EARLY VILLAGE HISTORY
The Thames Valley landscape has long attracted visitors to Cookham and the surrounding area of Berkshire. Evidence of early man on Winter Hill and the Bronze Age tumuli on Cockmarsh reveal our early history. There are Roman earthworks in Maidenhead Thicket. Also there are signs that the Saxons battled the marauding Vikings as they tried to sail up the Thames by White Place Farm, Widbrook Common and Battlemead, which have been mentioned earlier in this blog.
In AD 997 King Ethelred, also known as “The Unready”, held a council of state in what was known then as the Royal Manor of Cookham, The Manor extended to include what we now know as Maidenhead, with all the commons stretching as far as Sunninghill and Binfield.
In 1818 the Crown was short of funds so the Manor and Commons were sold to a Mr. George Bangley, who became the first private owner of the Manor and associated lands. The Crown received £5,760.0.0. This did not turn out to be such a good deal for Mr. Bangley, as the record shows that he sold the estate to the Skrine family who lived at Stubbings for £4,000.0.0. in 1849.
In later years The Odney Estates Ltd bought the estates and in 1934 the common land was bought by public subscription and handed over to the National Trust in 1937.
HOW DID COMMON LAND ORIGINATE
Common land through out England was as a rule, land that was poor waste land, that the Lord of the Manor would allow his serfs graze their animals on and allow them to collect wood for heating and cooking in their homes. This of course changed from Manor to Manor, and could change depending on the nature of the Lord of the Manor. Cookham almost lost its common land on several occasions. This was due to the fact that it was a Royal Manor in the most part. There was a time that the Manor came under the jurisdiction of Abbey of Cirencester, which attributes a lot to the large Sarson stone, know as “The Tarrystone”, which has had several homes within the village and now resides where it was originally so situated.
In 1597 the Manor had once more reverted back to a Royal Manor under Queen Elizabeth the First. Her Majesty came to an agreement to the lease Widbrook Common to the villagers for the term of three lives. Among the three persons chosen was a bargeman named Thomas Dodson who lived to the ripe old age of 86, by which time Charles the Second was Kind. The villagers refused to give up their common right and went to court and they won. In 1799 there was a threat to all common land to the larger farms in the country. But in Cookham a committee was formed with Abraham Derby, who owned the brewery at Moor Hall, together with a gentleman John Westbrook who lived at Cannon Court were appointed by the villagers and a fighting fund was set up to defend their rights. Again the village won their court case and the commons were saved yet again.
You will note earlier that the Skrine family who lived at Subbings had taken over the Cookham Manor in 1849. Well there was an occasion when Henry Skrine ran a road through the Maidenhead Thicket to his house at Stubbings without consulting the commoners. The resulting outcome was that he was forced to make a groveling apology to them.
There was one small instance in 1869, when a village spinster, a Miss Fleming tried to prevent the people of the village from swimming in the pool at Odney. This again was overruled by a very strong public opinion.
In or around the early 1920’s The Maidenhead and Cookham Commons Committee was formed to safeguard long term the preservation of all the common land. It was headed by Viscount Waldorf William Astor, of Cliveden and White Place Farm, and John Spedan Lewis of the Odney Estates. A fund raising appeal was started to raise £2,738.0.0 towards the £2,800.0.0 that was required. Most of the money raised came from public subscription, by people living in Cookham, Cookham Dean, Maidenhead and Pinkneys Green, though both Lewis and Astor did contribute, with the Odney Estates retaining the rights to Odney Common, and Viscount Astor the shooting rights over Widbrook Common. The final transfer of the rest of the Commons to the National Trust was completed by 1937.
THE MANORIAL COURT
The Manorial Court was set up to govern originally the Royal Manor of Cookham. In 1607, the court would meet at a purpose built building, in what as now known as Courthouse Road, in Maidenhead. In 1814 this building fell into such bad state of repair that it was demolished and the court started to meet in public houses, the Kings Arms, in Cookham was one such place. The final Court was held at the Kings Hall in the village, (now known as the Spencer Gallery) in 1920. This co-incided with the formation of The Cookham and Maidenhead Commons Committee.
One of the duties of the Manorial Court was to appoint Hayward’s, whose job it was to look after the commons. Regulate the number of cattle and to collect grazing fees from the local farmers, also to settle local disputes. The fees were to cover local running costs of the commons. The fees from Widbrook Common went into a local apprenticeship fund for local boys to buy their first tools of their chosen trade. The Hayward for many years going back into the 1920’s was a Mr. George Allen of Pinkneys Green, who would travel the commons on a regular basis in his little pony and trap. When he Retired, the job was taken over by, Mr. Arthur Jakes J.P. who lived in Australia Avenue, Maidenhead, who covered the area of his jurisdiction on a bicycle, plus having to sit on the bench in Maidenhead.
Another thread of evidence has come to light, that the Manorial Court was also held at The Lee near Winter Hill, and even in Darby's book, he was unsure of its location. So the mystery is not solved, maybe someday I will get the hard facts.