In these lovely late summer days many Windsorians have been enjoying our little park in Bachelors Acre. I wonder how many know its story though.

Since time immemorial, certainly since as early as 1189, Bachelors Acre, a parcel of land in the centre of Windsor was used by the inhabitants of the town for the practice of archery and other pastimes. This usage was confirmed in 1651 and reference was made to ‘where Butts were usually set up’ (Butts are archery targets).

Over the centuries, the local council (claiming ownership) sought to encroach upon the land. This was resisted by the townspeople on a number of occasions and in the 1740 the Society of Bachelors of Windsor (leading citizens) was set up to safeguard the amenities. In 1809 an Ox Roast took place to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of King George III, an obelisk commemorating the event was erected (and is still there). The Acre was used regularly for similar revels and there was an annual October Fair. In 1847, the council attempted to dig a well in the Acre . Some two hundred people took part in the ‘Battle of Bachelors Acre’ in opposition to this and the council confirmed the rights and privileges. Despite these events and activities the council gradually took more and more control.

By the 1970s, with the Society having fallen into abeyance, the council had built a number of garages around the perimeter of the site and established a car park. In 1972 the Royal Borough of New Windsor (RBNW) council submitted plans proposing the erection of a four story multi-story car park.

This proved the ‘last straw’ for an elderly local resident and historian Doris Mellor. Keenly aware of Windsor’s history in general and that of the Acre in particular Doris took the view that the council had no right in the first place to assert any control over the Acre. Supported by the Windsor and Eton (conservation) Society (W&ES), Doris began her campaign. 

Using her historical knowledge Doris conducted extensive research and ‘took on’ the RBNW council – which fought her every step of the way. The council approved its own plans but these were turned down by Berkshire County Council. The RBNW challenged the County’s decision in the High Court which upheld the refusal. By this time Doris has accumulated a wealth of information to support the claim by the W&ES that the Acre should be designated a Town Green. 

Nevertheless, the RBNW council decided to appeal on the basis that the Acre had not regularly been used for recreation since 1875. The council was also conscious of the fact that there was (and is) a significant ‘parking problem’ in Windsor.

The Court of Appeal heard the case (New Windsor Corporation v Mellor [1975] 1 Ch. 380 CA) on 23 May 1975. Lord Justice Denning, Master of the Rolls summed up. He summarised the history of the Acre since the 12th century and concluded that although it had not been used regularly since 1875 ‘it seems clear to me that the inhabitants of New Windsor have a customary right to indulge in lawful sports and pastimes on Bachelors Acre’.

The appeal was dismissed – Doris had won!

The council was forced to remove the car park, demolish the garages and to reinstate the Acre as a Town Green. To its credit the council has done this well, providing a beautiful oasis of calm, beauty and pleasure in the centre of a busy town.

As for Doris, she became a celebrity, the national press referring to her as ‘Dig-in Doris’ and ‘Woman’s Own’ magazine voting her ‘Woman of the Month’. In 1977 she was awarded an MBE in recognition of her achievement. She died aged 86 in 1981. 

Today Doris Mellor is commemorated in Windsor by a Blue Plaque in Bachelors Acre, Mellor Walk leading to the area and Mellor House in Windsor’s main shopping street. 

This story of how a determined elderly lady, working alone, can challenge authority and defeat it, is in the true sprit of the Magna Carta.

Source and credit to – “Windelsora” No 25, ‘Doris Mellor and the Battle for Bachelors Acre’ by Sue Ashley. Published by The Windsor Local History Group. ISSN 0263-1660