THE HITCHING RAIL

Looking Back To The Establishment of The Windlesham Poors Allotments following
Enclosure Of The Heath In 1814,
Residents William Mary Cole and Broom Making.

The general movement towards the enclosure of common land did not gather momentum until the end of the 18 th Century. The demand for land, even the poor, sandy heathland was due to the sharp increase in population at this time when for the first time the birth rate began to exceed the death rate owing to advances in science and medicine which called for more food production which stimulated the introduction of approved methods of farming and cattle breeding which could not be carried out successfully under the open field system. The Commissioners appointed under the Act for enclosing lands in the Parish, awarded to the Rector, Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor two plots of heathland in the Parish, one on Windlesham East Common (portion of the Ribsden land) and one on Windlesham West Common (north of Bagshot and the Old Dean, up Jenkins Hill) and 'by the said Act enacted that such of the Poor Inhabitants of the said Parish of Windlesham as shall be legally settled there and shall not respectively occupy houses, lands or tenements of more than the yearly value of six pounds shall be at liberty to enter into and upon the said Allotments or any part or parts thereof to cut, dig and carry away turves (turf), furze (gorse), fern or other fuel in upon, from and out of the same' In 1898 under the direction of the Windlesham Parish Council an Account of the Parish Charities was published, included in which was the Poors Allotments Charity which administered the original plots conveyed by the Enclosure Act Commissioners.

An article published in the Morning Leader in August 1910 illustrated how one family, William Cole, his wife Mary and their children came to b uild their home on the Poors Allotments. They had moved around the area to find work and were unable to find accommodation to rent as they had five young children at the time. William was the son of Michael Cole, a broom maker and Mary the daughter of Richard Excell, a brick maker. Although they were married in Warfield, 5 of their children were baptised at St John's Church, Windlesham. After a period of 16 months living in a tent on the Allotments near Bagshot, they built themselves a two roomed dwelling from wood, stone, brick and heather thatch. The stone they collected from a pit near the cottage was arranged as the base for the chimney and the only purchase made was of a few bricks for the top of the stack. They thatched the roof themselves. For the cottage, the Cole family paid 5 shillings rent a year to the Windlesham Poors Allotments Committee. They were the first of a number of families to build makeshift cottages and live on the site near a fresh water spring, growing their own fruit and vegetables.

The many poor people living on Surrey's Heathland developed a self sufficient attitude, maintaining themselves with paid work, quarrying and gravel digging, harvesting or hop picking. However many developed skills in country crafts such as making hurdles, baskets and besoms. William Cole, like his father, was a broom maker or broomdasher as the old craft was known. Considered to be an ancient trade in Surrey, the first reference to a broomdasher in our area was in 1726 when staves or broom handles were bought by Thomas Elks, the Overseer of the Poor in Windlesham. Brooms were traditionally made in at least two sizes, the broom (original old name was besom) for sweeping the floor and a small hand held version for hearths and ledges. The name stemmed from the branches of 'broom' originally used, an abundant yellow flowering shrub on the heathland. By the mid 19th Century birch had become a popular material for making brooms. Be it broom, heather or birch, it had to be put aside to dry for some months, then broken by hand to the right size and laid in bundles. Breaking the birch was often women's work. The 'bonds' that fasten the spray on to the handle were of hazel or withy, split and shaved with a knife into thick ribbons and then soaked in water to make the 'lissom'. The handles tended to be made from either pine or fir saplings. There was usually a little pool of water near the broommaker's shed where the bonds were soaked two needed for heather or broom and three for birch. William Cole continued making brooms for sale into the 20th century. By 1910 only he and Mary were left living on the Poors Allotments site and although then aged 82 and 80, they still worked in their garden and occasionally William made a broom. Few families of this status have been interviewed about their lives and the Cole's is perhaps fairly typical of the struggle to find a site for a home which the setting up of the Poor Allotments alleviated, although it is not what they were primarily intended for.

Sally Clark, Local Historian

Refs: Life & Work on Surrey Heath by Mary Bennett; Newspaper articles and letters held by the Surrey Heath Museum and Account of the Parish Charities published by the Windlesham Parish Council in 1898.

Note from the Trustees:

The Poors Allotment Charity and what used to be known as the Ribsden Coal Charity amalgamated around 2000. In the past income from sales of some of the land including the Ribsden land was used to provide grants to those on low incomes towards their winter fuel bills. During the 1970s two parcels of land at the Poors Allotments was sold for the GPO tower and reservoir on the land's northern boundary. Due to the land being included in a site of special scientific interest and also being part of the Thames Basins and Heaths special protection area for birds, the Trustees of the Windlesham Parish Council were una bleto capitalise on the land in any way and the land was consequently leased to the Surrey Wildlife Trust for 21 years from 2010, who manage it.



The above article was written by local historian Sally Clark and first published in the Windlesham Magazine in October 2021. It is reproduced here by kind permission.

The Cole's home was probably located here

The 1911 census records William Cole, age 83 a broom maker born in Wokingham, and his wife Mary, age 78 and born in East Woodhey, as living on the Poors Allotment, Bagshot, in a property that has 3 rooms.  They told the enumerator that they had been married 58 years and had 8 children all of whom were still alive.  Also with them was their son William age 42, born in Bagshot, unmarried and a garden labourer.  William sr was illiterate and he 'signed' the census form with his mark.
At the 1901 census the three are recorded as living on 'The Allotment'

There is more about the Cole family here.

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