Local History Society

 The 'Mercury' and the Home Front in WW1

Girl injured in vehicle accident in 1922

Adjusting to Peacetime, 1919 - 1922

Articles and excerpts from the ‘Reading Mercury’ from 1919 to 1922.

During 1919, the ‘Reading Mercury’ ran a campaign to find employment for the many disabled ex-soldiers. The issue of February 22nd listed 35 cases, of which this is a typical example: "Lost right arm, right eye, and little finger of left hand; carter by trade; light suitable work wanted." The numbers increased through 1919; by October 18th, there were 189 in the list; on November 8th: 211.

Hunt meetings re-started, and on March 22nd 1919 the Garth Hunt was due to meet at the "Bramshill Hunt" P.H. As if to emphasise that this was ‘hunting country’, there were classified adverts in the ‘Mercury’ on April 19th and 26th:

By order of Executors
Within 1 ½ miles of Sindlesham Holt [sic] Station (S E & C Railway), under 5 miles from Reading.
Sale as A WHOLE OR IN LOTS of that Valuable Freehold
known as
Picturesque and very superior old-fashioned Farm Residence, ample Buildings,
2 Villa Residences, 10 Cottages and Accommodation Lands.
Exceptional Shooting, mile of exclusive Fishing in the Loddon.
Centre of good Hunting.
Solicitors: Messrs. Dryland, Son and Thorogood, 165, Friar Street, Reading.

Sales by NICHOLAS at Great Western Hotel on Saturday 24th May at 3 PM.

Some of this land at Carter’s Hill Farm was later used by Berkshire County Council’s Smallholdings and Allotments Committee for returning servicemen.

During 1919, Bearwood Canadian Convalescent Hospital’s last patient left in March 1919, and the ‘Mercury’ reported on May 17th that the last of the nursing sisters were repatriated to Canada the previous Saturday, when there was a sports day and dance celebration for ‘other ranks’ who were waiting their turn to go home. The activities were organised by Captain J. G. Haylett (Quartermaster), Miss M. Wroe (Administrator of Q.M.A.A.C. of the unit), Quarters Forewomen Miss MacAllum and Miss Rudkin, Q.M.S. Carey and Sergeant Kidd.

Arborfield held a ‘Peace Day’ on Saturday July 19th as reported on the 26th as follows:

"The church bells rang a merry peal from 1:30 to 2 p.m. Then a procession was formed at the Cross, and led by the Arborfield Troop of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, proceeded to Newlands, where the day’s festivities were held, by kind invitation of Mr. John Simonds.

"At 2:30 p.m. a short open-air service was conducted by the Rector (the Rev. J. A. Anderson). Immediately afterwards the children’s sports were held, and these were followed by a tea for all parishioners. After an excellent concert which, like the tea, was arranged by the Ladies’ Committee, sports for adults followed.

"At 9:15, supper was provided for men who had served overseas, and light refreshments for others. Dancing followed until 10:15, when there was a good display of fireworks. Subsequently a large bonfire was lighted, and Admiralty flares illuminated the whole neighbourhood. After a few words of thanks to those responsible for the excellent arrangements from the Rector and Colonel Churcher, very hearty cheers were given for Mr. John Simonds and for the Sports’ and Ladies’ Committees.

"The funds necessary for carrying out the programme were provided by subscriptions from all sections of the population, and the conveyance of the infirm to Newlands, all the necessary cartage and the provision of swings for the children were done free of charge."

On August 30th, the ‘Mercury carried a report under the headline ‘High Prices for Army Horses’:

"Contrary to reports published in the daily papers that Army horses were being sold at ridiculously low prices, Messrs. Thimbleby and Shortland’s sale at Reading yesterday produced some record prices. […] Reading has proved one of the best centres for disposing of surplus Army horses ever since the cessation of hostilities. Some 450 heavy draught horses passed under the auctioneer’s hand, and the approximate average price given for them was 60 guineas [£63]. About 800 light vanners averaged out at 42 guineas, and 1,000 riders made an average price of 30 guineas."

There was a brief return to wartime rationing in the towns when the Great Western was affected by a railway strike for a week or so, as reported on October 4th. It affected the delivery of food, milk and other less perishable goods.

Arborfield’s War Memorial at the Cross was dedicated in March 1920 by Mrs. Rickman, who came down from her new home in London for the ceremony. A separate service in August was held to dedicate a memorial tablet in the Church.

The effects of the Great War continued to cast a shadow over Berkshire news into 1921 and 1922, including a report on Pinewood Sanatorium entitled ‘Helping the Tuberculous Ex-Service Man’, dating from April 30th 1921. It took time to adjust to peace-time conditions, and unemployment was rife and getting worse. However, there were still opportunities for domestic staff; under ‘Situations Vacant’ on 13th March 1920, we find an advert that wouldn’t pass current equal-opportunities legislation:

‘Kitchenmaid, experienced (scullery maid kept); Church of England.
- Write age and full particulars,
Mrs. K. Prescott, Arborfield Court, near Reading.’

The Berkshire County Council report of 22nd May 1920 included this item from the Highways and Bridges Committee:

"Motor Omnibus Service - The British Automobile Traction Co. Ltd. have applied for permission to open new omnibus services on the following routes - (a) Wokingham to Wellington College and Crowthorne; (b) Arborfield, Eversley, Finchampstead and Wokingham. The Committee recommended that permission to use the road be granted subject to the company agreeing to make a payment of 3d each omnibus per mile, with a minimum payment of £10 per annum per route mile. The company have objected to the conditions imposed, and it is understood that they have exercised their right of appeal to the Ministry of Transport in regard to the routes mentioned in the last report of the committee and also to the above routes."

Throughout 1920, 1921 and 1922, the ‘Reading Mercury’ reported on village Memorial Crosses, fund-raising for a Berkshire War Memorial, Victory Halls, and a contributory scheme for the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Henley was collecting for its own Memorial Hospital, while Bradfield’s war memorial was created by the well-known sculptor Mr. G. Blackwell-Simonds. Among the military establishments, the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst’s war memorial was dedicated during 1922.

There were regular Auction sales of military equipment, and of horses no longer required, many described as ‘good Vanners’. Although there were a lot of surplus Army lorries and other vehicles emerging from the Depot at Slough (which later became the Slough Trading Estate), much of Berkshire’s commerce remained horse-drawn.

Arborfield appears to have reverted to peace-time by 1921, though with the Remount Depot still very active, the Army continued to have a strong influence. Local people were employed at the Remount Depot, while the more senior Army personnel lived outside the camp in Arborfield and Barkham, taking their part in the social life of the villages, as various ‘Mercury’ reports of fetes, entertainments and sports days show.

Sometimes the reports from the Remount Depot weren’t in quote the same vein; the following report from April 1st 1922 was no ‘April Fool’:


"Four magnetos which were left in a dog kennel at the Arborfield Remount Depot were found to be stolen property from the M. T. department, R.A.S.C. Aldershot. Robert Victor Carey, a private in the R.A.S.C., was sent to prison at Aldershot on Monday for three months with hard labour for stealing the magnetos valued £25. Taking them from Crossley cars which were earmarked for disposal Carey, it was alleged, took a taxi cab and finding Mr Morse, the electrician, out when he arrived, left the four magnetos in the dog kennel. Carey, when questioned by the magistrate, said there were others in the case, but he refused to give them away."

Each year there were point-to-point races at the Remount Depot both for the Army and for the Garth Hunt, and it seems to have been expected that Army, Navy and Air Force Officers would take an active part in local Hunt meetings. The Point-to-Point meetings continued for many years afterwards.

There were reports on the local branch of the ‘Comrades of the Great War’ who met at the ‘Swan’. By 1921, the British Legion had been formed from the merger of the ‘Comrades of the Great War’ and three other organisations, and local reports frequently mentioned the local British Legion branch.

In 1921, there first appeared a weekly column entitled ‘Notes and Queries – on local topography, Antiquities & Natural History’. Under the main heading it stated that it was ‘Edited by Rev. P. H. Ditchfield, F.S.A., F.R.Hist.S., F.R.S.L.’. Peter Ditchfield was Rector of Barkham, and had much to do with Arborfield, Newland and Barkham C.E. School. These villages did get mentioned in the articles, but they generally covered a much wider area. On August 12th, the column related the history of Simonds’ Bank of Reading and of local bank-notes, following a snippet in a previous week that showed a Simonds’ banknote with John Simonds’ signature. On September 16th, there was an article on the use of oxen for pulling ploughs, and it mentioned a stand for shoeing oxen at the Barkham smithy, appropriately enough located at the ‘Bull’ P.H.

Also in 1921, there was a series in 30 parts on ‘Hunting in Berkshire’, by J. Hautenville Cope, who had collaborated with Peter Ditchfield on Volume 3 of the Victoria County History of Berkshire. In this series we learn about the Bramshill Hunt and its replacement in Arborfield by the Garth Hunt. By the end of 1921, a correspondent ‘Wryneck’ started contributing wonderfully detailed ‘Hunting Notes’ that gave pen-pictures of the hunt meetings including the Garth, and the area covered by each meeting. ‘Wryneck’ gave advice to hunt followers in the last issue of 1921, which can be seen in the ‘Wryneck’ article. Unfortunately, someone didn’t heed "Wryneck’s" advice, and on December 23rd 1922, readers were told:

"Our readers will regret to hear that our hunting correspondent, "Wryneck", met with a serious accident, whilst following the Garth Hounds recently. In trying to avoid a motor-car, he fell from his bicycle and splintered his kneecap in three places.

"An operation was necessary and was successfully performed, but recovery is necessarily a slow process, and it is doubtful whether he will be able to leave the Maidenhead Cottage Hospital until after Christmas. He hopes to continue his "Hunting Notes" in the New Year."

Apart from social news, wedding announcements and obituaries (such as those for Edith Bushell of the ‘Bull’, James Rowe of Targett’s Farm and Kenneth Prescott of Arborfield Court), there were mercifully only occasional reports of accidents happening in Arborfield. That of March 19th 1921 was particularly grisly, where Charles New was killed by the machinery of Arborfield water-mill. Another report from August 26th 1922 was less serious. Under the heading "ARBORFIELD – ACCIDENT", it stated:

"An accident occurred on the Reading Road at Arborfield on Monday, in which Caroline Anne Rogers, aged 13, received head and face injuries which necessitated her conveyance to the Royal Berks Hospital.

"It appears that a lorry owned by Messrs. H. & G. Simonds, of Reading, was being driven at a moderate pace towards Reading when the driver, A L Hiscock, of Whitley Street, Reading, noticed in the reflecting glass some children in the road, and stopping to make inquiries found the girl Rogers lying unconscious at the side of the road. Medical attendance was obtained, and she was taken to hospital, and detained.

"Her two companions, who were walking behind her, saw nothing of the accident, but Mrs M Garrett said she saw the motor lorry overtaking Caroline Rogers, noticed something white and heard a scream, but could not say what the cause of the accident was. The road at this point is rather narrow."

There was a Caroline Elizabeth Rogers registered as an elector at Duck’s Nest Farm both in 1920 and in 1928. Was Caroline Anne her daughter? Or was she the daughter of Frederick and Elizabeth Rogers of Hughes Green? The Garrett family lived on Eversley Road across the Swallowfield Road from the ‘Bull’, so the accident probably happened just to the north of the ‘Bull’ on the Reading Road.

The Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Bearwood was by now just a memory, and on June 3rd 1922 there was a very detailed report of Bearwood Mansion’s new role as the Royal Merchant Seamen’s Orphanage at Bearwood. For many years afterwards the ‘Mercury’ carried reports on the Orphanage and in particular its Speech Days. Now known as Bearwood College, it still cares for orphans, but it has functioned as an independent boarding and day school for many years.


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