grateful thanks to Harry Leonard, who provided the following from his research.
Here, we are looking back at Binfield in the 16th, 17th and 18th Century, a fascinating period of time. Today there are still evidences of it to be seen if one takes the trouble. Churches, buildings, roads and place names can all help to bring the past back to life. And an imaginary walk around it can give us a feel for the place in a bygone age.
Let us begin in Murrell Hill Lane at the end of the seventeenth century. The population of the village is about 550-600, rising to about 770 in the eighteenth century. It was the fastest growing population in E. Berkshire outside Windsor. And here we stand in front of what today is called Pope's Manor, bought by the father of the poet Alexander Pope. Pope wrote some of his best poetry while living here. The house was enlarged and changed later in the eighteenth century and again in the nineteenth but it is claimed that the room that was Pope's library still exists. The house, which had a number of different names before it was called Pope's Manor, is now owned by Bryant Homes' southern headquarters.Binfield parish spanned from Amen Corner in the south to theborders of the Walthams in the north, and from the Coppid Beech roundabout in the west to the Bridge Pub on the London Road in the east.
The toll road ran past the Travel Lodge where used to stand the Shoulder of Mutton public house, named after the green area called Mutton Common, where Binfield's only traffic lights now stand. Following the London Road towards Bracknell down a small hill that used to be called Buckhurst Hill, we arrive at another hill that leads us down to the Bridge public house. This is Rounds Hill, so named because in the early nineteenth century the areas was granted to John Round, provided he opened his land for gravel to be removed from it to use for repairs to the parish highways. The road then made its way across what was then called Priestwood Common to Bracknell - little more than a single street and called Bracknellstreet in at least one seventeenth-century map. The road to London went straight up what today is the High Street past the Red Lion, the Bull and the Old Manor (said to be a haunt for highwaymen) - but not the parish church (Holy Trinity), which was only built in the nineteenth century. Until then what there was of Bracknell was part of the parish of Warfield.
Let's return to the Bridge pub. Its name derives from a bridge that used to take the road over a stream that ran the whole length of the village. To the south of the present bridge, with its walkway underneath, is Millbanke Way. This marks the site of one of Binfield's three or four mills, sometimes owned by local landowners, sometimes by London merchants for whom the rents were investments. There was certainly money to be made by investing in Binfield. John Symonds of Wokingham, paid £560 for some land in Binfield between 1705 to 1716. In 1723, his son sold the land for double that amount, by which time the land was yielding £660 a year in rent. Then as now many people bought into and out of Binfield. In 1665, 25 tax paying families lived in Binfield. In 1721 only seven of these 25 were still in the area, by 1740 only four. It seems that only the very rich and poor stayed put.
But back to the stream. The stream marked the border of village. It ran through, through Priestwood Estate, following the line of Brook Green and Coppice Green, and eventually across Jock's Lane and its playing field where the stream emerges today through large pipes. Then as now it continued its way to Binfield Manor which was purchased by one of the Pitt family in the eighteenth century. (The humped back bridge over the stream at this point is still known as Pitt's Bridge). The present house was built by the Pitts when they purchased the manor from the executors of John Dancastle.
The Dancastles were Roman Catholics, along with the Popes and some others - for example, the Racketts from whom father Pope bought his house were also Catholics. Binfield was one of a number of Catholic enclaves that ran throughout the Thames valley and included Whiteknights (now the university of Reading), Caversham and Stonor, north of Henley.
From 1688 until about 1745 Catholics were suspected of supporting the deposed James II and his heirs (who fostered two rebellions, one in 1715, the other in 1745), and at times were forced to pay double taxes. However, within the village Catholics and Protestants appear to have got on well, mixing socially. At least for a time at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries Quakers were also residing in the village but how well they got on with the local landowners, or even what class they were, has not been determined.
West of Binfield Manor with its elegant wrought iron gates (now, alas boarded on one side thus preventing the view down the drive to the manor house itself) is the Stag and Hounds Public House. Parts of it date from the fourteenth century though most of it is older. It may have been used as a hunting lodge in the sixteenth century. The dead elm tree on the green in front of the pub is claimed to be the centre of Windsor Forest, but because of the shape of the forest - certainly as it was at the beginning of the seventeenth century, stretching as it did from Henley in the north to Guild ford in the south - it is somewhat difficult to substantiate this claim.
Binfield common ran used to run from the Stag and Hounds to the other side of Blue Mountain Golf Course. Cattle would graze on this land that belonged to the villagers. The villages were also entitled to wood from a wood at the end of what is now Hazelwood Lane. At one stage the wood contained 120 acres of oak but by the eighteenth century much of it had disappeared. Whether this was because villagers abused their right to one handcart of wood per year is hard to say but not difficult to imagine.
Just as Priestwood Common was crossed by a route that became a toll road, Binfield Common was crossed by the Forest Road which was brought up to modern standards in the early eighteenth century. This was a route favoured by farmers herding their cattle to London from as far away as Oxfordshire in the days before refrigerated lorries! A monument to the building of this road listing those who invested in it used to be in the village itself but was consigned many years ago to a field by the road much nearer the Wokingham end.
Bearing to the right at the Stag & Hounds we come to an eighteenth-century house called the Toll House. Although the owners have been able to find no documentary evidence for its ever having had that use, its position right on the road and a window opening out onto it suggest that it might have served this purpose.
If there were a footpath we could return to the stream and follow its course to the northern boundary of the village. Westly Mill Farm contains the site of another of Binfield's mills (another being near Pitt's Bridge). Before the coming of Bracknell New Town is was not uncommon for the stream to flood at this point and at times the only way to get supplies to the mill was by boat!
A little to the west of Westly Mill is Yates Farm. The name is a reminder of the Yates family of the late eighteenth century who, according to the rector of the time, fathered many illegitimate children and at last had to claim poor relief from the parish. The Rev. Wilson was not amused! From Yates Farm it is not far to the road that leads us back into Binfield proper. The road takes us up a hill before descending towards All Saints church. Just before the brow of the hill we get a good view of farmland on the left. This land, and much more, was originally one of Binfield's common fields where the medieval peasants grew their crops on long and relatively narrow strips of land. By the eighteenth century most of the holdings were in the hands of the richer sort and the whole area was enclosed - turned into separate farms with hedged fields - at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In the distance one can make out more farmland - some of it now called Ryehurst Farm. Ryehurst is a corruption of Ryarsh, which was another of Binfield's common fields in earlier days.
Binfield Church stems back to the 14th century. The font in the church is actually 200 years older, suggesting that there may have been an earlier church on the site. Many of Binfield's rich and powerful were buried in the church itself, including John Dancastle, whom we have already, the earl of Sterling and his nephew Robert Lee who was a justice of the peace in the 1830's and 40's. On the wall is a commemorative plaque to Catherine Macaulay, a radical who visited George Washington to show solidarity with his cause and who wrote a large history of England much admired by England's mother of feminism, Mary Wolstencraft.
Behind the church stands the old rectory, now called the Priory. Its size suggests a rector of considerable means. He possessed some land and took tithes from all the agricultural produce of the village. The large barn behind the rectory might well have been used for storing the tithes. Rectors have not been universally popular, one in the reign of Elizabeth l being reported to the ecclesiastical authorities by the church wardens for not teaching the youth their catechisms, preaching error, being a frequenter of ale houses and a brawler. His wife was also considered a pain. However, he survived the accusation and continued in his office for some twenty further years.
Across the road from the church used to stand the Church House, used by parish officials to discuss parish matters; part of it was used in the early eighteenth century as a poor house. The poor house later moved to nearer what we would call today he centre of the village before parishes were grouped together as "Unions" and Binfield's poor were sent to the Union workhouse in Easthampstead in the nineteenth century.
In the eighteenth century about 80% of the population of Binfield were mainly labourers, basically the poor. For them a number of charities were set up and some of theses are recorded on boards in what is now used as the vestry in the parish church.
If we now make our way back towards the centre of the village we pass the Jack of Newbury public house. On the site of an older pub, the present building dates from the 1920's. Round about that time the publican also doubled as one of the village blacksmiths and the poor man's dentist. He used to heat up a bent nail and plunge it into the bad tooth to cauterise the nerve and stop the pain. Three cheers for the NHS!
Soon after we come to Wicks Green. The name is as old as the sixteenth century - a seventeenth-century copy of an older survey of Wicks manor suggesting that Binfield at one time had more than one manor.
Almost on the corner of Wicks Green and Terrace Road North stands the house called Little Pightle. The brickwork on its face is unusual. The bricks are laid so that the 'headers' (the small end of the brick) all face outwards. This is almost certainly a brick skin placed over a half-timbered house. The word Pightle means a small piece of land and is sometimes spelt Piddle in the charity boards in the church.
Further along the road we come to the entrance to the surgery on the right. The drive to the surgery is also the entrance to Binfield Lodge, a large house in the strawberry gothic style. It was once the home of a prominent landowner - much of the land from Knox Green northwards belonged to the family including the Jubilee Field. It is now a retirement home owned by the council.
More or less opposite the drive, in Terrace Road itself, stands a white house with a very up and down roof - this is one of the oldest houses in Binfield. Of quite a different order but possibly of the same age - and the oldest large house in the village - is Binfield Place, almost opposite the library in Forest Road and on the corner of Wicks Green. The building plot was granted by Henry Vll early in the sixteenth century to one of his courtiers and may have been one of the places where his son's lover and future queen, Ann Boleyn, stayed on occasion. The house may have had a catholic connection later on for there is something very much like a priest hole - a hiding place for catholic priests during the reign of Elizabeth l. The house was added to in subsequent centuries but it still has the feel of a very old house. It also seems to have had owners who kept in touch with the court at Windsor. One of its eighteenth-century owners, William Angell fits into this character and Angell Farm at the end of Monks alley reminds us of his ownership of the land in that area.
Angell was also a justice of the peace, though not a very active one. But Robert Lee, whose house was at the bottom of Cabbage Hill, was a very active JP during the late 1730's and early 1740's. And from his diaries we get a taste of the life of a land-owning gentleman of the period and of the problems he faced as a justice. The cases he dealt with locally include rape, illegitimacy, paternity, (in all three of which he tended to support the women involved), theft and swearing oaths, the punishment for which was several hours in the village stocks! He also acted for one year as surveyor of the highways, a job that entailed getting somewhat reluctant workers for repair particularly bad stretches of Binfield roads. Some things do not change!
This is but a brief survey of some of the interesting sites and buildings in the village. It is not intended to be a proper and thorough village history but to encourage anyone interested to find out more for themselves. It is a fascinating place.