Stage 5 - West Wycombe to Old Amersham (12.25 miles)
Start: Grid Reference SU 83400 94678 Post Code HP12 4AH StreetMap
If you just want to print out the "Route" instructions of stage 5 of this walk,
without all the blurb on the website, you can download this as a
Word Docx by clicking on the link.
If you just want to print out the "Route" instructions of stage 5 of this walk, without all the blurb on the website, you can download this as a Word Docx by clicking on the link.
Tough from the start. we climb up to Downley, then drop down through the woods before climbing steeply to Hughenden Manor (National Trust). Immediately, descend again to follows Hughenden Stream, then climb up Boss Lane to Great Kingshill and rolling through Prestwood to join the South Bucks Way at Little Kingshill and follow it through Little Missenden. Then along River Misbourne through the Shardeloes Estate, before diverting to Old Amersham.
The start is from the filling station / garage at Pedestal Roundabout. Go down the side of the garage into Cookshall Lane. The lane soon passes under a railway bridge. After another 150 yards, as the lane veers left, take the bridleway on the right (NB. Do Not Take the earlier footpath, over a stile and across a field).
The bridleway, we take is accessed past a part wooden fence and follows an old enclosed and sunken track uphill.
The rolling scenery of the Chilterns sometimes looks unnaturally smooth, and on climbing you will see what I mean. Look back across the railway to the mausoleum and church on the hill; look right to see isolated fields roll from both sides of the valley and look at the path in front to see the climb to come.
After 600 yards, at a Y-junction of paths, with a flight of steps in the middle, take the deep sunken footpath to the right. The climb gets noticeably steeper with banks still on both sides. As the path opens out stay straight on keeping the trees to the left.
I've climbed the steps in the middle of where the two paths divide, but there's nothing at the top of them. Although, there probably was once. Whatever it was, I'm sure somebody knows. Yet, to me it's a mystery. The ancient sunken lane we follow from West Wycombe to Downley is also a mystery, but I'm sure this has many stories to tell.
At the top turn left and follow the narrow path with garden fences on the right. Follow this path keeping the fences to your RHS and avoiding other paths which go off to the left. This eventually leads to a residential road by the entrance to Downley School. Turn left past the entrance and onto a path directly opposite. Note: There are two paths next to each other, take the path on the right.
The path soon turns right and comes out onto Plomer Green Lane (at 1 mile) in the middle of Downley Village. Here turn left and downhill. At the bottom turn right into Moor Lane. Follow the lane for 200 yards to where it opens out at Downley Common. As the lane turns left (towards the Sunnybank Methodist Church) go straight on along a narrow gravel track, signed Public Footpath, and into the woods.
Downley is a village on top of the Chilterns and centered around Downley Common. The name comes from Anglo-Saxon meaning hill clearing or "field on a hill". The area is believed to have originally consisted of a "tithing" (group of ten households), but today has over 2,000 inhabitants, most live to the south of the common in properties built during the 1950s and 60s. Downley Common covers an area of 56 acres, is part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is designated a conservation area. The common was one of the traditional Chiltern Heaths used for the pasture of animals and on one of the main routes for drovers through the Chilterns. Over the years chalk, clay and flint have been excavated and there are many scars and pits still remaining. Other industries included farming and furniture making. During World War II it was used by the army to test and repair Churchill tanks - some of their track marks are still plain to be seen on Butterfly Bank next to Sunnybank Methodist Church. Most of the buildings around the edge of and hidden within the common are quaint Victorian cottages. A short distance from Plomer Green Lane, on High Street is the Bricklayers Arms. The pub was once named Golf Links as for a period golf was played on this part of the common. Just past the pub the common opens up with its Millennium Beacon and great views looking north.
The oldest pub in the village is the Le De Spencers Arms, on the Common, just past the northern end of Plomer Green Lane. The building dates from the 17th Century and was once the village bakery. See map if you wish to divert 0.34 miles to visit the pub.
Downley Common is home to Downley Cricket Club (established 1873) and Downley Dynamos Junior Football Club. The common also hosts two annual events - Downley Day each June, and a Bonfire Night torch lit procession in which hundreds of people march with torches and throw them on the bonfire.
To read more about Downley you can visit Wikipedia, the Downley Common Preservation Society, or Downley Parish Council.
The track through the woods leads past a tastefully restored red-brick house and then narrows. Continue straight on and downhill until a junction. There is a choice of three - follow the middle, signed Hughenden Valley. This continues gradually downhill and exits the wood straight onto a fenced off bridleway between fields still downhill.
The fenced off bridleway is part of a dry chalk valley and feels lonely and cut off from the outside world; the sheep in the field to the left usually approach you to voice their dissatisfaction and make you feel like an unwelcomed visitor.
At the bottom the bridleway enters a wood. Follow the main track as it turns left & climbs steeply through the wood to Hughenden Manor. On reaching the top go straight on following the road between the walls and past the Manor to your RHS (at 2 miles).
Hughenden Manor is a gothic Georgian mansion and was the country home of Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881). The manor however dates much further back as it is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Hutchenden. It has also been called Hitchenden, from Celtic meaning "dried up stream".
D'Israeli was born in 1804 into a wealthy Jewish family in London. During part of his childhood the family home was Bradenham House, just a few miles from Hughenden. His father Isaac had many disputes with his Synagogue, and as a result had all the children baptised into the Church of England and the apostrophe in the name was dropped. This was to prove advantageous in later life as it allowed Disraeli to enter Parliament at a time when Jews could not. In 1839 he married Mary Anne Lewis, twelve years his senior and widow of colleague Wyndham Lewis. His stature in Parliament gradually increased and in 1848, with help of a loan of 35,000 pounds bought Hughenden Manor. This was to be their country home for the rest of their lives. In 1862 they employed architect Edward Buckton Lamb (aka E B Lamb) to remodel the house, the result being the gothic features we see today. The colourful formal gardens were created by Mary Anne Disraeli. She is also responsible for the obelisk on the adjacent hill, as a memorial to her father-in-law, Isaac. The couple planted a German Forest in the grounds, inspired by the Black Forest of South Germany.
Disraeli was educated at Winchester College and then entered the legal profession. He didn't enjoy the job and soon withdrew. He became a successful novelist and took an interest in politics. In 1873 he became Conservative MP for Maidstone. However, during this era, to rise to party leader, it was accepted that MPs should have a stable family and be Lord of their Manor. The marriage to Mary Anne and the purchase of Hughenden Manor put these two things in place. He served three terms as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then two as Prime Minister. The first was from 27th February 1868 to 1st December 1868 and the second from 20th September 1874 to 21st April 1880. He was said to be Queen Victoria's favourite Prime Minister. One story tells of a visit by the Queen to Hughenden Manor, where Disraeli had a chair especially lowered so the Queen would not have the embarrassment of sitting at dinner with her legs swinging and feet not touching the floor.
Mary Anne Disraeli was made a peeress in her own right, and given the title of 1st Viscountess Beaconsfield by Queen Victoria. She was said to have a great whit and died on 15th December 1872 at the age of 80, although it's not sure whether her husband knew her age. She is buried at the Church of St Michael's & All Angels in the grounds of Hughenden Manor.
Disraeli entered the House of Lords as the Earl of Beaconsfield (and Viscount Hughenden) in 1876. In April 1880 Disraeli's Conservative government were defeated by the Liberals, led by Gladstone. However, in his time as prime Minister he had done more for working class people than many who had gone before him. He soon became ill and died on 19th April the following year. The nation wanted to bury him at Westminster Abbey, but respected his wishes and laid him to rest in the vault next to his wife in the little church at Hughenden. The church contains a memorial to Disraeli by Queen Victoria and it is claimed to be the only time a reigning monarch has done so for a subject.
After his death the manor passed onto his younger brother Ralph and subsequently on his death in 1898 to his son Coningsby Ralph Disraeli (died 1936). Coningsby added a new wing and modernized much of the rest.
It was known that during World War II the manor was used as a base by the Air Ministry, but what exactly went on there remained a mystery until 2004. From an appeal by the current owners the National Trust to local people who had memories of the time, it is now known the place contained around 150 intelligence personnel and was code-named "Hillside". It was used to draw up the maps used for bombing missions during the war including the "Dam Busters" raids and a planned hit on Hitler's secret bunker at Berchtesgaden. You can watch a tasteful short video of an event held in 2011 which remembers Hughenden's days during the war at YouTube. There is also a short National Trust video entitled "Secret wartime operations at National Trust Hughenden Manor revealed".
In 1949 Hughenden Manor was passed over to the National Trust who restored the colourful gardens and much of the house to as it was in Disraeli's time. Today the house and gardens are open to the public and are full of books, paintings, furniture and memorabilia to the couple.
In the little churchyard, below the house, you can see Disraeli's grave. On a warm Summer's day it is a beautiful spot to stop and picnic, look at the views and watch the cattle cool themselves down in the river. For a tasteful video of the grounds and park follow the link to YouTube.
You can read more about the history of Hughenden at British History Online. It goes back to early Norman Times and has information on owners, a mill, the places we are about to visit and much more. You can also read the entry of how Hughenden was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.
Follow the road straight on, soon over a cattle grid and then downhill towards the church. Immediately after passing the church turn left, finger-posted public footpath to Hughenden Valley. This leads across the grass to a metal gate.
Where we turn left onto the grass, you may want to take a short diversion. If you continue for an extra 100 yards, downhill, along the road. To the LHS, near the river, is a 300-year-old horse chestnut tree with a fence around it. This is the largest of its type in the UK. It "...has a girth measurement of 7.33 metres (just over 24 feet) and it's this enormous trunk which clinched its championship status. Until the Hughenden tree claimed the crown the largest known was at Whitchurch in Hampshire, it's just 13 centimetres smaller." At National Trust also see short video.
Go through the gate and follow a footpath along the bottom of the field and parallel to the Hughenden Stream, to your RHS.
Sometimes there are cattle in this field and in the past they have been a little too friendly. So, if you do see there are cattle in the field, there is an alternative to achieve the same - see below.
At the opposite side go through a gate and into a second field. Church Farm is soon passed to the right and the path enters a third field. Continue along the bottom of the third field and into a fourth. Stay straight on avoiding a path to the right leading to the main road.
Soon to the right is an isolated old tree in the middle of the field. Stay across the centre of the field keeping the tree to your RHS. At the opposite side of the field follow the path as it becomes enclosed with gardens on the right and soon a school on the left. Within a short distance the path descends some steps and comes out onto Valley Road.
Turn left for a few yards and just before the roundabout turn right to cross over Valley Road using the traffic island. Continue left along the road for just a few yards then turn right into Boss Lane (at 3 miles).
As I said above, if you are worried about going through a field of cattle, it is possible to achieve the same as above by following the road straight past the church, over the stream and out of the main gate. Then turn left along the pavement to the village of Hughenden Valley. However, this alternative route is much less scenic than the route along the stream.
The Hughenden Stream is a Chiltern chalk stream. The chalk acts like a sponge and can soak up water. During wet periods the water table within the chalk rises and the head of the stream moves up the valley. However, during periods of drought the water table lowers and remains under ground level until further down the valley, thus moving the head of the river further down the valley. This can mean dried up river beds for much of the year. These chalk streams have quite a unique wildlife associated with them. To watch a video on this, follow the link to "Liquid Gold : A Celebration of Chalk Streams".
Follow Boss Lane as it first turns left past some houses and then veers right and left and begins to climb.
There are good views across the fields to the left. Boss Lane House is soon passed to the right. It dates from the 17th Century and is reputed to have been used by Churchill for cabinet meetings during World War II. It was once home to Brigadier General Sir Harold Hartley (1878 - 1972), a chemical engineer, who was a director of The Times; first chairman of British Airways, and a friend of Winston Churchill. The Hartley Silver Medal is named after him and is awarded to outstanding scientists. The house next door is also of note and has a beautifully decorated old wooden shed (once possibly a gypsy caravan) in its gardens,
Immediately past the two old houses the lane turns right and continues to climb. After 50 yards a driveway to the left leads to a large house and on the right is a farmhouse.
Continue straight on along the enclosed bridleway, signed restricted byway. The path steepens and climbs for almost half a mile. At the top go straight on along a lane (Pipers Lane) past Piper's Corner School.
According to the Woodland Trust, "Boss Lane and is an ancient sunken lane lined with high earth banks and mature trees". Why it is classified as a restricted byway, I'm not sure, it maybe for historical reasons. However, this video at YouTube might give a reason. I'm glad I wasn't walking up whilst this was being recorded.
460 yards past the school's main entrance and just before the lane bends around to the right, turn left onto a narrow, enclosed path with fields to the left and garden fences to the right (at 4 miles).
Immediately after leaving Pipers Lane, turn left through a metal kissing gate. Go straight across the left edge of a field. At the other edge go through a gate into a second field. Then straight across the field and downhill. After another 200 yards stay straight on past a copse to your LHS and out through a metal kissing gate onto a road (Hatches Lane).
In July 2018, after much research, I decided to change the route from Pipers Lane to Little Missenden as I was never happy with the original route from Great Kingshill to Little Missenden as it took in a section along a busy road with no pavement. The change adds about 1.3 miles, but it removes the road, takes in lovely wooded walks, has some great views, adds a good pub and a very interesting farm.
right along Hatches Lane. After just 65 yards, turn very sharp left onto a
driveway. The public right of way is along the drive as far as the gates to the
private property. At this point follow the path to the left and into the woods
The path through the woods is a mile long. We actually pass through three adjoining woods, Hatches Wood, Mans Leg Wood and Longfield Wood. They are all privately owned and the route is popular with published walks in this area. The woods are mainly beech trees, as for centuries these were used in the local furniture industry.
Follow the main path through the wood (there will be a tall fence to your RHS for a while). At a junction of paths stay right along the main path. After a mile got through a metal kissing-gate. next to a wooden gate, to exit wood onto a lane (Perks Lane).
Turn left along Perks Lane (at 5.5 miles) and follow it downhill for 140 yards. Where the lane turns sharp left, turn right through a metal kissing-gate follow the path diagonally uphill.
The climb starts as soon as you leave the road and even before the metal kissing. It does get steeper going through the field, but the views behind do make it all worthwhile.
At the top turn right through a kissing gate. The veer left along the LHS of a paddock and soon out into the gravel car park of The Polecat Inn.
Follow the path across car park to a road (A4128 Wycombe Road). Turn right to just past the pub.
The Polecat Inn is 17th century and was originally a hunting lodge. The inn has won awards including the 2015 Chiltern Society Walkers' and 2017 Cyclists' Pub Award for the Central Chilterns. It was also voted in the top 25 foodie pubs in the Times newspaper.
Prestwood takes its name from "Priest's Wood". Centuries ago most of the area was covered in woods of oak, beech and ash. The wood was used in the furniture industry. This particular area was famous for its cherry orchards which attracted many Londoners here in the 19th century to see the spring blossom. Most of the trees has been cleared over the years to make way for farmland and housing. The nearest train station is just over a mile away at Great Missenden.
In 2012 the village got its own micro-brewery. Malt The Brewery brews real ales and craft beers and is based just half a mile north along Wycombe Road at Collings Hanger Farm. You can sample some of these local ales in the Polecat.
At the 2nd entrance to the car park, turn left and cross over the road onto a finger-posted footpath disappearing into a hedge. Follow this footpath for 250 yards, then turn right onto a bridleway along the RHS of a wood (Peterley Wood).
According to the Prestwood entry at Wikipedia, during World War II a prisoner of war camp was established in Peterley Wood. However, I can not find any other mention of this.
After 250 yards the bridleway leads to a road (Peterley Lane), cross straight over and onto a footpath into another wood (Crook’s Wood). After 70 yards, at a junction of paths, turn left and exit the wood through a gate.
Go straight on along a grass path between market gardens. After 390 yards the path leads to a wooden gate. Go through the gate and turn right, signed public bridleway, and along the driveway of Peterley Manor Farm.
Peterley Manor Farm is mainly market gardening and Christmas trees. It has a farm shop, cafe, pick your own, a nursery and some exotic animals. The shop sells seasonal produce from the farm plus more from other local suppliers. There are also a number of events organised throughout the year.
The bridleway through the farm is named Peterley Avenue and runs in a straight line for half a mile. We follow it for half that distance.
After 420 yards and at the end of market gardening to your RHS, turn left on a path through trees and into a field. Once in the field turn half right on a footpath diagonally across the field with a fence and paddocks to your LHS.
In the paddocks to your LHS look out for some strange looking animals - alpacas. According to Peterley Farm, they are popular with children.
At the far corner of the field (at 7 miles), the path goes on between a fence and a hedgerow to a gate, then along a short drive leading to a road. Turn left along the pavement (Heath End Road).
After 110 yards turn left into Hare Lane.
On the corner, up until recently, sat is the Prince of Wales pub. Now closed, demolished and replaced by two houses. It is incredible how many pubs have closed around this long-distance walk since I first started to develop the walk in 1994.
After 160 yards, opposite The Full Moon pub and just before Grange Cottages, turn right onto a narrow path signed, "South Bucks Way".
To the left at this point is the cosy and inviting The Full Moon Public House and Restaurant. The pub dates from 1830 and is popular with walkers, so if you are thirsty and hungry it may be well worth a visit.
We are now in the village of Little Kingshill and have just joined another long distance path, the South Bucks Way. This is 23 miles long and runs from Coombe Hill on the Ridgeway near Wendover to Denham Lock on the Grand Union Canal. From here we follow the South Bucks Way for 4.8 miles to the finish of this stage, near the market hall at Old Amersham. It is waymarked all the way. Although, we do divert from the South Bucks Way for about 0.4 miles to take in the pretty village of Little Missenden.
You can read about the history of Little Kingshill and more at the Little Kingshill Village Society.
The footpath comes out onto a playing field. Follows it along the right-hand edge to a road (Windsor Road). Turn left along the pavement.
Immediately opposite the recreation ground is the Kingshill Baptist Church, and just past this, through a gate to our right is Ashwell Court. It was completed in 1906 and was built to resemble a 15th century French manor house. It is privately owned, Grade II listed, has many interesting features and much of the building and contents are said to have been exported here from France.
It's also here where we join another long distance path originally called "The Mandela Way" and now renamed "The Gerald Colton Way" after its founder who was also a founding member of the Hampstead Ramblers. This starts at the statue of Nelson Mandela at the south-west corner of the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank of the River Thames and extends for 66 miles to the Boer War monument on Coombe Hill at Wendover in the Chilterns. It accompanies us most of the way to Amersham Cricket Club and rejoins us from Amersham Church to the Martyr's Memorial.
Follow the road straight on through Little Kingshill for 0.6 miles to where it begins to turn left (at 8 miles). Turn right to cross over and go past a metal gate, signed "South Bucks Way", onto a track between a tall garden fence and trees, then between trees. After 200 yards the track leads to a large field. Go straight on across the field on a well-defined path. Note: The path is not around the edge of the field, it is across the centre towards a large electricity pylon in the distance.
This area (for some reason unknown to me) is called Little Boys Heath. The rooftops visible below in the distance are those of Little Missenden village. The path to Little Missenden shows some of the Chilterns at their best, with the huge fields, rolling hills and views going off for miles.
Going around the field is a bridleway, and on a few occasions, I have been here, horses are being ridden along it.
The path leads directly across the centre of the field to the other side, then through a gap in the hedge, into a second field and straight on across it. There is a large electricity pylon to the left. After passing the pylon follow the path (wide track) straight on, now with the hedgerow adjacent on the left. At the bottom corner of the field turn right. After 100 yards turn left through a wide opening and into another field. Stay left to follow the track along the left-hand edge of the field.
At the other end, the track exits the field onto a narrow road. Turn left along the road (Penfold Lane), signed South Bucks Way, and after just a few yards follow it, as it turns right.
After another 250 yards turn left into Little Missenden (DO NOT follow the South Bucks Way into the field).
For some reason at the left turn into the village, the South Bucks Way continues straight on over a stile and bypasses Little Missenden. The Green Belt Way route diverts left to follows Beamond End Lane past some old houses and into the centre of the village.
The lane passes some old cottages and after 170 yards reaches a T-junction in the middle of the village.
At the T-junction turn left, for just 70 yards. Cross over, to the church and turn right along the opposite pavement and back into Little Missenden. Follow the road as it veers left past the Manor House, then stay right, past Taylors Lane to your left.
The last instruction above is a slight diversion to visit Little Missenden Church and it's well worth it as you'll see below.
There is much to see here and many years ago the main London to Aylesbury road ran through the centre of the village. A bypass to the north (A413) now keeps most of the traffic away.
dating from the 16th century. It has been used for scenes in Midsomer
Murders, Agatha Christie's
Poirot and Miss Marple .
The Parish Church of St John the Baptist is Grade 1 Listed. The nave is Anglo-Saxon, dates from 975AD and has Norman arched windows pierced into the walls. There are Roman bricks used in the pillars and the Norman Font sits on the upturned capital of a Roman column. The church has 13th Century wall paintings which were discovered in 1931. They include a famous one of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child across the water. Another is of the Crucifixion and there are cartoons illustrating the life of St Catherine. There have been many additions to the church during the last 1,000 years including the 15th Century tower and a gatepost to the memory of the Dunkirk evacuation (1940). You can read the full history of the church with lots of photos and videos on the church website. Also, see British History Online.
The village has the ten day Little Missenden Music & Arts Festival in October each year and in 2009 celebrated its 50th year. Most of the events take place in the church and the village hall.
Little Missenden's most famous son is probably Herbert Austin, 1st Baron Austin (1866 - 1941) the famous car designer. He was the son of a farm worker and born in 1866 at Grange Farm in Deep Mill Lane, but moved away with his family before he was four years old.
The village is well preserved and there are many buildings of note. For such a small place it is hard to believe that 60 of the buildings are listed as being of historical importance. The name Missenden is Anglo-Saxon in origin and means "a valley where marsh plants grow". It is built next to the River Misbourne which flows parallel to the road but to the left behind the church and buildings on Abbott Road.
The sheer beauty and peacefulness of this small village attracts television and film directors to be drawn here. It has been used many times as settings for episodes of "Midsomer Murders". Follow the link and go to locations and you will find more.
the T-junction and on the left, immediately after Taylors Lane, a highly
of an old man points the way. Within a few yards the inviting 15th
pub and adjacent village store are to the left. The pub has a pleasant beer
garden to the rear with the river flowing through it. Just past this is the tiny
village green with some old cottages set back from the road. After another 100
yards set back in private gardens on the left is the red-brick
built in 1728. It was used as Dibley Manor in TV series
The Vicar of Didley.
On the right a few yards past Missenden House the South Bucks Way exits a field to rejoin the road and our route.
Continue along Abbott Road (or Highmore Cottages on some maps) and through the village past the Red Lion Pub, Missenden House and after a few hundred yards past The Crown Inn - all to the left. Within a short distance, and where the road begins to bends left, cross over to the right onto a gravel track signed South Bucks Way.
The Crown Inn has an interesting history. In 1742 there were two cottages here. One was known as an alehouse and around 1800 became The Crown public house. Since 1923 it has been run by the same family and has sporting connections to speedway and professional football. To read a longer history visit The Crown website.
The track goes straight on with the River Misbourne flowing parallel at a short distance through the meadows to the left. Follow the track for 0.85 miles. Firstly, past a lane off to your left and then past a crossing track. Our track soon opens out into what is obviously parkland with mature trees scattered here and there. This is the park of the Shardeloes Estate and was laid out by Humphry Repton in 1793.
When the main track turns right to go uphill, veer left onto a path across the fields and through a wooden gate (at 10.7 miles). Then eventually adjacent to a small lake formed by the damming of the river. On the hill to the right is the imposing Shardeloes House looking out across the valley below.
Overall, the route through the Shardeloes Estate is fairly easy to follow and all traffic free on tracks and paths - there are some signs indicating South Bucks Way. The river, and finally the lake are always to the left. "The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" website has a leaflet with map and route description of the walk through here, but going in the opposite direction to us.
The River Misbourne is one of many chalk streams flowing through the Chiltern Hills. They are fed by ground water held in the chalk and can often dry up (or disappear underground) during long dry spells. On the Chiltern Photo Group website you can see a pictorial guide of the river from start to finish.
The present Shardeloes House was commissioned by William Drake MP and originally designed by Stiff Leadbetter. With Leadbetter's consent Drake got Robert Adam to improve the plans and the house was finished in 1766. The smaller, lower house was also one of Adam's works.
Shardeloes was the ancestral home of the Drake (and Tyrwhitt Drake) family and their ancestors from 1593 - 1957. William Tothill and his wife Catherine (daughter of Sir John Denham) bought the old Elizabethan manor house at Shardeloes in the late 16th Century. They had three daughters and entertained Queen Elizabeth I here. Their oldest daughter and heiress Joan married Francis Drake of Esher. After she inherited the house it passed down through their family for over 360 years. They Drakes became Lords of the Manor at Amersham in 1665 when William Drake purchased the lands from the Earl of Bedford. In the mid-18th Century, through marriage, they family inherited the properties of Sir John Tyrwhitt and changed name to Tyrwhitt Drake.
Amersham was one of the so called "Rotten Boroughs" having a small electorate but still sending two Members to Parliament. From the mid-17th Century until the Reform Bill of 1832 the vast majority of the Members came from the family.
The Drakes were
responsible for the construction of many of the buildings in the Old Town which
still survive today. Some of the younger sons also served as rectors at St Mary's
"During World War II the house served as a maternity hospital for Londoners to come to the countryside and have their children, over 5000 children were born here - Tim Rice, English lyricist and author was one of them. According to Amersham Museum:
History has it
that a curse befell the family, stopping any direct heir from inheriting the
family wealth. The curse was placed by the family of a boy murdered at sea
whilst in the Drake family employ. It was said in order to break this curse a
member of the family should spend a certain length of time living in a tunnel
underneath the lake. One did, but gave up, and when he came out was declared
insane. Myth has it, if the lake at Shardeloes dries up, then England will fall
- though possibly a little out of date nowadays. The
Tyrwhitt Drake's are still Lords of the Manor but
no longer live here. They were forced to sell most of their property in the late
1920s and early 1930s to pay high death duties.
"Both the then Queen Elizabeth and the Princess Royal visited the hospital to celebrate landmark births; the Queen on 26th June 1943 for the 2,000th baby and the Princess on 9th September 1944 for the 3000th. Shardeloes had the lowest mortality rate in the country, 1.676 per 1,000. Every mother in labour had a general anaesthetic which was not common practice elsewhere.
In 1945, Mrs. Tyrwhitt-Drake was presented with a Wendy House as a token of gratitude from the 3,900 babies who had already been born in her home. The family never moved back there and the hospital continued to support the local community, eventually closing in 1948 raising the number of births to over 5,000 ..."
The Amersham Museum website has been researched so well and there are many wonderful stores about those born here and those who made it possible.
After the war the house was empty and neglected. In 1953 it was bought by a property company who hoped to knock it down and redevelop the site. However, a preservation order was placed on the building and in the 1970s the original house was redeveloped into flats. The building is protected as it is Grade 1 listed.
In more present times there is a threat to this area from the proposed new railway, High Speed 2, or HS2. At the time of writing this, May 2020, the proposed route goes south of Old Amersham, then directly through Shardeloes Lake. Let's see what happens. The irony about this is the previous owners of Shardeloes, the Tyrwhitt Drake's, because of their status, did not want a train to spoil their view from the house, so they stopped the planned railway through Old Amersham and along the Misbourne Valley. The railway did eventually come to Amersham in 1892, but only along the hill to the north of the old town and away from their view.
As the route passes the lake, the path goes through a kissing gate and for a short distance becomes enclosed, then goes through another kissing gate to come out onto the grounds of Amersham Cricket Club. The club has two pitches with the clubhouse between them. Turn left to follow the hedgerow around the edge of the cricket ground to join the drive leading away from the clubhouse.
On exiting the cricket grounds turn left along the road and out of the Shardeloes Estate. As the road turns left go straight on onto a narrow path between trees. Follow the path to the River Misbourne and through a low tunnel, under the bypass road. Once through the tunnel follow the path to the right and up next to the bypass for 120 yards, then gradually left through trees and away from the bypass.
The path comes out between bollards, with the Old Amersham Road to your LHS. Go straight on between more bollards, staying on the right-hand side when the path meets the road. Follow the road straight on into Old Amersham.
The old town of
dates back to before Saxon Times. The High Street is lined with many
half-timbered buildings, period cottages and coaching inns. In the
(so much information at the link) there are relics of tools used by people here
almost 4,000 years ago. Evidence of tribes hunting in these hills from 4000 BC
has also been discovered. Remains of Roman settlements have been found in the
Chilterns, including one at the entrance to Shardeloes but this is now covered
up by the road.
The Saxon name for Amersham was "Egmondesham" or "Agmodesham". The name Egmondesham meaning "the homestead of a man named Egmonde". In the Domesday Book of 1080 it is recorded as "Elmondesham" when it was listed as having 6 manors and held by Geoffrey de Mandeville, a knight of William the Conqueror. The manor previously belonged to Queen Edith of Wessex, wife of Edward the Confessor and sister of King Harold, until her death in 1075.
According to Amersham Museum:
"AMERSHAM is thought to date from 792 AD. In the Domesday Survey about 300 years later (1086) the name is recorded as ELMODESHAM after EALHMUND thought to be the father of EGBERT the 1st King of all England. At that time the Chiltern Hills were dense forest and an easy hiding place for robbers and bandits. The frightening state of lawlessness in the hills was the origin of the old Chiltern saying: 'If you beat a bush, it's odds you'll start a thief'."
Old Amersham has changed very little in the last few hundred years. The town gained its importance as a stopping point for coaches coming from and going to London. Along the wide High Street many coaching arches are still visible and most of the old inns still survive in one form or another. The Crown Inn is a 16th Century, The Kings Arms is a 14th Century coaching inn and has recently been refurbished. Both were used in making the 1990s hit movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" with the later as "The Jolly Boatman" in the film. Many movies and TV programmes have been filmed in the town. The list is very long and used to be available on the Amersham Website (if you find a link, please let me know). The Saracen's Head Inn dates from the 16th Century, and according to its website is haunted by two ghosts, "one is alleged to be a young serving wench from the 17th Century, the other one remains a mystery", The Elephant & Castle is 17th Century with stories of a ghost of a lady dressed in black, and thought to be gay as she is blamed for pinching barmaids' bottoms. Other pubs still trading along the High Street include The Eagle, (19th Century, but maybe earlier) and The Swan (1671). As for the others along the High Street: The White Heart Inn closed in 1700 and is now homes; The Red Lion (17th C) is now Su Chases Interiors; and The George Inn is now a private house up to recently a lingerie shop.
The Griffin was a 17th Century inn, but has been converted to a restaurant. According to Amersham Museum the old inn has a royal ghostly connection.
"A coachman based at the Griffin was chosen to drive the King (possibly George IV). On the anniversary of this the coachman would get extremely drunk on his coach and sit in the yard blowing a coaching horn. When he retired the Inn took the horn away but continued allowing him to get drunk. It is said that on the anniversary of driving the King he can still be heard blowing the horn in the courtyard of the Griffin.."
There are many stories associated with Amersham, especially at some of the old pubs. However, one story does pop up a few times and it's worth a mention. Below is the version from the www.amersham.org.uk website.
"The Crown has another royal connection. One day the landlord was sitting in a chair outside the Crown, enjoying the sunshine. As he basked, horses, carts and carriages made their way past on all kind of business. In those far off days of the 18th Century, Amersham was a sleepy market town where excitement of any kind was rare. A yellow post chaise pulled by two well groomed horses drew up outside the Crown. A kindly looking benevolent old gentleman with a very red face attired in hunting costume called out to the Landlord and asked in an abrupt manner if he could provide him with a carriage to Windsor. While the Crown's resident driver, Tom King harnessed the Crown's horses to their carriage, the gentleman took a drink in the tap room seated comfortably in a comer. Money changed hands, and the red faced old gentleman shook the Landlord's hand in thanks. It was only later that Tom King and the Landlord realized the gruff old gentleman had been no other than King George III. The regulars at the Crown never heard the last of this tale! For years they kept the anniversary, sometimes rather too well, remembering how the King himself had made an unexpected visit to an otherwise obscure part of his kingdom."
Amersham's main reason for retaining its old identity is thanks to another means of transport. The railway reached Amersham in 1892, but this was much later than other towns outside London. The delay was caused by complaints from local landowners who did not want it to pass over their land. When it eventually came it didn't stop at the Old Town but on the hill above it. The Drakes as Lords of the Manor would not allow the view, from their house at Shardeloes to the Missenden Valley below, be spoilt by the steam from trains travelling along next to the river. It meant Amersham Station was about a mile from the town and as a consequence another town (Amersham on the Hill) grew up around the station as a commuter town for London. Hence, what is now called Old Amersham stopped developing and retained its character. Today Amersham on the Hill is the last stop on the Metropolitan Line.
A 1973 BBC documentary, beautifully written and narrated by Sir John Betjeman and entitled "Metro-land", tells the story of the expansion of the Metropolitan Line and how the urban sprawl grew up along the corridor of the line. You can watch it at this LINK - it's a great programme and so relevant to this green belt project..
At the end of the High Street is the Market Hall built by Sir William Drake in 1682 and given to the town. It protrudes out across the road and is truly the centre-piece of the place.
Amersham market goes back to 1200 when King John granted Geoffrey, Earl of Essex a charter to hold a market on Fridays and an annual fair on 7th & 8th September. In 1619 the market was changed to a Tuesday and the fair to 19th September. The Market Hall has open arches on the ground floor and it was here stalls were set up. Within one of these is the town lock-up where many residents have spent a sobering and cold night. Above the door of the lock-up is an inscription saying "Commit No Nuisance". On the wall is an old lead pump dated 1785 and a Domesday plaque. The upper floor of the hall was used for trade guild meeting and is still used for functions today.
On the left immediately after the Market Hall is Church Street, with the tower of St Mary's Church dominating the view from Market Square. Further along Church Street past the church are some old buildings including Badminton Court and The Maltings, both once part of Weller Brewery. They now contain offices, industrial units and craft shops. The brewery was in business from 1783 to 1929, was the main employer in the town and supplied most of the pubs in the local area.
On approaching the market hall cross over to the LHS of the High Street. Turn right to continue past the market hall and stay straight on to cross over Church Street, to your LHS.
The buildings to the left, after passing Church Street, on the north side of Market Square date from the 15th Century and are called Church House. Near their far end an old doorway is dated 1624 and has an arch above it inscribed "Grammar School". This was the entrance to the original Dr. Challoner's School. Robert Chaloner was Rector of St. Mary's from 1576 to 1584. He was then appointed Cannon of Windsor, a post he held until his death in 1621. In his last will and testament, he left money and instructions to establish a free grammar school in Amersham. This was founded in 1624 on the first floor at Church House. The school continued here for almost three centuries until 1905. At this time the local council moved the school to Amersham on the Hill. It became co-educational, with both boys and girls. In the early 1960s with population growth, a new girl's school was opened at Little Chalfont. Today the boy's school has over 1,200 pupils and the girl's over 1,000. The school's most famous past pupil is probably actor Roger Moore.
Church House is believed to have been built in the 15th Century by a group of tradesmen called "the Fraternity of St. Katherine". It was aimed at supporting people who had fallen on bad times and had a priest to pray for them. The Fraternity was dissolved in 1552, during the Reformation, but the house continued to be used by the local community. The building was originally open on the ground floor, but over the years was walled off to provide a school master's house, accommodation and now is occupied by shops.
There are lots of videos of Amersham on the Internet, but before leaving the centre of the old town I'll share one with you from YouTube entitled Amersham in Old Photos.
Immediately after Church House there is an opening with some benches to the left and next to a small roundabout. This is the end of the stage.
To start the next stage, we'll be turning left through St Marys Churchyard and then climbing up steeply to and past the Martyrs Memorial. To read ahead see Stage 6 of our walk.
Copywrite @ Sean.Davis 1995 - 2021. All rights reserved