Berinsfield the Community

The Community War and post war activities were coming to an end. The armed forces were being demobbed. Families being reunited and starting again, but there was an acute housing problem throughout the country and it was no different in Oxfordshire than anywhere else. There were houses available in the area but were deemed quite expensive. Arthur Olley had moved his family from London to the Three Pigeons in Drayton St Leonard. The Evacuation Committee offered them larger accommodation in the White House in Ewelme. At the end of the war he was offered the house at a cost of £300, he didn¹t believe in private ownership but also didn¹t want to get into debt. He took rented accommodation in Benson. John Greenaway¹s father was offered two cottages in Dorchester for £100, but declined the offer as they were in poor repair. As the last Army vehicle moved out of Mount Farm, a sheeted wagon came in. There are no dates for the end of military use for Mount Farm and starting dates for our community. Some of the families of the men that had helped build and repair the runways of the air base had already moved into the huts. Bullingdon Rural District Council saw this as a temporary housing solution, and invited families to temporarily squat in the huts (this lasted for 14 years!). A community had started to form, and the birth of the first new village in the UK for more than nearly 200 years had begun - Berinsfield.

Bullingdon Rural District Council first had the idea of building a new village in 1949. Although what was happening at Mount Farm Air base was not unusual, as the book "The Sociology of Housing - Studies at Berinsfield" R.N.Morris & John Mogey explains. What was to happen next was a brave step forward into the unknown. Abandoned bases at Abingdon, Chalgrove, Easthampstead, Slade Park and Slough are other bases described in the book, but only Mount Farm (Berinsfield) was to be built in the same location as the huts and the community re-housed.

There were originally between 150 and 200 families at the "Field Farm Estate" between 1947 and 1949, who were all expected to be re-housed within 12 months.

First the Community

Mr & Mrs Colin Winterborne moved into the Field Farm huts in 1949 shortly after getting married and Angie Winterbourne (Angie Bowden - Brown Owl) was born in the huts in 1950. Veronica Todd came from Reading at the age of 2 years, with her mother Lil Huggins and her father, who had recently come out of the Army. They moved into a whole hut on Mount Farm for 7/6 a week. You could rent half a hut, but the dividing wall was plaster board and separated by 2"x1" battens, so you knew when your neighbours were in and often the topic of conversation. There was electricity to the huts for lighting and a small range was used to provide heat and for cooking. Only 20% had an inside water closet and 56% had a single cold water tap. Veronica remembers the huts as quite large with some large families in them. Joan & Kermit Bateman had 12 children while they lived in the huts and later on they moved to Benson.

The huts down by Green Lane were clad with wood, although some were covered with felt, which Terry Todd remembers as being very fragile and easy to put a foot through the walls. There were some half round huts one of which was on the other side of Green Lane from where Veronica lived - nobody lived in it as it had been used to store ammunition, but she recounts that she and other children used to run over the top. Mrs Coffey remembers that the huts, up near where the Village Inn now stands, were covered with corrugated iron. Natalie Coffey was told how her father and grandmother had come from South Wales on a coal lorry and were allocated a hut opposite the garage - 4b Mount Farm. When they first arrived there was no running water, so a lorry came with a big tank on it. Later they put two standpipes in the road and the Council gave every family an Elsan bucket. Most families were able to put these in the huts for a toilet. When they were full the contents were buried in the garden, some people dug big holes, which lasted a few months. Friday night was "Elsan night", where the men went into the garden with a shovel - as Terry said the gardens were well fertilized. This could make things difficult walking about in the dark, as there was no street lighting. If you wanted water you had to go to the standpipes. In the winter (they had proper winters - cold and with snow) it was advisable to get a saucepan or kettle the night before, or you had a long wait as the pipes often froze.

Close community

It was a very close community in those days. Colin Winterbourne had the switch for all the electricity in his block of huts and someone else had the tap, which controlled all the water. They had a complete hut, which had 3 bedrooms, dining room and a kitchen with a range in the middle. All the water had to be heated up on the range for washing and cleaning. For supplies there was the fish man, the Œveg¹ man, the bread man and other mobile shops that visited the huts including Pam Walls who came round on the milk float. One of the huts became a store and a post office where Barrington Close garages are situated - this was run by Jeff Parnell, who was from Drayton-St-Leonard. He would deliver your order to your hut on a Friday night, if it was too heavy. Friday night was a busy night, especially as it was bath night as well, in a tin bath in front of the range. If you wanted to travel there was a regular bus service, which stopped outside Deacon¹s Garage. You had to wait in the dark as there were no lights at the stop, but buses came at 20 minutes past the hour. Veronica often made the trip to Reading to visit her grandparents. Other people like Net Bailey who used to work in the tannery in Abingdon, would bike to work. The original junior school was down by Evenlode Drive with Miss Hanscombe as head mistress, Veronica says she was a very nice teacher. Some time later the school hut suffered the same fate as the Abbey School would and caught fire. The Primary School has since been on the same site, although the buildings have changed. The Youth Club was where Evenlode Drive is now and run by Miss Edith Fyleman, but she had to retire as the children were getting a little too much to handle and Terry Todd took over.

Three sites

The huts were divided into three sites; Mount Farm site, which was between Green Lane and the old Dorchester Road and up to the school fields. The Field Farm site extended from the school fields and across to Green Lane where the current water tower is now. The other side of Green Lane, (site of the original water tower), was the Tec site, which was still in use as a storage depot for military vehicles. Originally a guard house was situated at the beginning of Fane Drive and this was the second entrance to the airbase. This was closed due to many accidents and a fatality. The airbase was surrounded by fields, which were being farmed again after 1946, Kelly Bumpass used to be one of the men driving the combine harvesters along with Mr. Carey who lived in one of the two cottages near Queens Farm. It was he you went to for your eggs. As the farmers were claiming back the land from the air base by taking down the huts and dismantling the concrete bases, Colin Winterbourne and family moved to a hut near where the telephone box is along Fane Drive opposite Colwell Road. Terry Todd remembers one of his early jobs was as one of the team to dig up the concrete bases, hard-standings and tracks using jackhammers. This was no mean feat as they were 18" thick! Mr. Deacon, being environmentally friendly and a shrewd businessman then recycled the concrete by selling it back to Bullingdon Rural District Council as hardcore for the building of Berinsfield.

Then the Village

Bullingdon Rural District Council commissioned William Holford & Partners to produce plans for a Œmodel village¹ to be built from scratch, the first new village to be built on virgin ground in 200 years. The plan was for 278 units of accommodation, 200 to be owned by the local authority and 78 for private ownership. William Holford is quoted as saying in 1957 - ³The decision to build new housing on this site, away from old-established towns and villages and without regard to local employment, is contrary to generally accepted planning principles, but the peculiar circumstances attaching to this half abandoned war-time camp site justify the experiment - it is, in fact, difficult to think of any suitable alternative open to your council - and I see no reason why it should not succeed.²

Name Like most other building projects, especially these days, it was to be a phased approach, and Berinsfield was to be no different. Building started in 1958, but the name of the village was to prove contentious and is well documented in the Oxford Mail and Times from the 21st March 1956 when Bullingdon RDC first proposed to build a new village.

"What shall we call it?" - Headline from the Oxford mail. "It" was our village. Mr. K.F. Welch of Dorchester Parish Council headed the campaign "Why not Wimblestraw". The council were not impressed and wanted something to link the past to the future. So other names like "Collewelle" - from the charcoal burning carried out near Shadwell Spring and other names were considered; Cropwell; Chastlewell; Clanwell; Lynchwell; Biborough. The council suggested Shadwell and Vincent Cherrill (the name of a local farmer of the last century), but none of these names were supported - William Holford was asked for a suggestion. He replied "No Sir, I wouldn¹t dare!" A councillor did suggest "Williamsville" - Luckily it did not gain approval. It was Mr C.J. Peers, Chairman of the Field Farm Welfare Committee who put forward the name "Berinsfield" to the Council, the credit is given to a local Roman Catholic Priest. It was in fact Miss Edith Fyleman and Father Connack of the committee who came up with the name - "Berin" after St Birinus who baptized King Cynegils just down the road in the Thames and "Field" from "The Field" as this was the name the American service men called Mount Farm Airbase. There were various reports in the Oxford Mail, but the name came into being between July and November 1958.