History of 'The Bridge', 
Datchet Ecumenical Parish Centre, The Green

by Janet Kennish

Outline History

This little building was returned to community use a few years ago when the Parish Council agreed to lease the shop and upstairs flat to the three churches in Datchet (Anglican, Baptist and Catholic), to run as an Ecumenical Parish Centre. This was a very appropriate new use, as its origins were as an almshouse or poorhouse in the time of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, although no part of the building is as old as that. It is known to have been at least partly rebuilt around 1750 and had its shop front added in about 1820, but has been little altered since.

By 1822 it had become a shop belonging to the Ecclesiastical Parish, and passed as such to the Civic Parish Council when that was established in December 1894. Many people in the village remember it as Hepher's grocer's shop before the war and then as Howat's newsagents, followed by a series of short leases which left the Parish Council seeking a new tenant in the mid 1990s. The shop front may date from the mid-1800s, and is certainly before 1900.

The plaque on the front wall, the first in the Parish Council's series of commemorative plaques, records that the building's restoration was completed in the centenary year of the Parish Council's foundation, in 1995. Since then, 'The Bridge' has become a cornerstone of Datchet's community life, significantly placed at the heart of the village.

     The shop before its restoration        Hepher's Store in the early 20th century

Documentary History of the Building 

A Puzzle for the New Parish Council, 1894
From Elizabethan times church parishes, through their Vestry meetings, had been the chief units of local government, each being responsible in particular for the care of its own poor and the provision of housing for the destitute. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act abolished this old Poor Law system and replaced it with the punitive Parish Union workhouses. (The Eton Union workhouse which served Datchet survives as Upton Hospital.)

In 1894 secular Parish Councils were first established in rural areas and in the spring of 1895 the new Datchet Parish Council began to look at the properties and responsibilities it had inherited from the Ecclesiastical Parish, which was now relieved of all but religious matters.

The new Councillors recorded that Mr Wilkinson's shop, known as the 'Almshouse Trust', was a parish property and should be transferred to their ownership under the new Local Government Act. They discovered that there was no trust deed or endowment, but that legal interest was invested by custom in the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor. This complete absence of any deed or proof of ownership has caused problems several times since, although the position is now clear as far as the Charity Commission is concerned.

The problem of the Almshouse Trust became a regular topic at Council meetings as the oldest villagers sought for memories and provided lurid stories about the building's origins. Mr Hunt informed the Council that he could recollect the almshouse for over 60 years, and his parents had informed him that:

'. in consequence of a document being falsely signed, one of the signatories had died with his pen in his hand and another had been thrown from his horse and killed by breaking of his back, while a third also met with a fatal accident. The superstition of the period (1793) caused the people to ascribe their fates to the illegal action. One of the men was his own great-uncle Mr Daniel Ogilvy who was buried in the church yard.'

Conflicting views suggested that the ratepayers had originally provided the building as a subsidiary to the workhouse, which was then converted to shop when no longer needed. Mr Cleversley disagreed and said that Mr Hunt could prove it was not a workhouse. He said that the workhouse, at the end of Old Workhouse Road (our Holmlea Road) was built in 1707, because it was said to have had a stone giving a date in Queen Anne's reign, and that the almshouse was built in 1793 when one of his ancestors was connected with the matter. Mr Hunt elaborated on this, saying that 100 was lying in the Bank of England in the name of Ogilvy, and one of his daughters had always said it was 'not their money but something to do with the almshouses'.

The origin of the property mattered because it affected the use to which the rent was applied. If it belonged to the poor, the money should go to them, rather than to the general parish rate, which would reduce the amounts the richer ratepayers had to pay. In the end, the subject was quietly abandoned as no documentation could be found anywhere. By 1899 the rent, 20 6s, was listed as being paid to the Assistant Overseer as part of the Poor Rate paid by the village, and the profit is still used towards the Parish Rate, thus benefiting all ratepayers.

Wilkinson's shop in floods 1891 or 1894

Wilkinson's Store in about 1890, postcard

The Occupants of the Shop, censuses 1891 - 1841

census year

head of family (full details available online)

1891 George D Wilkinson, grocer
1881 George D Wilkinson, Post Office master & grocer
1861 Edward Pond, grocer
1851 Edward Pond, grocer
1841 Edward Pond, grocer
This early kitchen range can still be seen in the
back room of the Bridge where the Help Point
meets. It is a small example of its type and is
very difficult to date, but ranges became available
from about 1840 and were still in use well into
the 20th century. They were the forerunners of
modern Agas and Rangemasters.It is in good
condition and bears the model name Melrose but
apparently no maker's name. It hasa firebox in
the centre, an oven on the right and a water boiler
to the left with hobs on top. It may date from the
time of the Pond family but more likely the later
decades of the Wilkinsons.

The Almshouses and the Barker Bridge House Trust, from 1727
It is true that there are no records of the almshouse in any of the places where the authorities were searching, but there was one source which they overlooked. The minutes of the Barker Bridge House Trust survive in an unbroken series from 1727, providing the best evidence for what was going on in the village until the Parish Council minutes start in 1894. (For the origin and history of this Trust, see the History of the Royal Stag pages on this web site. The minutes are now deposited at Bucks Record office in Aylesbury.) The Trust's responsibilities were established in 1724 at the Court of Chancery to be: firstly, the upkeep of the road bridge across the watercourse in the centre of the village; secondly, the upkeep the paths and causeways used by the inhabitants to travel to their church, since Datchet was 'a low and wat'ry country' and liable to flood; thirdly, repair of the 'houses called the parish almshouses'.

It is something of a mystery how the BBHT came to have any responsibility for the almshouses, but the building is very close to the Trust's main property, The Royal Stag, and it can only be assumed that the Trust had contributed to the repair of the almshouses and therefore, by custom, became liable to do so in the future. In 1727, at the first meeting after the purposes of the trust had been legally laid down, repairs were ordered to the Five Bells (the Royal Stag), to the bridge, and to the almshouses :

'Sums not exceeding 3 be laid out for tiling, plaistering and lathing of the almshouses, being the necessary repairs wanting by the view of four of the trustees and Thomas Burt the bricklayer, who is now appointed to do the work'

The buildings would have been divided into several separate dwellings to house more than one family in need, as the parish's provision for its own poor rather than the later and much more punitive Union Workhouse. In 1735 the trustees ordered that:

'One of the tenements of the almshouses to be forthwith repaired for William Warner and his family who are in no condition to pay rent, being reduced to poverty by sickness'

In 1745 major repairs were carried out, and then in 1749 the trustees ordered:

'Such necessary repairs in and about the almshouses be done before Michelmas Day yearly, the delaying of such to the winter quarter being an interruption to the poor there and being less effectual doing repairs so late. And as these houses are in a ruinous condition, agreed that decree of the Court of Chancery authorising the application of the Trust's money be queried, the Trustees being confined by the decree to repair only and not to rebuild or replace those houses.'

The trustees, quite sensibly, wanted to rebuild completely rather than constantly repair buildings past their useful life, but legal opinion found against their ability to do so. However, in 1751 the trustees decided to take matters into their own hands, regardless of London judges:

'Mr Bristowe and Mr Herbert (trustees), John Pointer and Robert Dew (builders) viewed the almshouses. Finding the walls and foundations in a ruinous condition, they are of the opinion that the taking down of part of the almshouses will be less chargeable to the Trust than repairing. And as the farmers present made a voluntary offer that their carts and horses shall carry all the brick that shall be wanting for the building, agreed that the most ruinous and decayed part of the houses be rebuilt and that so much of the old materials as will serve again be used with the new work'

The 'two rooms at the north end' were similarly rebuilt ten years later, in 1762. There have been many substantial repairs carried out since then, but it is unlikely that anyone would have the money or the will to completely replace the buildings again. The BBHT continued to do minor repairs, particularly 'glaizing of the almshouse windows', but no further structural work.

 Earlier History ~ A Tudor Period Almshouse
Because the building which is now The Bridge was known as the Almshouse Trust in 1894 and was referred to as the almshouses all through the Barker Bridge House Trust minutes, it must have been established as an almshouse at some earlier date, though without any endowment. From 1472 to 1631 the Manor of Datchet belonged to the Crown and manor surveys were drawn up to value the estate and establish the legality of tenancies and leases. They are financial and legal documents, not designed to provide answers to modern questions, but some information can be gleaned from them. In the case of The Bridge, it is the ownership which gives the crucial clue. 

The 1548 survey lists: 'The Churchwardens of Datchet hold one tenement called Mathews with the appurtenances lying in Datchet at the annual rent of xiid paid in four equal parts.' 

A tenement belonging to the churchwardens is very likely to be a parish poorhouse. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536-9, parishes became responsible for their own poor who were unable to work. The churchwardens were required to procure sufficient voluntary alms from the boxes placed in church on Sundays, and many parishes are known to have had cottages, or hovels, available for those who were destitute through no fault of their own. The name 'Mathews' is typical of the way in which houses were identified for decades or centuries by the name of the first owner and the Mathew family were landowners in Datchet from the 1400s.

In the 1622 survey the parish house can again be identified: ' The Churchwardens of Datchet hold one tenement, barn, edifices, garden and backside (yard) called Matthews with all appurtenances, lately in the tenancy of Richard Mascall, at rent xiid'

In 1607 Richard Mascall is known to have been the tenant of the house we know as the Royal Stag. While the situation is very confused, it does suggest a possible link between the later almshouse and the Royal Stag, both of which later became the responsibility of the Barker Bridge House Trust.

Appendix: What Did Happen in 1793 ?
It is fascinating that the date 1793 should have been passed down in the Hunt family's story (see above), since two relevant events did actually occur then. The story, as so often happens, has confused the facts in frequent telling while retaining a core of real memory.

The first concerns the workhouse, which was built in 1793 at the far end of Old Workhouse Road. The date suggested by the story, 1707, is highly unlikely as parishes did not build local workhouses, or poorhouses, until after two Parliamentary Acts which were passed in 1722 and 1782. There is no explanation for this early date, but no supporting evidence either for the 'stone' which was 'said' to have recorded a Queen Anne date. However, there is good evidence for the workhouse being built in 1793, rather than the 'Bridge' almshouses. 

1839 map, Old Workhouse In this map the workhouse can be seen at the end of the road now called Holmlea Walk. Horton Road runs from east to west, while Ditton Road leads from it to the north. The parish gravel pit on the corner has been filled in and built upon.                               

Few of Datchet's parish records have survived from before 1800, but one document which has done so is an agreement, dated 1793, between the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor with Stephen Riddington, for him to manage the workhouse and its inmates for his profit, as was the custom. It is extremely detailed, while all later such agreements are much more cursory, suggesting that the parish was new to the whole business in 1793. Moreover, all mention of the almshouses in the BBHT minutes ceases before 1800 while the Parish Vestry minutes, which start in 1800, refer to the workhouse frequently.

Also, in that crucial year, the Trustees of the BBHT were in severe difficulties. In January of 1793 a Vestry Meeting held at the Royal Stag was minuted by the Trust, this apparently being an exceptional parish meeting to deal with problems which had arisen, very much as suggested by Mr Hunt's tale in 1895. There were only two surviving trustees, Thomas Dell and David Ogilvy; Mr William Sturgess was still alive, but 'incapable by reason of a paralytick stroke which deprived him of speech', while Samuel Montague, Daniel Marsh and Adrian Marsh had died. At the meeting, four new trustees were nominated, Colonel Needham (of Datchet House), James Haydock esq (of Datchet Lodge), John Fleetwood Marsh (of Goodwin House) and Robert Style junior (of Riding Court Farm).

Then in December 1794, when a meeting was held in Datchet House, things were much worse. David Ogilvy, Robert Style and Thomas Dell had died ('paid the debt of nature'), William Sturgess was still speechless, John Fleetwood Marsh had gone to America and Colonel Needham was about to depart for Ireland on military duty. The rate of sudden demise among the trustees does seem alarmingly high during these years. The two survivors who were still in possession of all their faculties, James Haydock and Col Needham, were unable to obtain any papers which had been held by the previous treasurer, Thomas Dell, since he had refused to hand them over while alive and his daughter had destroyed them immediately after his death.

So it is possible that the Hunt and Ogilvy family story of illegally signed documents and stashed-away money may have some basis in truth, and David Ogilvy certainly did die in 1793. (His tombstone is in the churchyard.) Was some sort of deal done to release the Trust from further responsibility for the almshouses and finance the new workhouse instead ? The fact that a Vestry meeting was held is significant in itself, suggesting the involvement of the church, the Churchwardens and the Overseers. It is unlikely that any more will ever be discovered about what happened and whether anyone was 'cooking the books' or earned divine retribution for doing so, unless new evidence for the period turns up.

Whatever the details, it is clear that by 1793 the almhouses had become redundant, though it is possible they were still used as a 'subsidiary to the workhouse' as was suggested in 1895. The next reference to The Bridge building is in 1817, in the Vestry minutes, concerning John Rollins' lease of the house which was then renewed for fourteen years at 10. But in 1822 the meeting decided to 'take into consideration the best mode of letting the Parish House, now in the occupation of John Rollins', and an advertisement was ordered to be placed in the Windsor paper, the present Windsor & Eton Express. The fact that John Rollins was the tenant is interesting, as he is known to have been the (ecclesiastical) parish clerk at the time. Perhaps it was some sort of 'perk' of the job, or just that a parish house should be let to a suitable parish officer if it was going to be let at all.

Listed Building information from local authority

Windsor & Maidenhead 40660, RS McColl Newsagents The Green, Grade II, 5130, SU9877 5/10, GV

C18 front on older building, part timber frame at rear. Cement rendered hipped old tiled roofs, two storeys, two double hung sashes with glazing bars, in reveals with cills. Early C19 shop front & door with two splayed bays with elliptically headed lights. Continuous frieze & ovolo cornice over shop windows & door

Sources & References

Parish Council Minutes from 1894, in possession of Clerk to Datchet Parish Council
Barker Bridge House Trust Minutes, deposited at Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Aylesbury
Parish Rate Map 1839 , Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Aylesbury
Censuses 1841-91, online or on microfilm at Slough Reference Library
Kelly's Directories Slough & Windsor Reference Libraries
Survey of the Manor of Datchet 1548, Public Record Office, ref: A/R 4/64
Survey of the Manor of Datchet 1604,
Northampton Record Office, Buccleuch papers 2.6/X333
Survey of the Manor of Datchet 1622,
Cambridge University (no ref)

Researcher: janetkennish@tesco.net