With the many changes in the village, and the thoughts of so many others which will inevitably follow, this seems an ideal opportunity to place on record the following scraps of village history, related to me by many of our older residents whose families have resided in Wilstone for generations and who, over the years, have given me a wonderful picture of the village, not only at the turn of this century but in many cases far beyond.
We hear that Wilstone was a much smaller hamlet then, but families were much larger, and it is no surprise to discover that the registered number of inhabitants varied little as the years passed. The first census returns of 1841, the first complete recorded number of residents and their occupations, gives the number as 407.
In 1861 the number had risen to 455 and until the end of the century varied little. But in the 1890s, according to local directories, the number had dropped to well under 400. This, according to historians, was the result of a depression in the farming industry, partly caused by outbreaks over some years of foot and mouth disease and liver rot which was rife at the time, and by the increasing number of steam ships crossing the Atlantic flooding our shores with, in many cases, better quality and cheaper wheat.
Conditions throughout the district and country deteriorated to such an extent that, in our area from records of Great Farm, it is known that the farm labourers’ wages were cut from thirteen shillings and six pence to twelve shillings per week, and it is estimated that in the Home Counties many thousands left their villages and places of employment. Many moved nearer to the larger towns where factories were booming, some joined the services, and many emigrated to our colonies to seek their fortunes. But by 1917 the number had steadily risen and still remains around 500. A number of outlying farms and some cottages at Gubblecote and Little Tring with Tring Ford still come within the Wilstone boundary and, until the end of the last war, two cottages were still standing on the Wendover Arm above the reservoirs. These were erected in 1803 with a pumping station and used to supply water to the summit during the early days of the canal.
One comes to the conclusion that, with the cutting of the Grand Union, formerly the Grand Junction Canal, and the amount of labour involved in constructing the reservoirs, great changes must have taken place, not only in our village but throughtout the district. Although our earliest map gives buildings in much the same position as they appear at the beginning of the century, many of the old half-timbered cottages were demolished to make way for the rows of brick built dwellings to house the influx of outside labour. This and the many other changes will be dealt with in the following chapters.
The enclosures of 1798 will be mentioned many times through these pages. It is well recorded that the average worker on the land took a long time to recover from such a domestic upheaval, for this had made a great difference to their living standards. The centuries old custom of working in the large open field and after harvest turning out their few animals to roam at will had gone and only a small amount of land was set aside for this purpose. And so, when the local Councils were elected in 1894, this was one of the first requests made. The history of these allotments in Rose Lane with the Baptist Chapel, Church, and Village School, together with the many changes that have taken place in recent years must be dealt with in the following chapters.
Perhaps however having touched to some extent on just a few of the happenings during the 18th and 19th centuries, one must conclude this Introduction by drifting back yet still further to the few scraps of history regarding the probable ancient settlement of Wilstone or Wyvellsthorn.
Archaeologists and historians give the date of our village as being established in its present position during the 6th century, the village greens being V-shaped and of pure Saxon origin. Previous to this it was generally thought that the first settlement could have been situated on the lower slopes of the hills behind the present reservoirs away from the large areas of swampy ground now covered by our large reservoir. The whole of this area was named throughout the centures as Black Moor, and even today many of the fields around are still named The Moors. There is evidence of this being so for Mr Mead of Great Farm while ploughing in these moors during 1972 unearthed a large amount of broken pottery which contained traces of a very earlier occupation, and it resulted in the whole area being designated as one of Great Historical and Scientific Interest.
Whether the Romans came along our tracks is uncertain but it is interesting also to record that a coin was found in a cottage garden on the Lower Icknield Way a few years ago which bears the name of P Metilius Nepos, a Roman governor of Britain from AD96 to AD98. One feels sure that at some future date much more will be discovered. By 1088 it is known that a small settlement was well established, coming under the entry for Tring reads as follows:
|"In this Village (Tring) is another Berewic where eight villagers reside who have two ploughs and a third possible."|
The area around Sandbrook Lane consisted of Berewic Field, Wick Mead, Pond Close and Long Close, all names going back for centuries and we are sure formed the nucleus of our first village settlement.
Sandbrook Holding and the sewage pumps stand on Berewic Field with the Wick Mead Field and Pond Close just beyond the gate.
Previous to the enclosures and before being cut in half by the Aylesbury Arm of the canal, this field stretched as far as the bridle way with an outlet into Astrope Lane opposite Dinah’s Pond.
Gubblecote was a place of some importance during the Middle Ages and is now included in the list of Hertfordshire’s Lost Villages. Many important tracks crossed at this point and it was quite a large settlement in 1088. So much so that one could write of events which occurred around those crossroads.
Returning however to the village, the following list shows how Wilstone’s name has changed over the centuries:
In conclusion, my many thanks to the present and past inhabitants of our village for their assistance in providing me with so many old photographs and scraps of information.
Although one tries to cover the course of the village history, I am well aware that many important events will probably have been overlooked. So I must leave this to those who follow on, perhaps with the modern methods of research that exist today, there will be one interested enough to fill in the missing gaps.