The Richardson Sisters and the Tithe Barn
This page was written by Alison Bailey of the Chesham Bois History Group, with help from family members.
The Richardson sisters, Josephine, Caroline and Mona were born into a military family and were well travelled before settling in Chesham Bois in their middle years. They lived here for the rest of their long lives, becoming actively involved in their new community and all had a major impact on the life of the village.
The sisters moved from their mother’s home in London (The 1891 Census shows Caroline Beatrice Richardson, 17 living with their mother, Elizabeth Richardson in St Oswalds Road, Fulham. Elizabeth died in 1894) to the Amersham area in the early 1900s. In the 1911 census they are living in Lavender Cottage, Chestnut Lane with Mona’s baby daughter Elizabeth. On this census, Josephine Mary Richardson, 42 is head of the household and her occupation is given as a lecturer in literature.
The sisters were the granddaughters of Sir John Richardson, the naval surgeon, arctic explorer and naturalist. Their parents, Willingham Franklin Richardson and Elizabeth Blew Pym met and married in South Africa in 1867 where he was serving as an officer in the Royal Engineers in the British Army. Josephine was born in Cape Town in 1869 and the family then moved to India where Caroline was born in Chakrata in 1873. Their father died there in 1875 and their widowed and pregnant Mother returned to Britain with her young family, giving birth to Mona in Rockferry, Cheshire.
The girls were well-educated and talented. Josephine went to the Royal School for Daughters of Officers in Bath, as probably did her sisters. She then studied languages and literature in Europe before travelling to Japan, via Canada. She spent 3 years living with a wealthy Japanese family teaching English manners and customs.
After studying Japanese art she returned to England with a valuable collection of prints, part of which is now in the British Museum. Josephine then established a school for the daughters of Members of Parliament in Westminster which she ran for fifteen years.
Josephine was also a talented artist, as was her younger sister, Caroline. Caroline studied art in Paris before teaching art at Bramley High School.
After moving out to Amersham, presumably on the new railway, Caroline started buying land and property in Chesham Bois just as it was beginning to develop. In 1915 she purchased Downash (the old school house) and a field (what remained of Grey Leaze Field) from Dr Mott. That same year she also bought Rose Cottage.
In the field was a dilapidated barn which was reputed to have been relocated from an orchard in Old Amersham. The 1st Chesham Bois Scout Troop had been using it for some of their meetings since their formation in 1908. Caroline extended and renovated the barn, known as the Tithe Barn, as living accommodation and an artist’s studio whilst keeping a pony and trap at the south end of the barn with a stable lad living in the loft above. She kept a pony there throughout her life and the sisters were often seen around the village, or setting off for a picnic in the pony and trap. Her great-niece Alison remembers visiting Car’s great friend Mrs Tyrwhitt-Drake at Shardeloes in the trap as a child.
Caroline and Josephine were so pleased with the new accommodation and the lovely garden that they let out Downash and moved into the Tithe Barn which was their home for the rest of their lives. In 1929 Caroline also bought Sloe Cottage and her sister, Mona and her husband Edward Voss (who was often away working in Canada) and their children, Elizabeth and John, moved here from Rose Cottage.
The Tithe Barn became the centre of many activities and social gatherings for the village. Both sisters were very active in village life. They were early members of the Chiltern Arts and Handicrafts Club, founded by artist Louise Jopling in 1919. They held the first major art exhibition for the society at the newly restored barn and were involved in every aspect of the Club. Both sisters gave lectures on their particular interests with Josephine regularly lecturing on Japanese Prints. Josephine was elected President of the Club in 1941 and held the post until her death in 1945 and Caroline was elected President in 1955 until her death in 1959. Josephine became the second woman to be elected to the Parish Council in 1934 and Caroline also later became a Parish Councillor.
Both sisters were very involved in the Red Cross, particularly during the World Wars with working parties and meetings held in Tithe Barn. Caroline did a number of poignant drawings of convalescent soldiers in their Red Cross blue suits and red ties (they were supposed to wear these so that they would be easily recognised and presumably stopped from spending all their time down the local pub!).
When Queen Elizabeth visited the area in 1941 she met Josephine and Car in recognition of their work for the Red Cross.
Caroline learnt to drive and appears in the Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Gazette Mercury of Friday August 16th 1935 after pleading guilty to failing to conform to traffic signals and to not having a driving license for a car! She was fined 10s. Alison remembers her being stopped when driving in Aylesbury by a young policeman because she was going the wrong way down a newly installed one-way scheme. “Young man” this formidable lady exclaimed “I have been driving this way down here for years and I don’t intend to stop now!”
Caroline exhibited and sold her charming paintings and drawings widely. She painted many of Buckinghamshire’s beauty spots and was commissioned by the Bucks Archaeologists Society to make drawings of buildings of historical interest threatened with demolition which are preserved in Aylesbury Museum. The Ministry of Defence also commissioned her to make drawings of windmills during WWII.
In Caroline’s will she left her property to her nephew John Voss and his wife Margaret (later of Sloe Cottage, Alison’s parents) and her niece Elizabeth and her husband Edgar Hunt (an early music specialist and teacher) of Downash, Chestnut Lane and Rose Cottage.