History of the Amersham Area

Jean Archer 1926-2004

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This article was written by Ian Gomm for the Amersham Society/Amersham Museum newsletter and is reproduced with here with his permission.

 

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Shardeloes Lodge (PHO9289)

Jean Archer, who died on the 5th May 2004, aged 78, was one of the local community’s most outstanding citizens.   Born at Shardeloes Lodge to John and Mary Archer (née Gilbert) where her Father was blacksmith, Jean lived her whole life in her beloved Amersham Old Town. Educated at St.Mary’s School in School Lane Amersham, she first worked as a trainee Secretary in a firm of City insurance brokers who took up residence in Amersham-on-the-Hill during the period of the second World War.

Jean returned to the City of London with the firm at the end of the war but soon realised that city life and daily commuting were not for her and returned to local employment as a secretary.  In 1962 she forged a career in local government, firstly with Amersham Rural District Council which became Chiltern District Council, where she remained until her retirement.  During her period working in local government she rose to be secretary to two Chief Executives.

Throughout her life, Jean was a tremendous worker in the community, serving on many committees.  Her vitality and love of dancing came to the fore in her directing “The Follies”, a group which entertained senior citizens. Jean became President of the Amersham Community Centre from 1982-2000, held the post of Chairman of the Amersham Society (of which she was a founder member) and was elected to Amersham Town Council becoming a former distinguished Mayor from 1984-1987 and helping to pioneer the twinning link with Bensheim in Germany. She was also elected as a Chiltern District Councillor (1987-1991) representing Amersham Town Residents Association.

Jean loved Amersham Town and her native Buckinghamshire and perhaps will be best remembered as a local historian, public speaker and writer.

When Corrie Ward gave her his father’s collection of photographic plates, which she kindly left in her will to Amersham Museum, he gave her the means of bringing to the public the great history of Amersham and Buckinghamshire.   John (her brother) transformed the glass plates into slides so they could be easily used in her talks.   Jean was renowned for these talks and always in demand over an area much wider than Amersham.  Here she succeeded in bringing history to life, imparting her knowledge with humour and leaving her audiences always wanting more.  I would like to feel she made them love their local history as much as she did. 

John Archer and his wife

John Archer and Brenda, his wife

Jean wrote eight books including a history of Amersham Town Football Club.   All sold out and had to be reprinted.   They covered a wide variety of subjects, always diligently researched, but much from her own local knowledge. She wrote about people and events from a personal perspective. Jean Archer left a lasting legacy to this and future generations of their local heritage.  Jean never married and was survived by her brother John and his family.

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See on YouTube an interview with Jean in 2001

Listen to Jean Archer talking in 1991 about the Markets and Fairs in Amersham

Track 1

Many other recordings made by Jean are on other pages on this website. 

This article was written by Jean’s friend Meg Green for the Amersham Society/Amersham Museum newsletter and is reproduced here with her permission.

Who was Jean Archer?  Where to begin?  Perhaps when she was born in the Lodge at Shardeloes House on 17th April 1926, four days before the birth of Queen Elizabeth II;  this came to be a matter of some vexation for Jean because her Mother copied the little Princess’s frilly dresses for Jean to wear which she hated.

A shy little girl with a black fringe who cried bitterly when her Mother burnt her favourite ‘blue dolly’ on the fire, and again when she gave away Jean’s pet dog, Whisky.  The memory of these incidents remained with Jean for the rest of her life.  A sensitive child who could not be pacified when she was left by her Mother for her first day at St Mary’s C.E. School in School Lane, Amersham.  But for the first time Jean was on her own and she had to move into the daunting world of the school which, for a timid child, was hard to face especially as she was a sickly child, frequently absent from School and at home with Mother which suited her fine.

There were four people in Jean’s early life whose influence was to mould the Jean Archer we have come to know.  First and foremost was her adored Father, who taught her to read and write and who brought her the classics like Treasure Island, and Charles Dickens.  He introduced Jean to the wonder of reading about the lives of great and famous people and about the history of this country.  Her Father guided her through the difficult texts of Shakespeare and other deeply-penned books which she could not quite comprehend, and he fostered her life-long obsession with books.  He introduced her to the delights of poetry and she was to become proficient in writing poems.

He taught her to appreciate classic paintings, how to observe colour and to convey it onto canvas.  Later Jean took up painting and covered many canvases with scenes of Amersham and also her dog, Tarrapyn.  Her Father spoke sparingly of his experiences in the first World War 1914/1918 but what he said was sufficient to awaken in Jean a deep patriotism for King and Country and admiration of the British Empire which she fiercely defended if anybody dared to criticise it.

Reflections of AmershamTo be able to read opened up a whole new world for Jean and eventually she began to write articles for the “Bucks Examiner” about the characters in Amersham, its festivals and organisations.  Tony White, the Editor, told Jean that he would publish anything that she wrote, and he did.   These articles were collated and became Jean’s first book published under the title “Reflections of Amersham” (1975).  This was the forerunner of other books with such varied titles as “Tales of Old Buckinghamshire” (1987),  “Hidden Buckinghamshire” (1989), “Amersham in Old Photographs” (1995) and “The Story of John Brazil” (1979) of cold meat and sausage fame in Amersham.

The Story of John BrazilIn 1990 Amersham Town Football Club was to celebrate a hundred years of football and they asked Jean if she would write a book to commemorate their Centenary.  Jean agreed and asked for their Minute books to give her some guidance, but the Club could not produce any.  So Jean spent hours in the Records Office in Aylesbury going through all the old newspapers back to 1890 to gather any snippets of information about the Club’s activities.  Her book “100 Years of Club and Town” was published in 1990.   Jean was invited to collaborate with Andy Williams, one of Britain’s foremost landscape photographers, and their book “Buckinghamshire – a Portrait in Colour” was published in 1994.

It was her Father who encouraged Jean to stand up for herself.  Jean would come home from school complaining about a certain girl who was bullying her.  So her Father taught her how to box.  Next time the girl confronted Jean, again with bullying intent, Jean landed her a straight punch on the nose.  Jean was never bullied again.  Her Father also taught her how to shoot and Jean became the scourge of the fair-men in the shooting gallery at Amersham Charter Fair because she won a prize every time she took a shot!

The second person to influence young Jean was her Grandmother, who had appeared on stage in London.  When Grandmother visited she would stand the small girl on the kitchen table and get her to sing a popular song, exhorting her to “don’t forget the gallery” and to throw her voice to reach there.  Her Grandmother’s stories of the stage quickened Jean’s interest in drama with which she was to become heavily involved.  Jean joined the local repertory company and one of her many appearances was to play the maid in Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”.  Jean became the leading light behind the Drama Group of Amersham (Old Town) Women’s Institute for which she wrote, produced and performed in pantomimes and other dramatic productions.  She also designed and helped to paint the backcloth used for these shows.  Jean also started the Amersham Old Town Follies, writing sketches for them and inspiring the content of the opening medleys featuring modern songs by Cole Porter, Gershwin, and the like.  Jean said that the present audiences did not want to hear “the Old Bull and Bush” or “Daisy, Daisy” as they were their great Grandmother’s songs.

Jean was responsible for restarting the Amersham Town Band.  This had been disbanded because of the Second World War when all the men were away.  Jean decided that the band should be reformed and now it is flourishing and appears at local functions, in the Church, the Memorial Gardens etc. and all over the County and has achieved success in National Band competitions.  Jean became the Band’s Vice-President and she held this appointment until the end of her life.

The third person to influence the young Jean was her Great Aunt Rose at Aylesbury, who still maintained a stern Victorian outlook and who conformed to the principles of discipline and good manners which left their mark on Jean.  Jean loved to visit Aunt Rose where she would listen enthralled to the stories about the family and the members scattered throughout Buckinghamshire.  Once Aunt Rose hired a taxi and took Jean around to show her Little Kimble and other places linked to the family.  All this awakened in Jean an all-consuming fervour for her family and she was proud that its history could be traced back over 250 years in Amersham.

Aunt Rose had a tortoise called Joey that she used to nurse and pet on her lap. This fascinated the young Jean and was to nurture a life-long love of animals and an awareness of the need for their care and protection.  She came to idolise her own dogs, Tarrapyn, the Boxer, and Trudie, Winnie and Domino, the Jack Russells.  In her later years her concern for animals became almost an obsession and Jean would rage when animal cruelty was exposed both in this Country and worldwide

Finally the fourth person to motivate Jean was her “Governess”, as she was known, Mrs Kelly, at St Mary’s School.  A timid, susceptible child often sickly and therefore behind with her studies, Mrs Kelly could see the potential in Jean. With a natural sense of psychology Mrs Kelly would address Jean with words of terse reproof, prodding Jean to say to herself “I will show you”.  And she did!  Then Jean never looked back.  She became a first-class student, absorbing all the teaching she could get to become top of the class and a character in a class of her own.

So, like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, Jean advanced into adult life armed with confidence and an ambition to be always the best.  Jean went on to study commercial subjects at Bedford College in London and worked as a Secretary in various offices both in London and Amersham. Soon Jean tired of office work and branched out onto the buses where she served on the Green Line, travelling between Amersham and Crawley.  She relished the characters she met on the buses, the humour of the drivers and the banter whenever they were taking a break.  Especially she appreciated and marvelled at the way the ladies of the night would come to her rescue when undesirable approaches were being made by male passengers.  She had a real rapport with these prostitutes who she came to know well. Tiring of the buses, Jean returned to Amersham to work for Francis and How, Solicitors, which she left in 1973 to join Amersham Rural District Council.  When it became Chiltern District Council she was appointed Secretary to the Chief Executive and to the Chairman of the Council.

Jean was multi-talented.  She was always sketching and woe betide anybody who fell asleep in her company because they would wake up to find that she had drawn them.  She could play the accordion and the piano by ear and during the war she took her accordion to Amersham General Hospital to play for the wounded soldiers recovering there.  Too young to join the Forces, Jean joined the Girls Training Corps in preparation for further service in the Forces if needed.  Jean had a lovely voice and dancing came naturally to her so that with her Fiancé, David, she would give exhibition dances, the Pasa Doble being her favourite.

Jean had a great sense of fairness and her primary concern became the local people.  With this in mind it prompted her to stand as an Independent Councillor, first on the Amersham Town Council where she was appointed Deputy Mayor from 1982 to 1984, and became the first lady Mayor of Amersham from 1984 to 1987.  Later Jean was elected to the Chiltern District Council when she became “top of the poll” as she would recall with pride.  The people were always behind her in these elections.

In the Chair at meetings there was nobody who could surpass Jean’s power to conduct and control the proceedings with impartiality and often cutting wit.  Indeed Mr Peter Ridout, the Town Clerk of Amersham Town Council, once described Jean as a political animal and he did his best to persuade her to stand for Parliament when a General Election was due.  This Jean did not do for the reason that she thought that she was too old.  She would have been a perfect Member of Parliament for the Townspeople who came to know that if they took any problem or grievance to her she would leave no stone unturned to be able to help and advise them. Jean involved herself with everything to do with Amersham.  She was a founder member of the Amersham Society, Friend of Amersham Museum, President of Amersham and District Community Association and member of Amersham and District Residents Association.  She was a founder member of the Amersham/Bensheim Society and was its first Chairman, always working hard to make the twinning of Amersham with Bensheim a success.  She had served as Vice-President of the local branch of MENCAP and as President and Committee Member of Amersham Women’s Institute.

Jean was responsible for the revival in the 1980s of the historic Banner Parade, starting at Town Mill at the top of the High Street.  With representatives of local organisations marching, the banners of the Boys Brigade, the Scouts, etc. were carried through the streets to finish at the Gala Day on Barn Meadow.  Here there were miscellaneous stalls, competitions, demonstrations, a pig roast and a barbecue for the people to enjoy.  This festival became very popular but has now been discontinued.

Jean was a talented photographer and was overjoyed when Corrie Ward gave her over 200 of his father’s glass negatives.  George Ward was a photographer in the nineteenth century and became a recorder of events and people of his time.  Wherever anything was happening George was there to record it.  Then he scratched a number on each glass plate so that he could identify the event in a register he compiled which is now a very valuable catalogue.

The ownership of these glass negatives inspired Jean to compile a talk entitled “A Chiltern Town in the last Century”, using slides made from these old photographs. This talk became very popular and she lectured throughout the County.  In 1973 Jean went to Canada to give this talk on Amersham to a big Convention of the Canadian Women’s Institutes held in Olds.  So successful was the talk that visitors to the Convention from America invited Jean to go there to give the talk to their Women’s Groups.  Commitments at home did not allow Jean to accept this tempting invitation.  This first talk became the forerunner of a series of talks with slides which Jean compiled based on her own photographs under the titles “Stately Homes and Favourite Pictures”,  “Springtime in the Rockies” based on her visit to Canada, “History in the Chilterns”, “Our travels with two Jack Russells” based on places she visited with her good friend Elsie King, and “Hidden Buckinghamshire” based on her popular book.  People clamoured for these talks and Jean often had six engagements in a week.  Jean was such a brilliant speaker, never using any notes, and punctuating her words with such wit that she had her audiences convulsed with laughter.

Jean has had a block of retirement flats named after her.  In 1997 the Developer ran a competition for people to name the development in Chesham Road.  The person who won the prize of £100 had put forward the name of “Archer Court” which the District Council had no hesitation in approving.

Jean well remembered that children in the Workhouse in Whielden Street used to come to St Mary’s School dressed in a drab coarse uniform.  As a child she felt great compassion for these poor children and for the remainder of her life she became a formidable defender of fair play.  When Elmodesham House in Amersham was sold for development it was Jean who was able to confirm to the developer that the walls were covered with valuable paintings by James Thornhill.  George Ward had taken photographs of some of these paintings which Jean now owned.  When the paintings were uncovered some of them were stolen and have never been recovered.

In 1984 the Amersham and District Community Association published a magazine and Jean contributed a series of chapters of a story entitled “The Mystery of Shardeloes Lake” which had everybody waiting for the next publication to find out who had committed the crime.  Unfortunately, Jean never did complete the story and it has been said that she herself had not worked out the ending of the story.  Jean was unique!  She bore an overwhelming interest in Amersham which was always her great passion.  She said that her roots gave her a sense of being and that she was proud of her background.  She will for ever be remembered as someone who was for the people of the Town.  Jean was “Miss Amersham” and the impact she has left behind will for ever be entwined in the annals of Amersham.