A precious green oasis by Alison Bailey, from an article for Bucks Free Press
“We pitched upon a small place at Chesham Bois by a delightful common and in the centre of innumerable field-paths and by-ways amongst the Chilterns. In every season, in fine weather and in bad, we roamed over the countryside from Northwood to Aylesbury, from the Thames to the hills beyond Tring, a land rich in historical memories and favoured by the affectionate care of Nature. It was a land of majestic solemnity and magnificent romance, haunted by the shades of those who stood for the best in the life of England, Cromwell, Milton, Hampden, Penn, Burke.”
These words were written in 1912 by the first Labour Prime Minister, James Ramsey Macdonald, who had a weekend cottage, Lindfield, next to the shops in Chesham Bois village. At that time there were fewer trees and the Common was mainly grass, gorse and scrubland with grazing animals and abundant wildlife. Less trees meant wide views from one side of the Common to the other. Nevertheless, Ramsey Macdonald would still recognise his “delightful common” as a precious green space in the heart of Chesham Bois.
As many of us are confined close to home for the foreseeable future I thought it would be a good time to remind ourselves how lucky we are to live surrounded by the lovely Chiltern countryside and how important this is for our happiness and wellbeing. Following the arrival of the railway in 1892 there was a housing boom with builders and estate agents soon promoting the health benefits of the area. A sales brochure of 1896 stated that “the Common with its long, level, grassy rides, gorse-covered stretches, shady trees, picturesque Rectory and fine bracing air, has long been recognised in the neighbourhood as a true health resort.”
That the Common is little altered today is thanks to the Chesham Bois Conservation Area and the careful supervision of the Parish Council. The council have owned the Common since 1979 when they bought it from the last Lord of the Manor, Wilfred Garrett-Pegge, although they have been managing it as amenity land for the village since 1953.
Once the Common was no longer used for grazing, it developed into an area of mixed woodland with a wide variety of British trees, including horse chestnuts, wild cherries and some lovely oak trees round the cricket pitch. Commemorative oaks have been planted here since the establishment of the Parish Council in 1894 to celebrate local and national events, such as the coronation of King George VI in May 1937.
Before the WWI, most roads were little more than muddy tracks. Regular heavy wagon loads of building materials such as cut timber passed through the village and empty wagons were taken straight into Bricky Pond to give thirsty horses some water. After many complaints that it was being cut up by heavy carts, a conservation group was established around 1909 to protect Chesham Bois Common. This was led by Amersham’s first lady councillor, Henrietta Busk.
Despite retiring here on her doctor’s advice because of ill health, she was an energetic woman who got things done. In 1910 she raised £200 by subscription from 42 residents and organised builders to lay metalled roads either side of the Common (now North and South Road). She then invited local dignitaries and the First Chesham Bois Scout Troop to an opening ceremony and had everyone back for a garden party at her place!
Such change wasn’t popular with everyone though in 1910. A “lively discussion” was reported at a meeting to discuss ‘improvements’ to the village. In the opinion of one resident “there was not so much need for improvement of Chesham Bois. People who came there from London should conform to the country customs (applause) and put up with country methods and conditions. (Applause). They could not expect to find the beauties of Chesham Bois in London. (Applause). He never saw such a namby-pamby lot of people as they has had down there of late. (Laughter). They were afraid of a little mud because they might get their boots dirty as they went to the station. Surely they could get their boots cleaned when they arrived in London”.
The 1990 Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act has protected this precious resource for many years whilst allowing the village to evolve and change around it. Any new planning proposals would need to respect how important the Chesham Bois Conservation is, to ensure that future generations enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this “delightful common” for the next 100 years.