Datchet in Flood, 1875
By Janet Kennish for The Link, Datchet’s parish magazine
By the time this issue of The Link is published we hope that this painting by William Corden (the Younger) might be hanging in the library for everyone to see – if not it will be there soon! It has been bought by Datchet Village Society, the Barker Bridge House Trust and the Parish Council (which now owns it), for public display in the village. Nine other paintings of the village by this artist are known to exist, including four of the church before and after its rebuilding (1857-1864), and five views from the 1870s, but none are on public view. They are an invaluable source of knowledge about the village in the period before outdoor photography became widely available and we are very pleased to have been able to add this one to the series of local images. We do not know where it has been since it left the village, only that it came into a dealer’s hands following the decease of somebody in Lincolnshire.
It seems that floods have always brought out the local artists and the photographers (as they still do), particularly in 1894, 1913 and of course in 1947. There were great floods long before this for which there are only the briefest written records but this ‘new’ image is the earliest flood for which we have a picture. It is rather dark as it is set in moonlight, with all the lights in the houses reflected in the floods running through the village centre. Some artistic licence has been taken here, since the reflections of the windows could not actually appear as they are shown, but William Corden also distorted reality in other village paintings, in order to show what interested him.
He may have watched this scene from a window of his family’s house near the top of the High Street, the one until recently occupied by Graham Russell as the butcher’s shop. Looking across, he could see the corner of the Manor Hotel and people being carried into or away from it in a punt, although it is hardly recognisable as the Manor to us. By 1875 the parts of this building which face the Green had been renovated and updated, but the corner block was still basically a small white-plastered house and not rebuilt as we know it until the 1890s. Apart from this difference in the Manor corner, there is a remarkable resemblance to one of the 1947 flood photos, particularly in the figures poling a rescue punt through the waters.
In the centre distance of the later photo is the building remembered as the International Stores, now an empty premises, but it was not there in 1875. The single-storey building seen on that corner site is the blacksmith’s workshop attached to Church Cottage. On the far left in the painting is one of the old cottages which were demolished when the Bank and Bank House were built in their place around 1900.
1947 flood photo from similar viewpoint
For this flood we also have a written record in the Parish Magazine, which was published for only the years 1874 and ’75 before a longer run began in the 1890s. This extract is from the November 1875 issue:
Great inconvenience has been occasioned in Datchet by the flood, which has far exceeded anything known since that of 1852, which itself, say some of the oldest inhabitants, was less than those of 1828 and 1822. The appearance of the village was very strange – a stream of considerable depth running rapidly through its midst, and punts plying between the road in front of the Rectory (now Old Priory) and the Manor Hotel, the back Lane (now Queens Road) and the Slough Road. At the Welly (cottages at the corner of Welly Road to Wraysbury) the water is in all the lower rooms and the Common has been quite surrounded. The roads to the village and Ditton were both quite impassable and the deepest part of the inundation is in Slough Road. As we write the waters are rapidly subsiding.
And from the following issue in December 1975:
Since our last we have experienced a return of the floods, and this time to a very serious extent, thought he water does not seem to have been quite so high as in 1852. In the village itself the inundation extended almost from the railway crossing up to the steps of Mr Wilkinson’s shop (now The Bridge), and the whole Common, roads and fields alike, was completely submerged. Through the bounty of various kind friends, a system of relief was immediately organised: punts and a cart were provided for those who were cut of from their work by the waters, and a supply of coals, grocery and bread sent to each family. A further quantity of coals has since been given to dry the houses, and chloride of lime sent round for use where needed. Some fear is expressed of a second return, but Father Thames has shrunk into his natural bed and there are no symptoms at present of any fresh uprising.
All of those involved in bringing this painting back to the village hope that people will take the opportunity to see it when it arrives at the Library, as a piece of our local history secured for the future.
This article was researched and written for historical purposes only. It may not be used in the support of any opinion, positive or negative, concerning the Environment Agency or local parish and borough councils or councillors.
Janet Kennish 01273 204330, email@example.com