Saturday, 2 September 2017

Farming outpost

We may reside in a suburb or an old-established central location, but almost all of us live where once horses (end even earlier oxen) pulled rudimentary ploughs, and labourers in poor accommodation toiled to win a harvest for their employer farm tenant.

The blue rectangle behind The Quadrant, astride Hughenden Road and
Wycombe Way, represents where the homestead was located.  The blue broken
line is approximately the route of the carriage drive directly from
Marshalswick Lane to the house and yard.

When Nash Homes published its proposals for the new Marshalswick housing development in the 1930s, the area around the old farm house was designated a high density zone.  We have seen the flats, the shopping centre, public house (not any longer), library and community centre, churches and cinema (the last, which was to have been near where the baptist church is, didn't make it).

From the 1879 OS map                       COURTESY HALS
But if any of the tenants at the farm had gazed  out of their windows in their time, they certainly would not have believed the scene which in the future would surround them.

Marshalswick Farm, also known as Wheeler's Farm according to early maps, has not been part of the geography since the early 1950s.  It was taken over for Nash's site office,  returned to temporary accommodation during the Second World War, before once again housing a site office for a short time.  There are fortunately a few people who recall the group of buildings which formed the farm, although not at its best, having not been an operational agricultural hub since the 1930s.

The aerial photo can be used to illustrate the location of the house, facing west across its formal gardens, towards what is now Sherwood Avenue, then an occupational track.  Access to the yard and barns was via what to us is the little roundabout linking Marshalswick Lane and The Ridgeway.  The surviving trees in the Quadrant car park grew in the home paddock between the house and the ponds by the lane.

From the 1924 OS map                       COURTESY HALS
What of the farm house, though?  Does anyone know what it looked like?  Fortunately, we do have an accurate picture of it in 1826.  Jane Marten, of the former Marshals Wick House, created some impressive drawings of local farm homesteads.  One of the two surviving drawings is here.  Jane would have been sitting in the garden facing east.  She has drawn it as a modest building, and it is clear that over time there have been additions.  A view (not shown) from the yard, surrounded by typical barns and stores, reveals a well house.  Both show a number of trees close to the homestead, and it is inevitable that a stranger walking along the [Marshalswick] lane, otherwise known as New Road, would have passed by with little idea there was a dwelling nestling within the group of trees.

Inside, water was drawn from a well, and, being remote, it was never connected to the gas supply, let alone electricity.  Oil lamps were used until the day the last occupier left.

Maybe that is one reason why Thomas Wheeler [no name connection] selected this farm to try his luck in stealing property in 1880.  Unfortunately, in finding the tenant, Edward Anstee, he bludgeoned his victim to death.  The story is well-known and Wheeler was apprehended shortly afterwards.

View of Marshalswick Farm by Jane Marten.                                                                            COURTESY HERITAGE ENGLAND

As a result of this dreadful event a new tenant was appointed, James Slimmon.  He, and subsequently his son William, were the last to cultivate the 300-acre farm.

While Jane Marten has left an evocative illustration of the homestead, it remains the only picture of it  I have come across.  Though it survived until after World War Two, no photographs appear to have surfaced.  It would be wonderful if, in someone's collection, there was a photograph, or perhaps a painting of Wheeler's Farm homestead.  What a find that would be.

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