This week Bygones is taking you back to the 19th century, courtesy of a fascinating new book “Waterloo to Balaclava” by Berkshire author, John Trigg.

If you like local history, then the 230 pages of this new volume with fill you full of facts and amazing insights, taking the reader back to a time when the county was at the dawn of a new industrial age.

Berkshire was still farming county and the reforms introduced to protect children working in the fields had met with dismay, by farmers and landowners alike.

No child under the age of eight was allowed to be employed in the countryside, but many more were in factories and silk spinning sheds, slaving and suffering out of sight.

Another unseen trade, chimney sweepers, made use of very young boys and girls climbing up chimneys in total darkness to clean the flues, sometimes getting stuck or horribly burnt by red hot embers.

Fearing a ‘French Revolution’ style uprising in the UK, the civil unrest which dogged the early 1800’s was brutally crushed across Berkshire, especially during the ‘Swing Riots’ in 1830.

Farm labourers went on the rampage around Thatcham and Kintbury, smashing the new threshing machinery, which had put many of them out of work.

Life expectancy during the first decades of the 19th century was low, the average life span for the gentry was 42 years, tradesmen 30 years and labourers 22 years.

Child mortality was particularly high, and records show that 37 per cent of recorded deaths were children under the age of five.

Poor hygiene, sanitation and epidemics of diseases such as cholera were not helped by the town centre being no more than an open cess pit.

As the GWR steam railway arrived in Berkshire in 1838, stopping at Maidenhead at first, many Reading residents questioned whether this was a good or bad thing, especially for the horse drawn coaching trade along the A4 Bath Road.

The GWR’s chief engineer, Isambard Brunel, opted for the most direct route from Twyford into Reading, and the Sonning Cutting was dug, using 1,200 navvies with shovels.

On Christmas Eve, 1841, a train hit a landslide of soil on the track and the passengers were flung on to the adjacent tracks, immediately being crushed by the following goods wagons.

Nine passengers died and dozens injured, many being taken to the recently opened Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Three monarchs reigned during the period covered in “Waterloo to Balaclava” and the deaths and coronations of King George III to Queen Victoria, were mourned or celebrated, in equal measure.

The turbulent times of this fascinating part of Berkshire’s history are too numerous to detail here, but here at Bygones HQ we certainly can’t put this book down!

If your interest has been roused in this Bygones review, the book is available at the village shop in Woolhampton for £10.00, or you can contact author John Trigg by email: