Bracknell Between the Wars

Bracknell Between the Wars

Bracknell town is surrounded by the villages of Binfield, Warfield, Winkfield, Crowthorne and Sandhurst. Before the development of Bracknell after the 2nd World War, Bracknell was a town based around a High Street, famous for its weekly cattle market on a Thursday, and supported by local industries such as brickmaking. In many respects, the pace and quality of life was similar to the surrounding villages, and differed very little from the early years of the 20th century. The following information about Bracknell town and the surrounding villages is drawn from photographs, documents and oral histories.

“Bracknell never altered in those days… you seemed to know everybody whenever you came home after being away” Mrs Bess White,

Bracknell town between the wars consisted mainly of just one street, the High Street, whose properties had shops on the ground floor, and whose gardens behind backed onto open fields. The shopkeepers generally lived above the shops themselves. Two developments during the 19th century meant that Bracknell had grown larger than the surrounding villages which it had once been the same size as; the coming of the railway 1856, and the growth in Bracknell’s cattle and poultry market. The market took place every Thursday behind the Hind’s Head Hotel, when the quiet town became filled with people and cattle, which were herded by drovers into the market through the streets from the surrounding countryside.

“I remember cattle being driven up to the Market at the top of the High Street on the other side of the Warfield Road, opposite the Old Manor Hotel. Huntons were the auctioneers. The cattle sold there were then driven along Church Road to the Station and and sent off by train”. Mr Roy Coles

“It was a very busy time on the farm coming up to Christmas, when all the poultry, geese and ducks were killed for the Bracknell Market Christmas Fat Stock Show. I can remember picking the birds in the kitchen in the evening and there were two or three inches of feathers on the floor” Ron Morris,

The High Street developed as something of a centre for shopping, with the flagship being Lawrence’s Stores which opened on the High Street in the 1880s. In 1907 it claimed to have three acres of floor space and employ 200 assistants, and later had branches in Wokingham and Crowthorne. It was like a modern department store, where you could buy everything from furniture to food to timber.

“My earliest memory of Bracknell is being taken to see Father Christmas at Lawrence’s Stores in High Street which was Bracknell’s big shop then” Mrs Joyce White

Like many market towns, Bracknell had more than its fair share of pubs, with around 10 in the high street alone. There were a wide range of shops, most of them much smaller than Lawrence’s Stores. All the shops delivered to people’s homes, with shop boys travelling by foot or bicycle, or sometimes horse and cart.

“We used to have about four good grocer’s shops in the High Street alone, years ago, besides the little ones. You could rely on all of them and the little bakers and all… the baker came round regularly; the milkman came with his can. You went to the door with a jug and he measured it out and a little drop for luck at the end.” Mrs Bess White

“All the shops delivered every day. One would ring up the shop concerned, the butcher, the baker and so on, and order what one needed. We were one of the few private houses to have a telephone… the items required from the shops were then delivered by bicycle, usually, or horse-drawn van” Mrs Patricia Gates, who lived in one of the local manor houses.

“My father first worked for a shop in Bracknell – May & Sons, a corn straw and hay merchant. They were in the High Street and the warehouses were in Stanley Road… My father used to drive a horse and cart and deliver the goods” Mrs Bess White.

On days when there wasn’t a market, Bracknell became once again a very quiet town.

“we walked to school; I suppose it was about a mile and a half, we used to go home mid-day and walk back again. There was no transport much in those days, the roads were very quiet, no traffic hardly, just a horse and car and suchlike and a few cycles” Mr Len Donne.

The main local industry around Bracknell was brickmaking. The Lawrence family, who owned Lawrence Stores, was also the biggest local brickmaker, and bricks from Thomas Lawrence & Sons ended up in buildings across the country. Brickworks were found at Binfield, Warfield, Wokingham, and Easthampstead, and the larger works were connected to the railways through tram lines. As well as Thomas Lawrence & Sons in Bracknell, local manufacturers included the Binfield Brick & Tile Company and Down Mill. However, there were still many smaller brickworks drying their bricks in the open and firing them in simple kilns for local building work.

“More chaps round here worked at the brickyards than anywhere else I think. My youngest brother worked there for a time. We used to tell the time by the hooters at the brickyards. One at eight o’clock, one at half past eight, then at half past twelve and then again at one. When you heard it you knew you had to go back to school pretty quick” Mrs Bess White.

“My father worked at Warfield Brickyard in Gough’s Lane. He was a brickmaker and made bricks and ‘squares’ by hand. The ‘squares’ were special bricks used in baking ovens. They were a foot square and three inches thick. My father was the only man in the yard who could make them – you had to be very strong to do it. He had to pick up a hundredweight of clay and throw it into the mould” Eric Cotterell.

There were limited opportunities for women to work, especially after they were married. This was especially the case during the depression years as unemployment rose.

“My mother did not go out to work until we were about 12 and then she only used to go a few hours a week to do some housework for a lady. The 30s were a pretty quiet time here really. There was quite a lot of unemployment during the depression years and it was hard for poorer people” Mr Len Donne.

Life in the surrounding countryside was dominated by the large estates and houses and the seasonal round of agriculture and social events such as shooting. Three large houses near to Bracknell, Easthampstead Park, South Hill Park, and Lily Hill Park still stand today. These estates provided employment for many local people as house servants, farm workers, gardeners, and gamekeepers, and provided what were otherwise very isolated rural areas a connection with the wider world.

Albert Cheny recalls “it was all Lords and Ladies and Majors and Generals round here in those days and the all went from all the big houses. South Hill Park – Lady Haversham, Mrs Lucena was at Westwick and Ramslade was Colonel MacKenzie… They used to ride into Bracknell to do their shopping, they used to have a carriage and a pair, you know; the old coachman would sit up there” from Bracknell the making of our new town.

“I was in service at Lily Hill Farm… I was there as a house-parlourmaid. I slept in and was very happy there until Mr Buckland died and they emigrated to Australia. I’ve had lots of jobs. We had to take what we could get” Mrs Daisy Latham.

“I used to get up at five-thirty every morning, winter and summer, and milk the cows by hand. I had my breakfast at seven o’clock and then I was out with my uncle around Bracknell with the milk. The night’s milk was always taken to Bracknell Station and sent to Hounslow on the six o’clock train” Ron Morris.

Life was hard for many people in the countryside, who often lived in very basic conditions with very little money.

“Mum and Dad slept in the front bedroom, us girls in back bedroom and my brother on the ssofa in the living-room. We slept on paliasses filled with straw and went ot bed at five o’clock in the winter… I was often hungry as a child. I have sat out many a time in Harry Gale’s fileds and eaten Swedes and turnips. And whenever the farmer put cabbages out for the cows, my mother used to send us out to get them” Doris Sainsbury.

The big regional event was Ascot week, when horse races were held at Ascot racecourse. Thousands of people came to the area, including bookmakers and punters, all looking for places to sleep, food to eat and transport to Ascot. Many local people worked at the racecourse, and the brickworks closed down so that people could take up these second jobs for the week. As one of the key events in the social diaries of upper class people, many houses held house parties, while ordinary people enjoyed the funfair and stalls at the racecourse as much as the races and betting.

“Ascot week was quite an event. The schools used to close because of the traffic. People used to turn out to watch the traffic because it was so dense then. For that week it was like it is in modern times, but that was an unusual sight then. Children with their notebooks taking all the numbers on the cars. And if they’d had a good day the racegoers used to throw handfuls of money out to the crowds from the old open charabancs” Mr Len Donne.

“Another strong memory is of Armistice Day in 1918. Opposite us in the High Street was a jeweller by the name of Poynter and a saddle-maker called King. These town, between them, god hold of some fireworks and on Armistice Day, which was November 11th, they had a firework display in the middle of the High Street” Mr Roy Coles.


Banyard. M. 2000 Warfield: A Berkshire village between the wars. Somerton: Roselle Publishing.

Hanson, A. (ed.) 1991 “I remember…” the reminiscences of seven people of Bracknell. Bracknell: Bracknell and District Historical Society