Chalfont St Peter History

Related Links: Chalfont St Peter at war | This Blessed Plot | Map 1923

A brief history, written by Pamela Bacon, about the Parish of Chalfont St Peter and its Council over the past 100 years.

1894 – In March, 1894, Parliament passed a bill establishing elected parish councils throughout England and Wales for all parishes with a population over 300. Membership of these councils was open to all male parochial electors with a residence qualification of one year. In Chalfont St Peter, with its population of 1,500, there was a flurry of electioneering meetings by the candidates leading up to the polling day on 18th December, when the required nine members would be elected. Of course, each candidate promised to bend his best endeavours for the good of the Parish! The elected members met on the 31 st December 1984, to swear the oath of office and to elect the Chairman and other officers.

Frederick Penton, as a recently appointed Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, was elected Chairman with Charles Moore, Lord of the Manor, as vice Chairman. John Collins became Clerk and John Bell, William Freeman, William Gurney, James McPherson and Perey Walsh completed the original council. The ninth member, Richard Russell was co opted in January 1895.

The over riding task of the first meetings was to administer the local charities and to oversee the poor. In the parish, there were two charities; the more important being one set up in the will of Maria Taylor who died in 1824, whereby the poor of the village would receive a gift of clothes and fuel annually, to be administered by two overseers’ of the parish Church. The task was transferred to the Parish Council in 1897 and it still administers the charity by investing any bequests and profits of village events (such as the recent Centenary Celebrations) into the fund which is apportioned to the most needy each year in the form of cash. It was envisaged that the Parish Church Council should continue to administer the ecclesiastical side of the parish while the newly elected Parish Council should handle civic affairs.

1895 – At first, the Council was called irregularly, whenever problems arose in the village; but early in 1895 the meetings became monthly as responsibility for the upkeep of the River Misbourne, footbridges over it, allotments, sanitation and drains, footpaths and roads within the Parish and lighting all descended on the Council. This cost money and the Council raised a ‘precept’ on the parish rates to cover the expenses of the Council (one shilling for the hire and heating of the room in the Boy’s School for the meetings, the purchase of an inkwell, pen and paper for the Clerk, and a deed box for the deposit of the Minutes and monies).

An official Scavenger, to clear the ponds and maintain the Commons, was appointed at two shillings and sixpence per week, with tools provided. All this added expenditure meant that the annual precept rose to £ 15 within a year and has increased, with extra responsibility, to stand at £91,000 in 1994!

In 1895, the National Society for Epilepsy’s home was officially opened by the Duke of Devonshire, to care for epileptic patients from all over Britain. The site, at Skipping’s Farm, had been bought by Mr Passmore Edwards and he donated a further £4,000 to establish a house for male patients and another for women. To this day the Parish has kept close and caring contact with the Centre.

The first big problem arose in 1895, when the Parish Council had to consider the separation of Gerrards Cross Parish from the old Chalfont St Peter one whose southward boundary stretched as far as Fulmer, Upton and Langley. This necessitated the formation of a committee to redraw the boundary between the two villages (running up North Park through Latchmoor) and to re assess those who were claiming ‘outdoor relief’ on St Peter’s rates. Another committee was formed in 1896 to look into a proposed railway line through Gerrards Cross, and another was formed in 1899 to represent the village in the dispute against the District Council’s proposals to site the Amersham Sewage Farm hard against the Parish Boundary on the North, where it was feared that leakage might polute the Misbourne and local wells.

Thus was born the idea of forming various permanent committees to deal with specific aspects of local administration, all answerable to the main Council. Today, there are committees dealing with amenities and planning, open spaces, policy and finance. The Parish Council appointed ‘eight competent men’ to serve as Parish Constables in 1896 to keep the peace and administer the law within the parish as in Medieval times, but now no more than archaic title. In 1906, the Council actually provided a pair of handcuffs for the policeman; while in 1910 the Council put in an official request to the police for a plain clothes man to station himself at the bottom of Joiners Lane to ‘detect and punish those who recklessly ride down this narrow road to the common danger’!

Part of the main allotment area of the village, lying behind Gold Hill Lane (now Market Place), was requisitioned in 1899 as an extension of the cemetery so other allotment sites were continuously being sought over the years, including at Gravel Hill and “Love’s Delight” between Mill Meadow and Church Lane. Part of the Council’s work was to sort out disputes between holders, to stop rubbish being dumped on the areas and to see that each allotment was well cultivated nothing has changed!

1900 – Reports reached the village in 1900 of an epidemic of smallpox in London which galvanised the Council to institute medical and sanitary precautions. It soon prompted enquiries into the possibility of having piped water supplied to the village. A local company was planning to supply Gerrards Cross but not St Peter, so the Parish Council entered into negotiations with the Rickmansworth & Uxbridge Valley Water Company. in 1903 the first pipes were laid and two fire hydrants were placed in the centre of the village. Thus did the Council envisage an increase in population within the Parish, helped by the opening of Gerrards Cross railway station in 1906.

The constant blockage of the Misbourne by obstructions’ between the Water Hall and the village, and the poor state of the footbridges were recurring problems for the Council, especially when a child was drowned in 1904, due to the rush of water under a bridge near Mr Brown’s (house) Repairs were allowed; provided they did not exceed £3.

Vehicular traffic through the village led to plans to build a bridge over the river near the Greyhound Inn and, as speeding was already a problem, speed restriction signs of 10 mph were erected at all entrances to the village in
1908. This was followed by requests to the County Council to have all 10 ft width roads in the village tarred, to combat dust and mud. In the same year the Council approached the Uxbridge Gas Company to tender for the
erection of eight gas lamps in the village at the cost of £20 to be added to the rates. Mr Harris was employed at two shillings and sixpence a week as lamplighter with the use of a ladder.

1911 – Chalfont St Peter joined with Gerrards Cross to form a volunteer Fire Brigade with its own hut and engine and, over the years, it badgered the two District Councils concerned to provide more hydrants. In 1913, Amersham District Council granted delegated powers to the Parish Council to manage all its commons, which was speedily followed by the publication of Bye laws prohibiting the ‘drawing of any carriage, cart, caravan, truck, bicycle … perambulator or chaise’ on the Commons. These also prohibited ‘defacing or cutting down of trees, brushwood, furze or plants or for that matter firing any gun or throwing any missile (except as part of a designated sport, approved by the Council)’.

Within the next few years, as a result of a large influx of people to this desirable area in the country yet near London, provision was made for schools and churches. All Saints’ Church in Oval Way was opened by the Bishop of Buckingham and the Roman Catholic Church was dedicated by the Bishop of Northampton in 1915 but, due to the difficulties of war, both churches remained uncompleted for the next forty years or so. The ending of the First Great War in 1918 heralded a service of thanksgiving and public celebrations in the village which was followed in 1920 with the erection of a hall at the bottom of Gold Hill Lane (the Broadway), donated by Mr Fass, owner of the Grange, as a memorial to all those of the Parish who had been killed in action.

As a result of a report into the homeless of the village, it was decided to ask the District Council for permission to build 70 workmen’s houses for renting on a new site off Gold Hill, using a combination of Government grant and District rates. In 1924 the first 24 residents, including the Alford’s, the Harriss’s and the Clarke’s, moved into their new houses.

1923 – A major new development in 1923 was the building of a row of shops up Gold Hill Lane (renamed the Market Place) and the erection of a picture palace on the site of the old roller skating rink, off Gold Hill, where the owner’s wife, Mrs Hill, sold oranges and sweets at a penny a bag in the interval.

The first woman, Lady Mary Clanson, was elected to the Parish Council in 1925 and election by ‘ballot only’ was introduced in the same year. Four years later, the Grange was sold to an order of teaching nuns and became a convent and a school for girls.

In 1931, the parish boundaries between Chalfont St Peter, Chalfont St Giles and Gerrards Cross were all redrawn as a
result of the new Local Government Act. The following year, the Parish Council finally agreed to lease Mr Mead’s field alongside the River Misbourne, as a playing field and children’s playground. After further negotiations it was decided to dig an outdoor swimming pool on the site of a pit, also belonging to Mr Mead. This was opened in 1933 and was immediately popular; but considerable problems over maintenance, vandalism and cost of extension of amenities led to its closure in 1938, a decision precipitated by the unhygienic state of the water. It was emptied and cemented over.
During the same year, after many centuries, the pond on Gold Hill was filled in no longer was it a watering place for nearby cattle, but it could not be used as the dumping ground for ‘night soil’, garden refuse or household objects!

1939 An order was issued by the Parish Council in 1939 for the demolition of the Barrack Yard cottages, which were in a bad state of repair and hygiene. Nevertheless, they had been a feature of the village since the 17th Century and were named, it is said, because Judge Jeffreys’ bodyguard was stationed there while their master was temporarily living in the Grange. The plan was to replace the cobbled square with a memorial garden, but the area remained empty until it was swallowed up as part of the new shopping precinct with flats above, which was opened in 1968, after some more cottages along the High Street were, likewise, demolished.

The imminent war led to the formation of an Air Raid Precaution Committee in 1938, with wardens for each area of the village being responsible for the issue of gas masks and protective clothing, and the installation of a air raid siren near the fire station. The dropping of a German 1940 land mine on the village in 1940 and over flying by German bombers on their way to London and, later, V I rockets (the Doodle Bugs) and the arrival of 1,210 evacuees from London in 1939, kept the village busy throughout the war.

The constant traffic of tanks, armoured vehicles and trucks of the gathering D Day troops through the narrow. twisting High Street, and the never ending exhortations for knitted garments ‘for our lads’ and, sadly, the news of local casualties, involved the whole village. In 1942 the Parish Council acquired part of ‘Bloom’s Wood’ in Denham Lane as a Garden of Rest with space for 3,000 graves. Various donations of trees and shrubs have turned it into a restful and beautiful area, despite the constant ravages of visiting wild rabbits!

The only remaining building of Swan’s Farm, the Tithe Barn, was acquired by the Parish Council and renovated to become the village Youth Club. It was officially opened by Lady Hamilton in 1946, since when it has become the focal point for countless Chalfont St Peter youngsters and an integral part of parish life.

1948 – The huge post War population growth necessitated the building of new schools and the expansion of existing ones. In 1948, ‘Old Job’s’ was expanded into the new Secondary Modern School and has recently gained the coveted prize of excellence as a Community College.

The existing school at St Joseph’s had catered admirably for Catholic children since the 1930s but, by the end of the 1940s, needed upgrading and expanding which was achieved by 1958; only to face a new ‘baby bulge’ almost immediately! Fresh building work was undertaken and in 1972 the single school divided into First and Middle Schools, all sited at the end of Priory Road.

As the village expanded up the hill off Denham and Rickmansworth Lanes, a new Primary School at Gravel Hill was opened in 1960. This remained until the 1990s when existing pupils transferred to Robertswood School (formerly Cheena School) in Denham Lane.

The village had sore need of a Community Centre to house the numerous clubs and activities springing up in the 1960s what better place to build it but on Mill Meadow? It was officially opened in 1962 and a wing was added and dedicated in 1992 as the Parish Council Room, now used for Parish Council Committee meetings and as the Parish Clerk’s office.

1968 – The single most dramatic change to the village happened in 1968 with the opening of the bypass, linking the A40 at Tatling End with Chalfont St Giles, leaving St Peter in comparative peace. It had involved the demolition of many Medieval cottages stretching from the High Street out towards Gravel Hill and the erection of a round about, thus changing the character of the village forever.

The elderly of the village were not forgotten as, in 1971, the Ellwood House site was developed as bungalows and flats and taken over by the Chiltern Hundreds Housing Association. Ten years later, Hibbert Lodge, named after 19th Century local benefactors, was opened as sheltered accommodation on a site tucked away on Gold Hill Common.

By the 1970s, the local population had settled at the mid 1 2,000’s and by 1976, the new Leisure Centre in Nicol Road was completed, with a swimming pool, sports hall, squash courts, fully equipped gymnasium and an upstairs bar and recreation room. Within three years, it had won the prestigious Sports Council, Southern Regions Cup for small centres and now caters for all age groups, from the ‘over fifties’ to children from the local schools.

1992 – Newland Park on the northern fringe of the Parish had been converted from a Georgian private residence into a College of Further Education (or ‘Teacher Training’ as it was known in the 1940s) which, in turn, became part of High Wycombe College and, in 1992, was elevated to the status of a university college as part of Brunel University, specialising in degree courses in Health, Business Studies and Applied Social Studies.

It is now a large, well equipped campus and welcomes local sports and social activities. It houses over 500 students and caters for about 2,000 non resident students with their own modern social building. Down the road is the Shire Horse Centre which opened in 1988 and has become a verv popular tourist attraction. Behind the campus is the important Chiltern Open Air Museum, housing prehistoric, Medieval and modern, but obsolete, buildings. All have been carefully transported and lovingly restored by volunteer ‘Friends’. It attracts thousands of visitors every year as well as caterinp for local school children as part of their historic studies.

1995 It has been said that Chalfont St Peter offers the widest range of facilities and interests in the district. The celebration of the Centenary of the Parish Council in June 1994 involved the whole 1992 village and was much enjoyed. It was followed in May 1995 by the marking of the 50th Anniversary of the ending of World War II in Europe with a Thanksgiving Service on Gold Hill Common, concluding with a huge bonfire and fireworks which was attended by all age groups of the village and visitors.

During the past century, some of the quaint and beautiful aspects of the village have disappeared, with increasing urbanisation, but enough remains to make Chalfont St Peter a pleasant village to live in. That is certainly the aim of the present Parish Council as it was a hundred years ago when those nine members embarked on a new experiment in
local government.