Believe it or Not – Some Legends of Amersham
Taken from the September 1983 Amersham Society News – author unknown
A highwayman, a green lady and a disappearing river all figure in legends of Amersham.
Dick Turpin, people say, gave his name to the row of cottages at the far end of Amersham High Street. To evade his pursuers there, didn’t he dash upstairs in one cottage, through a row of connecting attics and down the stairs of another dwelling where he escaped out the back into Barn Meadow? Well, that’s how the story goes but as far as we know Dick Turpin never came to Amersham. The cottages were probably called after Thomas Turpin who owned them in 1742.
At the other end of the town, Gore Hill is supposedly named after a 9th Century battle with the Danes, so fierce that the blood ran down the hill. There is no record of such a battle in the area but it’s a good story. [Editor’s note: the name ‘Gore’ probably refers to a triangular enclosure of land between various large fields south of Bury Farm.]
Another bloodthirsty legend tells how the Drake squires of Amersham got a hatchet in their coat of arms. A seafaring Drake is said to have murdered his cabin boy with an axe and as a punishment had to incorporate a permanent reminder of his crime into his coat of arms. Our Drakes, who first came to the Amersham area around 1600, were not seafaring types but are said to have liked to think they were related to Sir Francis, the Armada hero, and adopted his crest, murder weapon and all.
As the Martyr’s Memorial recalls, in early Tudor times, a group of Amersham townsfolk were burnt at the stake for holding unorthodox religious beliefs. For centuries afterwards it was said that nothing would grow on the site of the fire.
In a town with so many old houses, ghost stories are rife. Reputed hauntings range from Raans Farm over to Woodrow and spread out along the A413 from The Chequers Inn to Shardeloes. Woodrow High House has the ghost of the ‘Green Lady’, Helena Stanhope, who killed herself after her lover died for his part in Monmouth’s Rebellion.
The ghost of a monk is reported to have been seen at The Gables, a house near the Market Hall, the site of which may have belonged to Missenden Abbey before the Reformation. There is also rumoured to have been an underground passage leading from The Gables to the Old Rectory (some versions of the story take the passage only as far as the Church).
More recently, George Ward, the photographer, was almost a legend in his own right, a brilliant mechanic, musician and, later in life, accomplished ballroom dancer. One day in The Nag’s Head, he heard somebody remark that all routes out of Amersham led uphill. Amid cries of disbelief, George insisted he could leave Amersham going downhill. Pausing only to arrange some bets on the subject, he put on his waders, stepped into the River Misbourne and walked downstream.
Presumably the river was flowing at the time. It is reported to dry up at times of national disaster. It got low during World War II and has stopped completely several times since. The superstitious may believe the end of the world is nigh, but dry weather – and the amount of water taken out to feed our mains, may have something to do with the phenomenon.
There used to be a feature in a London evening newspaper called ‘Believe it or Not’. One day it told the story of a Civil War battle. The Roundheads ran out of cannon balls but managed to win by loading their guns with mud. And this happened in Amersham!
You have the option – believe it or not.