60 years in Chesham Bois
Written in 2015 by Betty Wright who has lived in St Leonard’s Road for 60 years
My husband, 6 month old baby daughter and I moved in to our new house in St Leonards Road on 6th February 1955, having previously lived in rented accommodation in Chiswick, London.
It was a very cold day and it had been snowing. In those days the houses were built before the road surfaces were finished, so there was an awful lot of mud to contend with…..especially walking with the pram. The whole immediate area was flat, with a few houses dotted around. No trees or any greenery. Although we made the best of the small amount of furniture we had brought with us, our home at that time was not particularly welcoming. No washing machine, dishwasher (what was that?) or even a television. However we were very happy to have our own home at last and looked forward to the future.
The very first day I decided to walk to Chesham Bois village and to shop in Coles Stores. I was asked by Mrs Cole “Are you new here?” “Yes”, I replied. “We moved here a few days ago”. “Where from?” asked Mrs Cole. “From London”, I said. Mrs Cole appeared to frown and said “So you are one of those wretched Londoners who have had their houses built on OUR mushroom field?”. I was flabbergasted, the builder had not informed me of this delicate situation!!! This was only one of the many comments I received over the following weeks from what I was told were ‘genuine Chesham Bois people’ ….about St Leonards Road once being a very healthy mushroom field. I must mention one thing that rather surprised me, I purchased six rashers of bacon which was duly wrapped in greaseproof paper and tied with string. When I left the shop Mr Cole came from behind the counter, opened the door, slightly bowed and said “Good morning, do please come again”.
Next door to Coles Stores, was Anderson’s the Bakery (now Mayo’s the butchers), run by Mr and Mrs Anderson and their son John. They made the bread and cakes on the premises and John would deliver the bread on his bike daily. Beautiful, crusty fresh bread which I remember cost 4p a loaf (old money). Next to Andersons was Hance the greengrocers, owned by Mr Frank Hance (now a sportswear shop). Across the road there was another grocer called Groskop, owned by Mr & Mrs Groskop , a very friendly couple with two young children. Sadly the shop was usually quite empty of stock due to lack of funds !!! Quite the opposite to Coles Stores. (There is another page about the shops in Bois Lane.)
On one occasion I decided to take my baby for a walk along Stubbs Wood. I had only gone a few yards when a gentleman, cutting his hedge, asked if I lived in Stubbs Wood. I told him I didn’t, but was just out for a walk. He then said “Well, this is a private road and the residents have to pay for the upkeep, so perhaps it would be better if you chose somewhere else to walk”. I cannot believe that I actually turned round and went home….and I hasten to add, with tears running down my cheeks because I felt so terribly unhappy and wanted to move away from Chesham Bois as soon as possible.
However, I did meet some lovely people who helped me come to terms with ‘living in the country’. One particular couple, Mr and Mrs Caple lived in “Wee Cott” in Bois Lane. Mr Caple was the local road sweeper and he and his wife used to spend a lot of time leaning over their front gate and chatting to people as they passed. Fortunately, they chose me to have a chat with and they asked where I had come from etc. and instead of complaining, they immediately made me feel very welcome, telling me all about the village and it’s people.
Mr and Mrs Caple were, as I would say, ‘real Bucks’ and I loved their Bucks accent. I told them about being unhappy and they both set to to make sure I enjoyed living here. I was so surprised to receive a Christmas card from them with the words “You and your family are very welcome here and we hope you enjoy living in Chesham Bois for many years to come”. Things settled down, trees and plants were planted….lawns were prepared….mostly from the field grass (and yes, the mushrooms survived!).
I had two more children, both born at home. All three children eventually went to Chesham Bois C of E school and did extremely well under the guidance of Miss Knight. In those days the classes were very small. 18 – 25 was the average number of children in a class.
I never locked my house door when going into Amersham (why would I?)….I used to go to the Regent cinema (now Iceland) about once a month. I would go on my bike and leave the bike outside un-padlocked. It never occurred to me that someone would take it…and of course they didn’t.
The price of our house was at first £2,500 but as we desperately needed a footpath to the front and back doors, and also a fitted wardrobe the price we actually paid was £2,750 and believe me that was a lot of money (for us) in those days.
Eventually more houses were built in St Leonard’s Road, the road and pathway were finished and I made lots of friends (probably 95% of the residents came from ‘outside Buckinghamshire’). We used to baby sit for each other, no money changed hands, we just took turns to enable a couple to have a ‘night out.
This month we have been in our home for 60 years, but despite not being happy for the first few months, we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Yes, the mushrooms still appear every year!