From an article by Alison Bailey for Bucks Free Press, February 2020
Next time you are shopping in Amersham-on-the-Hill, instead of rushing around like we all do, I want you to take your time, to look up, and to examine the amazing Arts and Crafts architecture all around you that you may have never noticed before.
Hopefully, if you are a regular reader of these Nostalgia Pages you will be aware that Amersham has some exceptional Arts and Crafts houses. Many of these were designed by the eminent London architect, John Harold Kennard, who started working in Amersham around 1905. However, you may not be aware that he also designed many of the shops which give the town its special character today.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Playhouse Theatre, on Station Road, which is now the Amersham Auction Rooms. This is where I want you to start your walk. This development, Station Parade, was Kennard’s first building in Amersham. Built close to the new station, the earliest known resident was a basket maker from Berkhamsted, followed by a furniture dealer, and a grocer, the International Stores, which later moved to larger premises on Sycamore Road. Kennard designed the building with housing on the first and second floors with patio doors onto large roof terraces above the shops. As you walk past the building today take notice of the lovely green glazed columns sited at each corner with highly decorated capitals that you may not have spotted before.
Carry on up Hill Avenue, noticing the Arts and Crafts terrace on the right-hand side built by Falkner & Sons, with some input from Kennard. The detailed brick pillars are a repeated feature in his Amersham shops. They are also used in Kennard Houses in Eskdale Avenue and Long Park. Hill Avenue was originally residential but over time it became populated with shops. However, if you look closely you can see Kennard houses hiding behind the shop fronts of Frost and Savills Estate Agents and American Star Nails.
In 1912 he designed five shops and three houses in one block at Oakfield Corner. This block has a distinctive diamond pattern in black wood on white render which is a pattern repeated on Kennard houses in Bois Avenue and North Road. Arthur Kennard, Harold’s brother opened his first chemist shop here before this became the National Provincial and Union Bank and the chemists moved across the road.
Continue your walk down Chesham Road to the next block of shops containing Café Africa and Bathe, you will see more fine examples of Kennards distinctive brick columns and a lovely original oak door at no.23. Look up at the steep roofs on the gables of this block. These echo the unusually steep roof at 65 Station Road which was the first confirmed Kennard house to be listed Grade II last year.
Retrace your steps and turn left down Sycamore Road. There are two lovely Arts and Crafts buildings housing Hob and Pizza Express with fine brick work, Tudor gables and bay windows. Cross over to this side of the road and look back at another Kennard block where Amersham Interiors and the MasterChef is. Again, this has brick columns, black and white gables and a diamond feature. Before crossing Woodside Close past Boots look up and admire one of Kennards best elevations with two lovely round windows with ornate brick and tile surrounds. These are divided by a tall chimney and there is a brick arch below which is purely decorative. Cross over to get a good view of Chiltern Parade. This was built in 1937 on the site of a large Kennard house and garden. It was built by Sainsbury’s as the new focal point of Sycamore Road. They occupied the central shop of nine and much of their original interior is still evident inside Harris & Hoole.
At the time of Kennard’s death in 1926, Amersham-on-the-Hill was a thriving town, with over 70 shops and businesses catering to every need. There was further expansion in the 1930s and again in the 1960s, after which it remained relatively unchanged until the latest development on the site of Iceland and the earlier Regent Cinema.
Amersham Museum will reopen on Saturday 15th February with the Arts and Crafts Exhibition continuing in the Woodcock Room until 29th March. Please see the Museum website amershammuseum.org for details of an Arts and Crafts Talk 18th March and walks in Amersham-on-the-Hill and Chesham Bois.