September 2010: A History of Westcott

Due to a bereavement, our scheduled speaker was unable to come, so Peter Bennett gave this talk which had been given to a neighbouring group earlier in the year (thank goodness for memory sticks!).

Present-day Westcott is really the merger of two former single-street hamlets known in medieval times as Westcott Street and Milton Street. The talk began with a look at how these may have become settlements, determined – as always – by the geology. Separate Manors in Domesday; they eventually passed to the Evelyns of Wotton who still hold the Manor of Westcott today.

Three big estates were created around Westcott – Milton Court, the Rookery, where Robert Malthus was born, and Bury Hill which absorbed Milton Street. The estates were the main employers, mainly through farming, forestry and domestic service. Estate owners, such as the Fullers and the Barclays, were great benefactors and did much for Westcott. The coming of the railways brought rapid growth. John Worsfold gave us a chapel. The parish church and school soon followed, and by 1900 there were three watermills, a brickfield, forge, wheelwright, six pubs and ample shops to serve the community. We are fortunate that photographer Walter Rose recorded it all to leave us such vivid pictures of life at that time.

The twentieth century saw great losses through the wars and the decline and demise of the estates. But there were also gains. Sport, music and drama flourished, and for a time we even had a swimming pool! Actor Leslie Howard and broadcaster Jonah Barrington were notable residents. New houses were built, but later years saw a loss of shops and pubs, although the M25 brought some relief to our traffic congestion. The millennium has seen renewal. Reading room and chapel, both under threat, have been saved, youth facilities improved and school expanded. These and other voluntary efforts even brought us a ‘most improved village’ award in the Britain in Bloom competition! Like all other villages, much has happened over the last thousand years.