landed at a wharf on the Thames to be minted at the mill and then taken to London.  The precise location of the wharf at the end of Wharf Road (SU 993 739) is now occupied by two dwellings with the names "Copper Wharf House" and "Old Wharf Cottage".  On the site of the latter stood two small cottages and the landing stage in front of the wharf.

Its use as a metal mill continued until 1844 under the auspices of George and Thomas Glascott, brass founders.  The rental was £600 per annum.  The school record of the time  contains a reference to the fact that a number of children were unemployed because of the closure of the copper mill.  The state of the paper-making (or metal) industry, together with agriculture, largely accounted for fluctuations of population.

Gyll in his "History of Wraysbury" describes the modern inventions contained in the mill in 1861 as:-
"comprising patent steam engines, at a very great outlay, the patentees being the lessees of the mill, and the plant and machinery their own.  There are spacious rooms fitted with apparatus for pressing paper, rending rags with steam power, drying, patent strainers, bleaching machines, steam gauges, presses, slate cisterns, very perfect, such as tastes and experience suggest, while the parish is greatly benefited by the employment of nearly a hundred hands; the proportion between the sexes is about sixty women to thirty or forty men and boys. Some men earn £2 a week."

At this time the mill manufactured good quality paper for books, newspapers, charts, plateprinting, drawing paper and "for the more expensive sort of paper hangings."

The mill was taken over by the Bell Punch Company in 1919 and a large scale reorganisation took place.  Two modern hydro turbines coupled to a generator replaced the water wheel and these supplied electric power to the factory.  The Printing Factory had a floor space of one acre and a three storey building for engineering and the manufacture of bell punches.  When the work was carried out, between 1919 and 1923, there was a great shortage of building bricks and so the concrete blocks were constructed by women on the site.   The mill was finally closed in 1971.

The second mill, the smaller of the two, stood near the junction of the river Colne with the river Thames at Hythe End (TQ 018 724).  It was worked in conjunction with the Wraysbury Mill, eventually using steam and water combined for propulsion.  Gyll in his "History of Wraysbury" described the area as consisting of "dwelling houses, farm and beerhouses not above 20. Paper mill on the Colne stream".  During the 1860’s it was noted for its manufacture of millboards made from rope and employed 25 men and boys and a few women.  The mill was finally closed early last century.

A quotation from the Court Rolls of Wraysbury dated 1755 records that "damming up of water in the millstream had flooded Wraysbury Common and made the ford over the Colne dangerous".  Until the Enclosure Act of 1799 there was no bridge over the Colne by the Mill and entry had to be made by ferry.  Following the building of the bridge the Mill owner was made responsible for its upkeep.

The Growth of Agriculture

Agriculture has played an important part in the economy of Wraysbury from the time of the earliest Neolithic settlement.  It has always been based on arable farming and animal husbandry.

The text of the Domesday Survey of 1086 makes it plain that only a portion of the land was worked at that time.  As was common then, the agricultural workers, or villeins, were housed in humble cottages for which the Lord of the Manor received payment in manual labour and specific services which were entered in the Court Roll.  Among the tasks carried out were ploughing the Lord’s land, making his hay and helping to get the harvest gathered.  Implements, but not sustenance, were provided for these tasks.  The worker had no freedom of action and was not able either to move or marry without the Lords permission, nor was he allowed to sell goods.  (It was conditions like these which led to rebellions such as that of Wat Tyler in 1382.)

An account of Wraysbury between 1803 and 1878 states that two thirds of the land was arable and one third grass.  The soil is described as being "generally a black and blue loam and gravel and it is a cereal village in a generally cereal shire.  Yet the roots grown here are particularly fine especially mangolds and turnips".  No doubt these especially fine crops coincided with the scattered deposits of brickearth.

The ancient estimated area of the Parish was that it contained 1610 acres but Mr. W.T. Buckland made a new survey in 1845 which gave a figure of 1656 acres (present acreage 1650).  Gyll  records that in 1831 62 families were employed in agriculture, a further 68 families in handicraft or the mills.  Basket making and glove making came under the heading of handicraft, good use being made of the osier beds located at SU 993 734.  These are thicket of willows in the early stages of growth, which are used for wicker work and basket making.

In 1850 ten yeoman farmers, none of whom was a large owner worked the land but in a conversation with a local farmer it was discovered that some of those were, in reality, only smallholdings.  The average wage had formally been 8s. 6d. weekly but had by this time risen to 12s.  This apparently sufficed because very few paupers were to be found in Wraysbury and "the condition of the poor is very creditable to the parish and equally so to the rich; the former looking to the latter to redress the balance of their lot and they are not deceived" .

Mr. Harcourt, who was Lord of the Manor in 1845 and resident at Ankerwycke, was instrumental in organising Ploughing Matches which took place annually, each September.  They were run by the Wraysbury Ploughing Association, consisting of about 100 members, the purpose behind them was the encouragement of industrious labourers and servants.  The matches took place between Wraysbury and its adjoining village of Horton and, in addition to testing the ploughmen’s skill, there was fierce competition with root crops, two silver cups being awarded for mangolds and prizes for fruit, flowers and vegetables.  It was an occasion for the whole village, the children having a day off school and receiving prizes for needlework and writing.  These were the functions sometimes attended by the Prince Consort.



1. Whitsuntide - The week beginning on Whitsunday, especially the first three days of this week. Whitsunday is also known as Pentecost and is a major festival in the Christian church. It is celebrated on the Sunday which falls on the 50th day after the Easter festival

A Whitsun Ale is, despite its name, not a type of beer! Whitsun Ales are country fairs, with sports and competitions, Morris dancing displays, music and of course socialising, eating and drinking, in fact a major event on the social calendar.

After the Civil War (English, not American) the Puritan government banned all types of merrymaking but after the Restoration of Charles II, Whitsun Ales became a major event - helped no doubt by the fact that Charles was born on a Whit Monday and so encouraged the celebration. The Ales are often sponsored by a pub or brewery, giving rise to the misconception that the event is named for the beer!

[Origin: bef. 1100; ME whitsonenday, OE Hwīta Sunnandæg - white Sunday; prob. so called because the newly baptized wore white robes on that day]


2. Farrier - Blacksmith


3. Brazier - a person who makes articles of brass.

[Origin: 1275–1325; ME brasier, equiv. to OE bræsi(an) to work in brass]


4. Maltster - a maker of or dealer in malt.


5. Cordwainer - Shoemaker, Leatherworker, c.1100, from Anglo-Fr. cordewaner, from O.Fr. cordoan "(leather) of Cordova," the town in Spain whose leather was favored by the upper class for shoes.








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