History of the Amersham Area

Mrs P Edwards

This was written by Mrs P Edwards of Town Farm in November 2010 about her memories of Town Farm and of Amersham and is reproduced with her permission.  There is another article written by her about her memories of Amersham-on-the-Hill before and after WWII.

We are so lucky to live in Amersham. Changes come all the time. Children growing up here now will find it hard to believe the pictures we can tell them of how life used to be.  I am 84, grew up in Hervines Road in 1930’s, and joined the ATS.  My sister-in-law worked for my father who was Adjutant in between local Home Guard and Army. When her brother returned from Egypt, El Alamein, Italy and France we met and married. For 12 years we lived in Little Chalfont.  My husband’s  family home was Town Farm – farmed by his grandfather, AP Hoare, as tenant of Francis Tyrwhitt-Drake.  In the sale of Amersham, 1928, every tenant was offered the chance to buy their property at a reduced price. Grandfather therefore purchased Town Farm and three of the cottages the London side of the Almshouses.

We know the two houses that made Town Farm were built in 1798 due to the date stone on the garden side. Records have shown one was a cobbler and one a coffin maker. We have no means of saying which was which. A farmer Williams lived here before AP Hoare who took the tenancy in 1916. However he built an extension on the back of two rooms and a laundry downstairs with a bathroom and big south facing bedroom over. This gave him a good view of the farmyard. What had been the western cottage’s kitchen was panelled in polished wood with his big desk between two bookcases. This was the farm study.

A door beside the study led to the brick terrace which was big enough for a table for 10-12 to eat off, if you so wished. There was a canopy or hood that let down over part of the terrace if the sun was too strong. Two sets of steps led up the hill onto the garden proper of lawn and flowerbeds with a little wicket gate out into the farmyard.  In the brick terrace under cover was the garden well for that original house. Due to AP Hoare’s extension being built over the original garden for the eastern cottage, this well is now under the kitchen floor. I have in the past inspected both wells. They are beautifully constructed in a similar manner to the chimneys at Chenies Manor, all twisted and decorative.

On the west of the farm yard were the horses’ stables, now unromantically garages.  Then came chicken in barns at night, but free range all day, and further up the big dog kennel for AP Hoare’s working spaniels. More barns till one came to the big open barn for storing the hay wagons, etc.  On the left side was the drive, nowadays proving frequently too narrow for big delivery vans. It was not possible to widen as the Almshouses garden wall had been built by Drake 200 years earlier.  All the farmer needed was to get his herd up and down from grazing in the fields for milking twice a day. They often would stop at the end of Turpins Row where the cobbles led down to the river for cattle and horses to drink their fill.

The byre built behind the Almshouses for the cattle had food storage and preparation in the first gable and the cows were milked in the second. Now this makes a very attractive and well kept home for Mr and Mrs Fuller. Continuing up the hill on that side were six pig sties. I know they also had free range geese – they gave us warning if trespassers came!

Mrs Mason kept the Eagle at this time. One of her sons enjoyed playing in the farm as youngsters would. He left a good description of the Hoares moving-in day when the building was finished. We understand as it was during the Great War it was brought down from London by horse and cart. The driver had his young son with him for a “day in the country” all in his best.  Young Reg Mason was told to keep an eye on him while the adults unloaded. The boy was not used to country life. They started picking up eggs. Suddenly he gave a shout as he saw a couple of eggs on a mound. Reg called out to try and stop him – too late. They boy had taken a running jump with both feet into the farm midden. The rotten eggs were always thrown there out of the way.  Oh dear, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. Tempers were taut anyway that day, ­much to do, long distance for the horse.  The boy was hosed down in the open.  Reg’s clothes were taken off him and lent to the boy to travel back to London.  Reg was very indignant!

In those days Amersham Fair was unsophisticated, all “innocent” fun. The great thing was boys would try to drown the girls, pouring water over their long hair and dresses, etc., much squealing of course. It seems confetti was always available then so the boys would see the girls were well plastered with the confetti which stuck when wet. At the end of the day mothers would call their children in – have one look at them and say there were not coming in the house like that. So the girls got a second soaking to shift the confetti before going in for a meal and bed.

My husband took our young son under the Market Hall to see the person throwing toffee on a nail on the wall. She pulled it out till it was nearly transparent, rolled it up and threw it again. He said his grandparents had taken him to see the toffee maker when he was as small so he wanted to bring his son. She went on working as she smiled and replied her mother and her grandmother had made toffee under the hall. Her daughter was working on another stall and that was why she had her grandson lying in his pram beside her. Nowadays Health and Safety banns toffee making and it was so good. It kept children quiet for a long time!

In September 1933 AP Hoare told his wife the police wanted him in court in Uxbridge as a witness to a road accident he had seen previously. He said lunch had better be put back for him. She agreed and gave the order. Off he went.  AP Hoare had never learnt to drive. One of the farm hands always drove him. So this man changed his jacket and put his smart cap on. When they reached the destination the driver opened the door for AP Hoare without getting out – he still had his farm trousers on!  Their case was some way down the list but eventually it came so Mr Hoare got up and took his place in the witness box. He was offered the Bible which he took in his hand and prepared to swear on oath, but he fell down dead with a stroke in front of everyone! Very melodramatic.

As a result it was a great shock for Granny Hoare sitting at her table waiting for her late lunch. The farm had to pack up. The son who should have run it was killed in the Great War. The second son had a printing job in London and had no interest in the farm.  At that time my husband was only 15.  He was unable to take it on. The house itself was rented out to a family; later during the War followed by an elderly couple. Their lease was up in 1958 which was when we came back to live.

Mrs Hoare (Granny) was the daughter of Farmer Williams who farmed at Hyrons up on the Hill in late 1800s, when it was all open land without houses.  One Saturday market his friend met him and said he did not look at all well. Farmer Williams said he felt really bad. He was just going to sell the item he had come to market for then he was going home. He had cut his hand working on the farm and must have got some dirt in it. Poor man had septicaemia. It had a real hold on him. Within a few days he was dead. Penicillin had not been discovered at that time.

After his farm was sold up his wife came down to Town Farm to live with her daughter and family.  Later when she was old and did not see so well, she was sitting by the fire in the big room. She thought she would be helpful and put another log on the fire. Unfortunately not seeing she had picked up her son-in-law’s shoes and threw them on the fire instead. They caught alright, setting fire to the big main beam over the fireplace. Several tables had been arranged for bridge that afternoon. Imagine the fuss!  I suppose the farm workers would have put the fire out. If not, it meant running to the Market Hall, and ringing the bell. When the men came they had to catch the pony in the field where Tesco now stands, harness him up and then charge to the fire and hope it had not burnt out by then!  When new people altered the fireplace about 2006 the old burnt beam was discovered but they did not know the history!

In 1978 when we had lived here 20 years there was only my son Nicholas and myself instead of the original 5. We did not need so much room. The house needed roof repairs, etc. So, after a good deal of talk the western cottage was sold with the lawn and flower beds and a garage. All the plumbing and electrical work was made independent. My dogs went in the garden in the morning as usual. They were shut in during the day. Late afternoon when I let them out again they could not believe it. A 6ft brick wall had sprung up halving the garden. It now looks as if it was always there.

During the 1939-45 war petrol was rationed. Our family had been attending school in Beaconsfield and we were given a little petrol to continue our education. This was on the understanding we shared the journeys with two other families who were also at the school. The mothers took it in turns which helped everyone.  We had some very severe snow and bad weather at that time. Gore Hill was then built for horse drawn transport. It wound from left to right and back to make it possible for horses to climb the steep hillside. Well after the War the present straight, wide road was built.

When it snowed and the frost was thick it was impossible to drive down Rectory Hill. So school was cancelled and we all went tobogganing instead. We had a large wooden family sized one. We often started with six on top but several got bumped off on the way down, among shrieks of laughter of course.  Jack Orton told us how as a boy he had been tobogganing like that early in 1900’s.  Rector Briggs came out of the Rectory, called to Jack and asked him to give him a ride down to the church.  Jack was delighted. On climbed the Rector and off they went. With great skill Jack managed to twist round at the bottom of the road instead of hitting the garden wall. There was just enough momentum to reach the church grounds before the Rector got up, thanked Jack for his ride and walked solemnly into church.  A generation later when we were roaring down the road with many other Amersham people so many crashed into the brick wall at the bottom and breaking it that an ambulance stood by permanently to take casualties round the corner to hospital.

9239I remember walking from Top Amersham down the hill into the Old Town in the 1930’s. It was a summer’s day and the farmer had driven his sheep from the field at a good pace to keep them all together. They were then resting in the bay to the west of the Market Hall. The heat from the flock all herded together rose like steam as they all panted. It was very impressive to see.  There was so little traffic then there was space for the flock and the odd car travelling up and down the road.

The farmer from Bury Farm, opposite Tesco on the corner of Gore Hill, used to put his cattle in our Cherry Orchard. This meant he had to take them from the farm down the High Street. Again, as with the sheep, to keep the herd together, they were pushed along at great speed, bellowing and mooing, feet clattering on the hard road. This certainly still happened in the 1950’s. You would be surprised to see how quickly cars coming from Missenden stopped to let them pass.  No one felt like arguing with a wild-eyed herd galloping straight at the cars. They had right of way along the High Street until they turned up Cherry Lane where they were able to slow down to a walk up the hill and into the orchard. I think as they were usually steers about to be fattened for market they quite enjoyed the gallop. It left them all frisky as they explored the new ground. At that time it was great fun to watch them gallop along the street.

Tesco car park stands where Amersham Police Station used to be, a house for the man and his family with the office.  Behind there was a good size garden, always well kept with vegetables, etc. Then came the kennels in a compound for his Alsatians. We used to admire them as we passed. If we loitered they always saw us and started up barking as a warning!  We were sorry to lose our station.