IT’S BEEN a month of meeting new friends and embarking on fresh adventures, despite the restrictions of a second national lockdown.
Competition solving can be thirsty work – so we were delighted to be able to offer a tasty tipple as our first ever picture quiz prize.
The quiz has been running for over a year now but our friends Kate and Ben Marston at Puddingstone Distillery near Tring kindly stepped in to make the contest a little more enticing by offering a 10cl bottle of artisan gin worth £10 to the winner of our November quiz.
The story behind the success of the couple’s small Hertfordshire distillery was the subject of a feature on our Rearing & Growing page, where we would like to feature more stories about local growers, smallholders, farm shops and food producers in the future.
Previous articles included an item on Cornish forager Rachel Lambert, while Olivia’s hunt for rosehips and subsequent rosehip syrup recipe featured in another post.
Roaming a little further afield, we were delighted to be able to write about Adam McCulloch’s website featuring walks across Kent, although our most popular recent posts have been those focusing on local adventures, hunting down fungi in local woods and enjoying the spectacular colours of the fall.
Meanwhile guest writer Lucy Parks has continued to entertain readers with her adventures with Cypriot rescue dog Yella over in Amersham. Lucy and other members of the 50-strong Beyonder Facebook group have also been sharing pictures from their autumn rambles.
It has also been a real delight this month to expand our range of local artists featured in our Picture of the Week series.
Apart from giving us a chance to support local artists during this difficult time, it has been fascinating to find out all the different ways in which they respond to local landscapes and wildlife in their art.
Watch this space for some more treats over the next three weeks as we embark on a lockdown adventure with Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes.
In the meantime, our interest in the history under our feet was piqued by earthworks in a corner of Burnham Beeches which hark back to medieval times.
Following similar journeys into the past in search of highwaymen and the heyday of stagecoach travel, our latest trip back in time explored the story of Hartley Court, a medieval moated farmhouse buried deep in the woods.
There’s still time to enter the November competition if you fancy a sparkling G&T – and if you have any time to spare, our features archive now includes dozens of articles about some of the people and places we’ve had the honour to during the past couple of years preparing for the formal launch of the website.
THERE must be something enormously reassuring about having a centuries-old link to the land you live on.
Like those great old aristocratic English families whose estates have been passed down from father to son across the centuries, history oozing from every brick of the ancestral home.
Or hill farmers who can look back across the generations knowing every square foot of their local landscape in exactly the same way as their grandfather and great-grandfather once did.
In our fast-changing modern world, that certainty in one’s own identity must surely be comforting. But does it really matter that much?
We know identity has been a powerful theme in literature across the ages, and in a world of mass migration and climate change it will remain so in the future. But isn’t it possible for new arrivals to feel an immediate connection with their surroundings and be able to relate to their local landscape without those historical links?
Perhaps an awareness of history helps – and it’s certainly possible to soak up that sense of the past in the Chilterns countryside, however recently you have arrived…
Here, amid the rolling chalk hills and cathedral-like beech woods, the old days never seem too far away, and there’s always a strong awareness of people from the past who have walked this way before, from Iron Age families and Roman soldiers to 20th-century chair bodgers working in the woods or passengers on a steam train thundering along the old Great Central Railway.
I’m reminded of that on a wander round our “patch” – necessarily curtailed in my meandering by the requirements of the coronavirus lockdown.
Although we have only been here a few years, those links with the past make us feel a lot less like strangers.
Our parish magazine recalls how early hunter-gatherers adept at curing and stretching animal skins may have used coracles on waterways like the Thames, where flint tools and Roman remains hark back to a time before the Norman invasion, when two manors became the focal points of local life.
A short wander along part of the Berkshire Loop of the Chiltern Way gives you glimpses of churches which have been holy places for a thousand years or more, of picturesque cottages in brick and flint, of deserted lanes where the sound of birdsong echoes above the cow parsley and wild garlic.
Sauntering down the Church Path footpath towards St Nicholas’ church at Hedsor on a fine spring evening, it’s not hard to imagine the Chilterns equivalent of Thomas Hardy’s Mellstock choir heading homewards with their instruments and lanterns for a celebratory pint or two.
Iron Age roundhouses and hillforts excavated in the Chilterns remind us how this part of England has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years, with more than 20 sites harking back to a more dangerous age where communities needed to keep their possessions and livestock safe from marauders.
The earthworks are virtually the only major constructions that have survived from this ancient time, although the Chiltern Open Air Museum has done its bit to recapture something of the atmosphere of life in those times.
The Romans trod these paths too, finding ways of crossing the Thames, while footpaths and bridleways often traverse routes well known as ancient droving routes along which thousands of cattle, sheep, pigs, geese and turkeys were once driven, or sunken lanes known as hollow-ways or holloways, thoroughfares worn into the landscape by cartwheels, hooves and feet across the centuries.
It’s a landscape of coaching inns and highwaymen tales and of ancient woodlands which supplied vast quantities of charcoal before canals allowed easier access to coal from the Midlands – and later allowed the furniture industry to flourish.
The carefully managed beech woods supplied excellent raw materials for chair-making for the rapidly-expanding industrial population of London and small workshops flourished in the villages around High Wycombe, with the Chiltern “bodgers” toiling in the woods to produce the millions of chair legs needed.
The bodgers and paper mills may be long gone, but the past is still very much alive in the landscape, with woodland still making up around a fifth of the AONB landscape, making it one of the most heavily wooded areas in England.
The influence of the industrial past is hard to ignore, from brick-making to chalk and gravel extraction, but in the depths of a bluebell wood it feels easier to relate to those varied individuals who walked these paths across the years, savouring the same ancient woodlands, downlands and commons.
London may not be far away – and of course the proximity of the capital contributed to the establishment of those small furniture factories, paper mills, orchards and watercress beds, as well as fuelling an influx of day trippers once the railways and Tube stations began to open.
So is it a problem not to have centuries of family tradition to fall back on to help appreciate this ancient landscape? Hopefully not. Like countless other newcomers, it’s been easy for us to fall in love with the Chilterns.
That’s as much to do with marvellous neighbours as the sweeping views, leafy lanes and wonderful wildlife, but it makes for a winning combination.
So thank you, all the locals, businesses and new friends who have made it so easy to love your “area of outstanding natural beauty” (and it is): there’s no place like home, they say, and this place certainly feels like home…from those sweeping views over the Vale of Oxford to the timeless paths meandering through the beech woods or the stolen glimpse of a tawny owl in the treetops.
FROM stately homes to steam railways and spooky caves, from wildlife sanctuaries to woodland walks, The Beyonder’s What’s On pages have been updated to include more than 50 of the Chilterns’ top attractions.
The at-a-glance array of picture buttons offers ideas for days out that range from free museums and rural rambles to palaces and zoos across four counties.
The buttons link directly to the websites and Facebook pages run by various organisations from the National Trust to town museums.
Attractions for animal lovers range from the Living Rainforest or Beale Park in Berkshire to Whipsnade Zoo and Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire.
If rescued hedgehogs are of more interest than lions and tigers, there’s always the Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hsopital in Haddenham, and youngsters wanting to get up close and personal with lambs and baby goats can visit Odds Farm or even foxes and ferrets at the Green Dragon Eco Farm.
History lovers aren’t forgotten, either – from stately homes like those at Stonor Park, Waddesdon or Hughenden, not to mention the majestic delights of Blenheim Palace or Hampton Court.
Museums include those in Amersham, Stevenage, St Albans, Tring and High Wycombe, while those preferring a steam trip can venture out to Chinnor or the Bucks Railway Centre at Quainton Road.
If youngsters need to escape from their smartphones and get the wind in their hair, they can always connect with nature at one of the country parks scattered across the region – or blow away the cobwebs with a walk in Wendover Woods, Penn or Burnham Beeches.
For something that little bit different, there’s always the model village at Bekonscot in Beaconsfield, the gloriumptious Roald Dahl museum at Great Missenden, the mysterious Hellfire Caves at West Wycombe or the exotic attractions of Kew Gardens.
Or what about stepping back in time at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, finding out more about science at the Look Out Discovery Centre or discovering more about the lives of writers like John Milton or CS Lewis by visiting their homes in Chalfont St Giles and Headington, Oxford.
Many of the websites featured offer a regular programme of special one-off events, displays and attractions too, so there’s always more to discover – with further buttons linking to the National Trust, English Heritage, Wildlife Trusts, Chiltern Society and National Garden Scheme for more ideas about places to visit and things to do.
With a host of additional events listed in the monthly What’s On pages too, there’s something for everyone who loves the great outdoors. For more information, click on What’s On whenever you need a little inspiration about how to make the most of your free time.
The website has also launched a “Where to go” section on its Further afield pages, which in the past have featured attractions which might involve Chilterns readers driving just a little further afield, to London, Surrey and Sussex.
The first half-dozen attractions listed include Winston Churchill’s family home at Chartwell, nearby Hever Castle in Kent which was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and the steam railway centre at Didcot, much loved by railway enthusiasts.
Feeling left out? If we have inadvertently missed an attraction out of our listings, get in touch.
Guest writer Dr Wendy Morrison, project manager of Beacons of the Past, explains how local people can help uncover the secrets of our ancient Chilterns landscape
THE Chiltern Hills have been a focal point for people for thousands of years.
Any walk or ride through the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty will take you past sites and monuments that stretch across huge spans of time and yet have survived the ravages of millennia and subsequent human activity.
In between Ice Ages, the region was sporadically occupied by people in search of game to eat and flint for making tools. These ancient artefacts are found all over the Chilterns, left by hunter-gatherers from 150,000 years ago up until the last of the Ice Ages (c. 11,000 years ago).
The warming landscape was filled with herds of deer and horse which were the main diet for the Mesolithic (9000-4500BC) people. The chalk streams and valleys were the perfect place for these nomadic groups.
The first substantial human alterations to the Chilterns begin in the Neolithic (4500-2200 BC) when farming technology begins to be practiced. Although the homes people lived in have long disappeared, we can see traces of what they were up to at places like Waulud’s Bank, a monumental enclosure in Marsh Farm, Luton.
We also know some of the places they buried their dead, in long barrows at Halton, Gerrards Cross, and Whiteleaf Hill. Some of the trackways they used to get around the landscape are still in use today!
The introduction of metals in the Bronze Age (2200-800 BC) to the Chilterns opened up a lot of possibilities to the people living here.
We can see the field systems that outline their agricultural activities at Pitstone Hill as well as their cemeteries – collections of barrow mounds – at Dunstable Downs and at Ivinghoe Beacon, where the Chilterns’ earliest hillfort was built around 1100 BC and where an incredible bronze sword was found.
The enigmatic earthworks collectively known as Grim’s Ditch are seen at various points across the AONB but can best be visited along the Ridgeway National Trail between Nuffield and Mongewell. Although little is known about these features, this particular section of Grim’s Ditch has been dated to the Iron Age.
BRAVE NEW WORLD: an Iron Age farmstead recreated at the Chiltern Open Air Museum
The period we call the Iron Age ushered in the ability to increase production of grain on the Chiltern fields. Iron tools meant that more difficult soils could be tilled, surplus crops could be grown, and the resulting prosperity mean that some people could show off their wealth and power through the construction of enormous earthworks.
Some of our Chiltern hillforts were certainly these kinds of expressions of power. Some, however, may have had more humble functions, such as places of refuge during conflict or enclosures for livestock.
In the Chilterns we have at least 20 hillforts, varied and unique, and with stunning views. Visit Pulpit Hill, Cholesbury Camp, Church Hill, or Medmenham Camp to take in a sample of these ancient monuments.
PULPIT HILL: the Iron Age enclosure PICTURE: National Trust / Hugh Mothersole
The Chilterns are steeped in prehistoric remains, and a new LiDAR survey of the entire area is revealing hundreds of new features.
Beacons of the Past – a National Lottery funded project to discover more about the Chilterns Iron Age hillforts – flew a bespoke LiDAR survey of the Chilterns earlier in the year, the first of its kind in this area and the largest high-resolution archaeological survey ever flown in the UK.
RAMPARTS: traces of the past at Pulpit Hill PICTURE: National Trust / Hugh Mothersole
Encompassing 1400 km2, the survey is revealing hundreds of new archaeological sites across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire.
The project team are asking for the public’s contribution to view and interpret the results of the data gathered by the LiDAR visualisations; in many cases these will be people who may have spent decades exploring the Chilterns landscape or those who live in it, and who will bring a unique perspective to the project.
The team will offer comprehensive training and tutorials to teach LiDAR interpretative skills, allowing users to decipher the results of the data and enter the findings on an online portal at chilternsbeacons.org.
This will enable anyone in the world to discover new archaeological features in the Chilterns from their computer. Encouraging people from all walks of life to engage with a resource that is usually accessible to a handful of researchers will open up the landscape for greater understanding and appreciation, and when we appreciate and understand a place, we begin to take more active roles in caring for it.
Funded by a £695,600 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and a number of partners such as the National Trust, Chiltern Society and local authorities, Beacons of the Past is providing a real focus for community and public involvement through techniques such as remote sensing and survey, practical excavation, and research, as well as a programme of events and educational activities.
Results will be used to further engage communities with their heritage, through work in schools, with youth groups, public talks and workshops. The new discoveries will be made available to the relevant Heritage Environment Record officers in the four counties and will also help heritage managers, archaeologists and policy makers to consider how they look after the Chilterns landscape.
LiDAR, standing for “Light Distance and Ranging,” also known as Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS), is a survey technique that has been used by archaeologists for nearly 20 years. It has aided in the discovery of new sites and is particularly important for its ability to show archaeology beneath tree cover.
The Chilterns Conservation Board was set up following the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000, to conserve and enhance the natural beauty and increase awareness and understanding of the Chilterns AONB. The Board, which also aims to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities, is supported by Defra and all local authorities in the area.
For further information follow @ChilternsAONB, @Hillfortian, and @edpev7 or search #Chilforts. Dr Morrison can be contacted email@example.com.
MANY visitors to London’s Central Criminal Court never see the statue of Lady Justice straddling the distinctive dome of the Old Bailey.
Yet this is the statue used to illustrate countless news reports of the great criminal trials which have taken place here across the years.
There’s been a court here since the 16th century, attached for much of its history to the adjoining Newgate prison, and it has witnessed hundreds of thousands of trials, including some of the most notorious and newsworthy.
Back in the 19th century, hangings were a public spectacle in the street outside and the condemned would be led along Dead Man’s Walk between the prison and the court to be met by riotous crowds pelting them with rotten fruit and vegetables.
Those crowds have long gone, but high on the dome above the court stands that bronze statue of Lady Justice, executed by the British sculptor F W Pomeroy, erected in 1906 and holding a sword in her right hand and the scales of justice in her left.
It’s an iconic image that harks back to her origins as Iustitia, the Roman goddess of justice introduced by Emperor Augustus and subsequently a figure which every Roman emperor wanted to be associated with.
Though formally called a goddess with her own temple and cult shrine in Rome, it appears she was viewed more as a symbolic personification rather than as an actual deity with religious significance.
Today, she gazes down on streets steeped in history, although so much of this part of London was destroyed in the war and buried by modern monstrosities that you have to look hard to find those hidden traces of the city’s past.
One such establishment is the Viaduct Tavern, a Victorian gin palace built to celebrate the opening of the Holborn Viaduct and with numerous claims over the years that its cellars incorporate old prison cells from Newgate Prison.
The Fuller’s pub is certainly in the right location for that – and it is also likely the pub stands on land which was the original site of a debtors’ prison which operated until 1853.
Across the road and down a side street and you find yourself in front of Cutlers’ Hall, home of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, one of the most ancient of the City of London livery companies.
It its first Royal Charter from Henry V in 1416 and, as was the case with the other trade guilds of the day, its function was to protect the interests of its members, to attend to their welfare, and to ensure that high standards of quality were maintained.
Their business was producing and trading in knives, swords, and other implements with a cutting edge. Over time the emphasis shifted from implements of war to cutlery and other domestic wares such as razors and scissors.
A ‘House of the Cutlers’ mentioned in 1285 is the earliest recorded regular meeting place of the Cutlers, but the current building (the fifth such hall) dates from 1888 and survived a great fire bomb raid on December 29th 1940 which left only St Paul’s Cathedral and Cutlers’ Hall standing virtually unscathed amongst the devastation.
Back up Newgate Street and in the Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden you can find a much more recent tribute to the city’s past, commemorating Christ’s Hospital School’s 350-year presence in the City of London from 1552 until 1902, when the school moved to Horsham in West Sussex.
The bronze sculpture by Andrew Brown was selected following an open competition run by The City of London Corporation.
From here, it’s but a short walk to Fleet Street and the first of many hostelries to have resonated with the exchanges of generations of journalists. The Punch Tavern is a Grade II listed refurbished 19th century gin palace once known as the Crown and Sugar Loaf.
It is said to have been renamed in the 1840s in homage to the regular drinkers from the nearby Punch magazine, a weekly magazine of humour and satire which was at its most influential at that time, when it helped to coin the term ‘cartoon’ in its modern sense as a humorous illustration.
After the 1940s, when its circulation peaked, it went into a long decline, closing in 1992. It was revived in 1996, but closed again in 2002.
Almost next door is another Fleet Street pub with a proud history, the Old Bell Tavern. Now part of the Nicholson’s chain, The Old Bell Tavern has been a licensed tavern for more than 300 years.
The claim is that it was built by Sir Christopher Wren to house his masons as they rebuilt St Bride’s Church after the Great Fire of London. Certainly it is still sought out by journalists returning for services at the church, with its centuries-old connections with the printing industry.
Down in the crypt, the church chronicles 2,000 years of its history, which began with the Romans some six centuries before the name of St Bride, daughter of an Irish prince, emerged from legend to become associated forever with the site.
By the time the Great Fire of 1666 left the church in ruins, a succession of churches had existed on the site for a millennium. It took nine years for St Bride’s to re-appear from the ashes under the direction of Christopher Wren, and for the next two centuries his unmistakeable wedding-cake steeple cast a long shadow over the rise of the British newspaper industry.
In 1940, St Bride’s fell victim once again to flames as German incendiary bombs reduced Wren’s architectural jewel to a roofless shell. This time 17 years elapsed before rebuilding was completed.
Generations of newspapermen and women have prayed here and feel a special affinity for the place. Many have been married here – while others have come to honour dead colleagues, whose pictures stand on a side altar beside flickering candles.
After exploring the long history of the “journalists’ church”, it’s probably time for another convivial Fleet Street pint, perhaps this time in The Tipperary, which can claim to be the “original” Irish pub outside Ireland.
On a site which was once an island between the River Thames and River Fleet, a dribble of which is said to still run under the pub, The Boar’s Head was built in 1605 and, being made of stone and brick rather than wood, survived the Great Fire.
In around 1700 the S G Mooney & Son Brewery chain of Dublin purchased the pub and fitted it out in traditional Irish style. It became the first outside Ireland to have bottled Guinness and later draft, and was renamed in 1918 by the printers who came back from the Great War in honour of the song “It’s a long way”.
Greene King bought the pub in the 1960s and refitted the interior to the style of Mooney’s days, recapturing the original character of the 1700s.
Emboldened by an authentic pint of Guinness, there might just be time to pop across the road and visit another venerable Fleet Street watering hole which did not fare so well in the Great Fire.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is one of a number of London pubs to have been rebuilt shortly after the fire, although there was a pub here from 1538 and the establishment is chiefly known for its literary associations and lack of natural lighting, which lends a gloomy charm to its many little side rooms, bars and passages.
Hidden down a narrow alleyway and decorated with wood panelling from at least the 19th century, the pub boasts plaques showing famous people who were regulars, and who may have ranged from Dickens and Chesterton to Samuel Johnson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Talking of Dr Johnson, there may be time to look in on the charming nearby 300-year-old townhouse where the writer and wit lived and worked in the middle of the 18th century, compiling his great Dictionary of the English Language.
Today, the hidden gem is open to the public with a collection relating to Johnson, a research library, restored interiors and a wealth of original features. But if you are pressed for time, there’s one famous local character you must look in on before saying a fond farewell to Fleet Street – Dr Johnson’s beloved cat, Hodge.
Hodge is remembered by a bronze statue unveiled in Gough Square in 1997 showing the cat sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells atop a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary.
Sculptor Jon Bickley made Hodge about shoulder height for the average adult – just about right for putting an arm around. Most of the information on Hodge comes from Boswell’s account:
I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature.
I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, “Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this” and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, “but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed”.
Well, in truth it has been under attack for years, but it’s only now that we can fully appreciate the scale of the onslaught as dozens of high-rise buildings reach completion.
When architecture critic Rowan Moore highlighted the problem back in 2014, more than 200 towers were being planned across the city, in urban and suburban locations alike.
But it’s telling that today the London Town website actually says that this part of London is “aesthetically defined by its towers” and even suggests venues where high-rise visitors might want to savour a vertigo-inducing glass of bubbly and pricey meal while taking in the view of what remains of our once glorious capital.
Moore discusses the aesthetic dangers and practical drawbacks of this race to look like Dubai, Shanghai or New York, but if you haven’t wandered round the backstreets of the City lately, you could be forgiven for thinking that every cobble, every tiny alleyway, is being transformed – mainly into offices or high-rise luxury penthouse blocks.
Much of that is driven by overseas investment – and a glance in the estate agent’s window quickly establishes that no “normal” rent-payer would find it easy to pick up a bargain around here, even in the few bijou low-rise developments which remain.
Property agents confirmed this month that overseas investors had shrugged off Brexit worries to invest nearly £7bn in London property in 2018 – ahead of Hong Kong and Paris.
The only consolation is in tiny alleys and hidden squares there are a few remnants of the old city for the wanderer to stumble upon.
The main tourist attractions like St Paul’s still provide visitors with a focal point, of course. Sadly Hitler’s sustained bombing campaign during the Blitz saw swathes of central London flattened in 1940 and 1941, leaving only blue plaques to remind us of some of the buildings which had graced the historic square mile since that other great London disaster, the Great Fire of 1666.
The Museum of London is a great place to start an exploration of London’s past – and when it moves to its new home beside Smithfield Market it should be an even more fascinating attraction.
But what remains of that historic capital, the Roman and medieval city largely hidden under our feet? There are still glimpses of London’s history down dark alleys and quaintly named closes, although it has to be said much of it is masked by traffic fumes and the detritus of modern living.
Between the high-rise blocks, London’s financial heart has become relentlessly hipster in mood and appearance, although the obsession with quality coffee is nothing new. London’s coffee houses were famed across the centuries, even if Samuel Johnson declared himself ‘a hardened and shameless tea drinker’.
But where to start after you emerge from the overheated hubbub of the Central Line in rush hour and step aside from the frantic City hordes to take your breath outstide St Paul’s?
Down on Ludgate Hill it’s reassuring to see an old Routemaster bus struggling to make any progress down towards Ludgate Circus and Fleet Street, but this throwback to the past is something of a sop to the tourists.
The vehicle itself is authentic enough, now more than 50 years old, having been originally delivered to London Transport in July 1964.
But it was withdrawn from service in the 1980s and spent time in Hampshire, Perth and Glasgow before being selected as one of a handful of buses to operate “heritage routes” through London – in this case from St Paul’s down to Trafalgar Square.
More authentic, perhaps – and a lot less well known – is a small park round the corner from St Paul’s which provides a welcome splash of green among the concrete.
Postman’s Park has an intriguing history in its own right, occupying an amalgamation of three burial grounds and taking its name from the fact that when it opened in 1880 it became a popular haunt with postal workers from the nearby General Post Office.
Efforts to resist the attention of Victorian property developers in the 1890s ensured that the park was saved for posterity and when it reopened in 1900 it incorporated an extraordinary and moving memorial to self-sacrifice, remembering ordinary “humble heroes” who had lost their lives endeavouring to save the lives of others.
Chief proponents of the scheme to remember the extraordinary actions performed by everyday men, women and children were the artist George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904) and his wife, Mary (1849 – 1938).
The Watts Memorial contains 54 memorial tablets commemorating 62 individuals. The earliest case featured is that of Sarah Smith, a pantomime artist who died in 1863 and the latest is Leigh Pitt who drowned in 2007.
A short walk from the park is a somewhat grimmer memorial on the outer wall of St Bartholomew Hospital in Smithfield paying tribute to Sir William Wallace, one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence – most famously portrayed by Mel Gibson in the film “Braveheart” – who was executed nearby on August 23, 1305.
Wallace was charged with treason, to which he responded that he could not be guilty, for he had never sworn fealty to Edward I. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to the traitor’s death, one of the most vicious punishments devised during the medieval era.
He was taken to the Tower of London where he was stripped naked and dragged behind horses to the scaffold at Smithfield. He was first hung by the neck and then cut down while still alive. He was then eviscerated and castrated, and eventually beheaded. His body was cut into four parts, and his limbs sent to the corners of Scotland as a warning to the rebellious country. His head was set on London Bridge, where it was soon joined by other Scottish rebels.
Hidden away from the main tourist thoroughfares, Wallace’s monument is a place of pilgrimage for Scottish visitors to London, while round the corner Sherlock Holmes buffs gather to see the vacant pathology block where Benedict Cumberbatch took his famed mystery plunge in the BBC series reimagining Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novels.
This part of one of Britain’s oldest hospitals is being redeveloped into a private healthcare facility. But opposite it is a reminder that this was once a rather seedy corner of medieval London where the Great Fire of London – ‘occasion’d by the sin of gluttony’ – finally stopped, as commemorated in a statue of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner.
The fire which broke out in in the early hours of Sunday, 2 September 1666 swept across London from the Thames to Smithfield, destroying thousands of houses and more than 80 churches over five days.
Initially blamed as part of a treasonous plot by Roman Catholics, the 18th-century monument credited an alternative culprit in the shame of the extravagant feasting of well-off 17th-century Londoners.
At this corner of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street also stood The Fortune of War pub, a rather unsavoury drinking den where in the early 1800s corpses provided by body snatchers used to be held in a backroom for surgeons at the nearby hospital to view and purchase.
The high-rise office blocks haven’t quite obliterated this part of London yet, although they are certainly encroaching from all sides.
Not that anyone is suggesting that the medieval brothels of Cock Lane or nearby Victorian gin palaces provided a vision of London which tourists would enjoy today.
But between the soaring office blocks there are those glimpses of a different London skyline – like the distinctive dome of the Old Bailey, where the gleaming statue of Lady Justice, erected in October 1906, has long been used to sum up anything to do with the criminal justice system.
But that, as they say, another story…
See the Further Afield section of The Beyonder for additional snippets about London’s history.
ANYONE following in the footsteps of Disraeli at the National Trust’s Hughenden Manor shouldn’t miss the chance to look in on the historic church where the former prime minister once worshipped.
Disraeli lived at Hughenden from 1848 to 1881 – and today, visitors are not just intrigued by the Victorian stateman’s county home and colourful personal history, but by the manor’s secret wartime past as a base for mapmakers.
Codenamed ‘Hillside’, Hughenden played such a critical role supporting the pilots of nearby Bomber Command that it was on Hitler’s list of top targets. Around 100 personnel were based here, drawing 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.
Skilled cartographers produced maps from aerial photographs delivered by the RAF’s reconnaissance missions – yet the operation was so secret it only came to light 60 years later after a National Trust volunteer overheard a visitor telling his grandson he’d been stationed here during the war.
But away from the cellars, one of the less obvious gems of the estate is the church of St Michael & All Angels – the “church in the park” which provides a glorious oasis of peace amid the rolling parklands so much enjoyed by ramblers and families in the summer months.
The earliest records show a church on this site in the 12th century built by Geoffrey de Clinton, but it was substantially extended and rebuilt in the 1870s. The chancel is the remaining part of the original church, and during the Victorian extension works its floor was redone with beautiful ceramic tiles, the roof altered and the walls painted.
In 1992-94 a major redecoration of the nave and chancel was undertaken and all the Victorian paintings and artwork meticulously restored.
Disraeli is commemorated in many parts of the church but the principal memorial is on the north side of the chancel, unique in that it is the only known example of a memorial erected by a reigning monarch to one of her subjects.
Various items in the church were paid for by the Hughenden Memorial Fund, in memory of the statesman, including the organ and the murals in the chancel.
A detailed history of the church can be found on the parish website and on summer Sundays and bank holidays guests can also sample a cream tea in the historic nearby church house, which in pre-reformation days was home to six monks and a prior.
There aren’t too many British pubs boasting a 2,000-word explanation on the menu of their historic origins – but then there aren’t too many hostelries as old or as atmospheric as this Forty Green favourite.
“Bring the dog, come for a walk, bring the children” says the owner in a welcome video on the pub’s website and “welcome pilgrim” is the message to those lured into the Beaconsfield countryside by the promise of good food in quintessentially English surroundings.
The pub claims to be the oldest freehouse in England, but although that’s a pretty contested title, few pubs have done as much work on researching their history as the RSOE.
Curved walls, low beams, twinkling candles and an eclectic collection of helmets, weapons and other period paraphernalia hint at the pub’s long and intriguing past and an extensive menu of crispy whitebait, huge battered fish and much-vaunted Sunday roasts draws a large regular following and a good cross-section of excellent reviews.
Like all busy and large establishments, it’s not possible to keep everyone happy and the long process of extending the historic alehouse has generated some testy comments in recent months about the surroundings looking like a building site.
But the extension is open for business now and they’ve done a pretty impressive job of recreating something of the same sense of history to be found in the other rooms.
Certainly on our visit the young staff were cheerful, chatty and helpful. On previous visits the food has been outstanding – by 8pm at night on a busy Sunday evening it wasn’t perhaps as remarkable as usual.
But of more than 1100 reviews on TripAdvisor, 83% thought the food very good or excellent, so it looks as if standards are maintained pretty well, even if prices aren’t exactly cheap, with the popular Sunday roasts costing £16.95, desserts at £6 and starters like pate, whitebait and garlic prawns ranging from £6 to £8.
Forty Green is a small hamlet surrounded by ancient beech woodlands and quiet country lanes and the pub provides the starting point for a couple of invigorating rambles of between half a mile and two miles for those wanting to work up an appetite before they eat – or work off the calories afterwards.
It was a sleepy backwater until the coming of the railway to Beaconsfield in 1906 and home to only about 20 households in the mid-19th century, mostly employed in agriculture or lace-making.
The location of the inn is no longer on a major thoroughfare, yet in the early days it was an important trade route for transporting bricks and tiles from Penn and Tylers Green down to the River Thames at Hedsor Wharf and from there by barge to London.
Cattle were moved along the drovers’ roads to markets in Beaconsfield and High Wycombe and hospitality was also given to the medieval courts on their way to deer hunts in Knotty Green and Penn.
The pub’s menus regale visitors with a history lesson about Roman Britain, Iron Age hill forts and the 1400-year-old brick and tile kiln industry in the area. Drinkers with sufficient time on their hands are invited to recall the last Viking raids, when longboats travelling up the River Thames to Hedsor Wharf.
Then it’s on to the Norman conquest, Domesday Book (1086) and droving days, when the Ship Inn, as it was then called, was a lodging house for royalty travelling to Windsor and Woodstock Palace.
From Tudor travellers to highwaymen and kings, the pub claims to have been hosting visitors and sitting at the heart of local life across the centuries…gaining its current name after Charles II’s restoration to the throne in 1663, the only inn in the country bestowed the honour of the full title, allegedly in recognition of the loyalty and support given to the Royalists by the landlord (or possibly as a reward for the king being able to meet his mistresses in rooms above the inn).
How large a pinch of salt to take with these tales is a moot point, but the 900-year-old hostelry is sufficiently atmospheric not to really grudge any exaggerations to the stories of cavaliers and roundheads, highwaymen and ghostly hauntings.
Could that drum beating the car park really be that of a 12-year-old drummer boy brutally slaughtered by the Roundhead soldiers? At the end of the day it maybe really matter too much whether Charles II actually hid in the roof or a shadowy figure disappearing through the wall is actually that of an unknown traveller crushed outside the inn by a speeding coach and four in 1788.
Immortalised in Midsomer Murders, The Theory of Everything and, perhaps most memorably in Hot Fuzz, this is a placed haunted by history, and it’s certainly not hard to imagine those figures from past centuries enjoying a cooling pint inside its hallowed walls.
For menus, prices, opening times and other information, see the pub’s website.
One minute you’re wandering past an 18th century house wondering about its former residents and the next moment a lady in period dress has popped out to fill in some of the details and answer your questions.
She is one of a small army of committed volunteers at the museum who love nothing more than bringing the past to life in a very vivid and engaging way, whether that means baking bread in the Iron Age roundhouse or taking part in a school workshop about Victorian life.
It’s the perfect place for a school visit, of course – but what can ordinary families expect to find?
It’s the perfect antidote to anyone who finds traditional museums stuffy and offputting. There are no glass cases here, just a series of lovingly rebuilt authentic buildings dotted around the spacious 45-acre woodland site close to Chalfont St Peter and Chalfont St Giles.
It was founded in 1976 to rescue historic buildings threatened with demolition and so far more than 30 buildings have been saved and rebuilt on the site, with more in store, spanning hundreds of years of local history.
These range from medieval and Tudor barns to a toll house, forge, chapel, 1940s prefab and a working Victorian farm.
On a sunny day there’s plenty of time for a leisurely stroll around each of the different buildings – and there are a range of paths laid out in the woods for those wanting to get a little more exercise.
For older visitors there are vivid reminders of the Second World War and post-war housing crisis, with a “prefab” from Amersham vividly capturing life in the late 1940s, right down to the Anderson Shelter in the garden and pictures on the mantelpiece of the family who lived in the building from 1948.
Outside, despite the July heatwave there’s a flourishing and colourful vegetable garden and a Nissen hut salvaged from Bedfordshire fitted out as an RAF pilots’ briefing room, where guests young and old can try on military uniforms and gas masks.
Atmospheric audio tapes in some of the locations add to the period feel, while in others volunteers are on hand to provide more personal detail. Easy-to-read information boards provide an at-a-glance summary of key facts, with more information on the website and in a family guide available from reception for £3.50.
We get the personal touch at Leagrave Cottages, where a volunteer is on hand to show us round the building, which started life as an 18th century barn in Bedfordshire and was converted into cottages in the 1770s.
Interviews with the Marks family who lived in one cottage from 1913 to 1928 have enabled the museum to present one cottage accurately as it would have been in the 1920s. The other side is presented as it might have been in the 18th century.
From here, we continue to wander through different periods of Chilterns history – from the atmospheric Henton Mission Room built in 1886 in Oxfordshire to an 1830s cottage from Haddenham with walls made of a special type of local earth called wychert.
We still haven’t got to the working Victorian farm – complete with a small selection of rare-breed livestock – and by the time we have chatted with volunteers about iron age baking techniques it’s too late for an ice cream at the tea room, which closes at 3pm on weekdays.
There’s still plenty to see, though – the blacksmith’s forge, the industrial buildings and the 1826 High Wycombe tollhouse from the London to Oxford road which was home to a family of five in the 1840s.
This is perhaps the museum’s greatest strength: its focus on the houses and workplaces of ordinary people that have gradually disappeared from the landscape, particularly in an area on London’s doorstep where the pressures of redevelopment are particularly great and where much of this heritage would otherwise have been lost.
The charity relies very much on the support of more than 200 volunteers (and its association of friends) and those individuals we encountered were relaxed, helpful and not at all pushy. You take a tour here at your own pace and you don’t get history forced down your throat.
You can host a party here, take part in a variety of organised workshops and experience days, or even get married, should you fancy a civil ceremony in the roundhouse, toll house or tin chapel.
But most families will doubtless just enjoy the opportunity to ramble around the extensive site at their own speed, piecing together snippets of local history and appreciating some magical insights into the ordinary lives of people living in this landscape all those centuries ago.
Full details of prices, options and a calendar of forthcoming events are available on the museum website.
THERE’S a solidity to the church at Lambourn that you might expect of a landmark that has witnessed ten centuries of history.
A stone’s throw from the busy M4 motorway between Swindon and Newbury, the village provides a welcome escape from the traffic streaming west from London and the historic Grade I listed church is a cool, peaceful oasis at the heart of the village.
Nowadays Lambourn is perhaps best known as the largest centre of racehorse training in England outside Newmarket, but centuries ago it was the market town for the sheep farmers of the western Berkshire Downs – and the church of St Michael and All Angels is known as the ‘Cathedral of the Downs’.
At least four Anglo-Saxon documents refer to the town and the church and since the association of King Alfred with this part of England is well known and Alfred was a devout Christian, it is perhaps reasonable to presume that he may have had something to do with the founding or improvement of St Michaels. The dedication of Michael the Archangel was certainly a popular one in Saxon times; the addition of All Angels came later
From the outside, the visitor’s attention is perhaps initially focused on the distinctive lych-gate.
Nowadays we tend to have forgotten the purpose of these traditional gates but the name derives from the Old English ‘lich’, meaning corpse, and they were meeting places and shelters for the party bringing a corpse for burial.
Although some had been built earlier, the 1549 Prayer Book required the priest to meet the corpse at the churchyard entrance. This encouraged the provision of lych-gates to shelter the corpse and the funeral party for that purpose.
Medieval lych-gates were made of timber and most have long since disappeared. However many new lych-gates were erected in Victorian times, sometimes as memorials to prominent local people or as war memorials.
Although the numerous ancient barrows in this area are proof of much earlier settlements, as are finds of Roman pottery in the vicinity, Norman invaders later made their presence felt and the grand nave of the church dates from the 12th century.
The first written record of a church at Lambourn dates from 1032, but it seems likely there was a Saxon church here several centuries earlier and the circular shape of the churchyard suggests that the site may have been in use in Roman times.
The current church was begun in the 12th century and the core of the building dates to about 1180 and is constructed on a cruciform plan. More information about the church’s history, transepts, chapels and stained glass windows can be found on a website run by the Friends of St Michael.
By the 13th century Lambourn had assumed some importance and a charter was granted by Henry VI to allow a market and two sheep fairs a year to be held. Around this time the Market Cross in the Market Square was erected.
Inside the church a variety of chapels provide plenty to interest the passing visitor – from the Holy Trinity Chapel built in 1502 by John Estbury, featuring a tomb chest decorated with coats of arms and a brass effigy, to the North Chapel, added in the late Elizabethan period and heavily restored in 1849, which contains a wonderful table tomb to Sir Thomas Essex and his wife Margaret.
At Sir Thomas’s head is a fiery salamander, emblem of the Essex family, while his feet rest upon a dolphin, an unusual symbol in an English church.
After exploring the historic delights of the various chapels, you don’t have to go far for more earthly sustenance. The George across the road is not perhaps the most impressive looking of village hostelries from the outside, but the Arkell’s inn is friendly and bustling inside and the Sunday lunch proves a unexpected delight – and excellent value for money too.