The two men whom the parish has to thank are Mr Frederick Albert Paxman and Sir Archibald Bodkin, who worked together to provide the parish with a recreation ground. Mr Paxman, a farmer and gentleman, was born in 1867 in Abingdon. He first owned and farmed Bridge Farm in Appleford, but by 1911, he was living in Wallingford. In 1902, he began to rent Northfield Farm in Long Wittenham from Exeter College, purchasing it in 1920 and taking up occupation; he already rented from the Vicar, the Rev. Thomas Daniel Hopkyns, another ninety-seven acres in the village. He remained in Long Wittenham until 1928, before retiring to Blenheim House in Benson, where he died in 1929.
Mr Paxman was a keen sportsman, and presumably took an interest in the Wittenham Football Team. It was a ‘kicking scramble lot’ until Mr Collins of Point Close organised them into a Junior Football team, giving them football gear and goal posts. Mr Collins also arranged for the hurdle maker’s shed to be used as the first pavilion. The MP for North Berkshire, Mr E.A Strauss, presented a trophy ‘to be competed for by amateur football teams in North Berkshire for the encouragement of teams in the villages’. This was the North Berks Cup, and it is possible that the team’s victory in the first competition for the Cup in the 1907-1908 season encouraged Mr Paxman’s later help in providing the recreation ground.
In December 1920, Mr Paxman bought from the Vicar for £2250 114 acres of arable and pasture land; the sale was completed on the 27th of April 1921. Three months later, Paxman sold 3.8 acres of it for £450 to Sir Archibald Bodkin. It is unclear what Sir Archibald’s link with the village was: resident in South Hampstead in London, he was the Director of Public Prosecutions from 1920 to 1930. (He has minor enduring fame for banning James Joyce’s Ulysses, which, he said, contained ‘a great deal of filth and obscenity’, although he admitted that he had only read pages 690 to 732.) The land, made up of pasture, buildings and yard, was in due course referred to as Bodkin’s Field.
Two months later, on 29 September 1921, Sir Archibald leased the 3.8 acres directly to the Long Wittenham Sports Club, as represented by F.G. Hallett, James Chambers, and Tom Eason (Chambers had been a member of the Cup-winning 1907-1908 football team), for the purpose of a recreation ground, for which they paid a rent of £15 per year. Under the lease, they could not break it up for tillage, and the only building they could erect was a ‘sports cricket or football pavilion’.
The parish became the owners of Bodkin’s Field on 4 November 1935. Sir Archibald, who now lived in Devon, presented it to the Parish Council in commemoration of the Silver Jubilee of George V. His purpose in donating the land, according to the conveyance, was to make permanent provision of a recreation ground, provided that the Council allowed any sports club which then had the use of it to continue to use it. On the same day, the Parish Council held a short meeting and passed a resolution accepting the land on those terms.
It would appear (although because of the lack of documents, it cannot be conclusive) that after the original lease ran out in 1942, the Club continued to use Bodkin’s without any formal agreement. There were misunderstandings in the village, and it was decided that, to resolve the problems, a new lease should be drawn up. The Parish Council the Athletic Club drew up the lease together on the same terms as the 1921 lease, and this was signed in 1986.
In 2011, a new lease between the Parish Council and the Long Wittenham Athletic Club was signed which maintained the same relationship between the two organisations. The lease, for the sports pavilion, storage shed and recreation ground, is for fifty years, in order to provide ‘security of tenure’ to the Athletic Club, and to ensure that the village does not soon incur another set of legal costs. The 2011 lease states clearly, for the first time, that the Council holds the property ‘for the benefit of the inhabitants of the parish’, not just for the benefit of the Athletic Club (as noted above, the 1935 conveyance referred to ‘the provision of a recreation ground’, with the proviso that the Council continued to allow the sports club to use it). What is also new in the 2011 lease is the ‘Break Notice’: this requires six months’ written notice from the Council to the Club to terminate their lease if the Council requires possession of the buildings or any other part of the property for the construction of a new community hall. The assumption of those who were involved in the discussions over the lease was that it was highly unlikely the break clause will ever be invoked, but if it does happen, the Athletic Club will continue to have the right to use the sports pavilion, the shed and the recreation ground for organised games. It is unfortunate that the history of the transactions has so many gaps.
Kathleen Burk Jewess
Long Wittenham History Group