Memories of Amersham by Geoffrey Hadrill, MBE

Copied from the September 1981 Amersham Society News

Remember a field off the A413 on the Shardeloes Estate where one of the most popular pastimes was picking cowslips?  Where, oh! where have they all gone?  And it is not only, of course, from this spot that they have disappeared.  One theory for their absence nowadays is that chemical spraying has done its work only too well.  And TOO well is the operative word!

Stumpy Garton in WWI (PHO824a)
Stumpy Garton in WWI (PHO824a)

From time to time the name of Garton crops up in readers’ anecdotes.  What a character he was!  His weather records were superb and he had a wonderful memory for dates.  Any query regarding the date of any episode was often met with ‘Ask Stumpy’ (his pet name used by many) and, sure enough, he would know the answer.  He was loved by all his pupils.

Two other well-known characters will also remain fresh in the memories of those who have known Amersham over the years.  One was ‘Mac’ Cheese, a solicitor in much demand.  He was noted for his apparent indifference to sartorial perfection.  The other was Miss Stanley, who took so many Young Conservatives under her wing. Unlike ‘Mac’ she always tried to attain sartorial perfection in the youngsters, whom she encouraged to wear long dresses or dinner jackets whenever they went to an evening function.

Then, in a field near Little Shardeloes, we used to play tennis, and we formed a club under the name of ‘Holmwood’.  On hot summer days (those were the days!) in between games, we would slip across the road to the River Misbourne, part of which was fenced off with appropriate segregation of the sexes, as this was the OFFICIAL swimming baths for the area.

Fire bell rope under the Market Hall (PHO9097)
Fire bell rope under the Market Hall (PHO9097)

On at least two occasions I can recall games being abandoned while we rushed down to the Town Hall because someone had rung the fire bell which used to hang there.  The firemen (under George Line, I seem to remember) either rushed to the scene with a handcart or rounded up a horse, depending on the location.  It was always understood that whoever raised the alarm in this way was rewarded with a shilling, but I cannot ever recall anyone receiving this payment. [See also some notes about the fire engine.]

When women came into their own it was quite sensational.  Years ago there used to be a body known as the ‘Board of Guardians’ – later superseded by the District Council – and on one occasion a woman was appointed chairman for the ensuing year.  Her name was Miss Henrietta Busk, and most efficient she proved to be. And talking about the old Board of Guardians, this goes back to ‘workhouse’ days.   When the gents of the road often stayed overnight and were expected to do something in return, often they were reluctant, and it was no uncommon thing in the local Court to have such people charged with ‘failing to perform their allotted task’.  In the same Court one sometimes came across an allegation of ‘driving a horse and cart furiously’.

The new fire engine (PHO427a)
The new fire engine (PHO427a)
Fire Brigade c 1920 (PHO141)
Fire Brigade c 1920 (PHO141)






To return to the old Fire Brigade for a moment: these men were under the supervision of the Parish Council and one of the highlights of accomplishment was when the Council acquired a brand new up-to-date motor engine.  The (then) Chairman of the Parish Council, a Mr A J Side, I recall, was a proud man at the official dedication ceremony.

As one tries to recall the old days, more and more memories flood back – Sally Latimer and the courageous way she and her company kept the repertory theatre open and did a grand wartime job; the old cinema which was manned Saturday after Saturday by members of the St John Ambulance Brigade who went straight there from a stint on the football meadow; the first bus to run between Amersham and Chesham, the business brain behind the venture being Mr Randall.

Then there was a wonderful orchestra of youngsters led by Mr Graver, and one can also remember the news that went round like wildfire – ‘the lake’s on fire!’   Sure enough, all the rushes on the almost dry Shardeloes’  lake were ignited on one occasion.  In the same vicinity when the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland held their annual feast of lanterns during a camping weekend, one of the tents was completely destroyed by fire.

Weller’s old brewery in Church Street was always a hive of history and the early war years brought tragedy to the town when two little children were murdered and later a soldier paid the penalty.

Perhaps I’ve recalled enough……………….

Plan Your Visit

Opening hours:

Wednesday to Sunday, and Bank Holiday Mondays, 12noon to 4:30pm

49 High Street
Old Amersham

01494 723700
[email protected]


“Enjoyed our visit to this wonderful interactive museum where you are positively encouraged to touch things!”

“Visited Amersham museum yesterday – lovely place, provides many details on the history of the place. Plenty of cute cafes, pubs and shops around also… not difficult to find free parking nearby. ”

“A well-run, informative and interesting small museum on the main street. It’s mostly volunteer-run and they do a great job in keeping it and making you feel welcome…Check out the herb garden too.”

“Enjoyable film and television location guided walk around Amersham hosted by Amersham Museum – here are the Sun Houses on Highover Park and further up the hill is High & Over.”

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