Stage 5 - Great Kingshill to Chipperfield (13.4 miles)
This is the longest, one of the hilliest, most interesting and scenic legs of the walk. Over thirteen miles, much which goes cross country, through the rolling hills of the Chilterns.
The stage starts in the village of Great Kingshill on south side the green and just over the Missenden Road (A4128) from Great Kingshill Village Hall.
The route is mainly direct through Little Kingshill, the picturesque village of Little Missenden, along the banks of the River Misbourne through the grounds of the Shardeloes Estate to Old Amersham. It then passes through the Chiltern Forest, Latimer and Flaunden villages to finish by the war memorial on Chipperfield Green.
Head directly away from the road and along the edge of the green – Great Kingshill cricket ground is to the left. At the opposite side turn right along a residential road. After 35 yards turn left, on a path between houses. At first sight it looks like the way is blocked by a gate into the field, but on reaching it becomes clear there is a wide gap on either side. Follow the path directly across the field and onto a narrow enclosed path which comes out onto a road (Cockpit Road). Turn left along the pavement soon reaching crossroads.
Just to the left at the corner of the crossroads is Cockpit Hole. This is surrounded by a metal fence as it is deep and a lot larger than it first looks. In 2008 the hole was spruced up with access provided by steps to wooden walkways and viewing areas above and around a pond. Whether or not it has been stocked with fish I could not see. The origin of the hole is somewhat sketchy, but one explanation below comes from the “Geological Sites” section of the Prestwood Nature website.
“Swallow-holes occur most commonly in the hard limestones on the north and west of Britain, but similar phenomena occasionally manifest themselves in the chalk regions. They occur where underground water has worn channels through the chalk and the chalk above them has gradually weathered away, suddenly giving way so that the overlaying clay falls into a huge hole. These swallow-holes can be differentiated from quarries by the fact that their sides are steep all the way round, ie there is no graded access to cart out excavated material. A good example can be seen near the north edge of Atkins Wood. The large depression known as Cockpit Hole in Great Kingshill may also have had its origin in this way, as it is too deep and steep-sided to have ever been useful as a pond, and (contrary to legend) was never used as pit for cock-fighting.”
Cross straight over into Heath End Road. After another 0.85 miles stay right past Hare Lane and in front of the Prince of Wales pub (closed and soon to be demolished). Heath End Road now becomes Windsor Lane.
To the left just 200 yards along Hare Lane is the cosy and inviting The Full Moon Public House and Restaurant. If you are thirsty and hungry it may be well worth the detour.
The route has just entered Little Kingshill and after another 150 yards, at a recreation ground, we are joined by another long distance path form our left, the South Bucks Way. This is 23 miles long and runs from Coombe Hill on the Ridgeway near Wendover to Denham Lock on the Grand Union Canal.
Immediately opposite the recreation ground, through a gate to our right is Ashwell Court (add link). It was completed in 1906 and was built to resemble a 15th century French manor house. It is privately owned, Grade II listed, has many interesting features and much of the building and contents are said to have been exported here from France.
It’s also here where we join another long distance path originally called “The Mandela Way” and now renamed “The Gerald Colton Way” after its founder who was also a founding member of the Hampstead Ramblers. This starts at the statue of Nelson Mandela at the south-west corner of the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank of the River Thames and extends for 71 miles to the Boer War monument on Coombe Hill at Wendover in the Chilterns. The path joins us via a public footpath from the left and next to the recreation ground. It accompanies us most of the way to Amersham Cricket Club and rejoins us from Amersham Church to the Martyr’s Memorial.
Follow the road straight on through Little Kingshill for 0.7 miles to where it begins to turn left. Cross over and turn right onto a track between trees, signed “South Bucks Way” (at 2 miles into the stage). After 200 yards the track leads to a large field. Go straight on across the field on a well defined worn path.
This area (for some reason unknown to me) is called Little Boys Heath. The rooftops visible below in the distance are those of Little Missenden village. The path to Little Missenden shows some of the Chilterns at their best, with the huge fields, rolling hills and views going off for miles.
The path leads directly across the centre of the field to the other side, then through a gap in the hedge, into a second field and straight on across it. There is a large electricity pylon to the left. After passing the pylon follow the path (wide track) straight on, now with the hedgerow adjacent on the left. At the bottom corner of the field turn right. After 100 yards turn left through a wide opening and into another field. Stay left to follow the track along the left hand edge of the field. At the other end, the track exits the field onto a narrow road – now at 3 miles into the stage. Turn left along the road (Penfold Lane) and after just a few yards follow it, as it turns right. After another 250 yards turn left into Little Missenden. The lane passes some old cottages and after 170 yards reaches a T-junction in the middle of the village. Turn right, at the T-junction, and go straight on past Taylors Lane on the left and into Abbott Road.
For some reason at the left turn into the village, the South Bucks Way continues straight on over a stile and bypasses Little Missenden. The Green Belt Way route diverts left to follows Beamond End Lane past some old houses and into the centre of the village.
There is much to see here and many years ago the main London to Aylesbury road ran through the centre of the village. A bypass to the north (A413) now keeps most of the traffic away.
Directly in front, at the T-junction, in the centre of the village, is the Jacobean Manor House and to the left is the Parish Church of St John the Baptist. The nave is Anglo-Saxon, dates from 975AD and has Norman arched windows pierced into the walls. There are Roman bricks used in the pillars and the Norman Font sits on the upturned capital of a Roman column. The church has 13th Century wall paintings which were discovered in 1931. They include a famous one of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child across the water. Another is of the Crucifixion and there are cartoons illustrating the life of St Catherine. There have been many additions to the church during the last 1,000 years including the 15th Century tower and a gatepost to the memory of the Dunkirk evacuation (1940).
The village has the ten day Little Missenden Music & Arts Festival in October each year and in 2009 celebrated its 50th year. Most of the events take place in the church and the village hall.
Little Missenden’s most famous son is probably Herbert Austin, 1st Baron Austin (1866 – 1941) the famous car designer. He was the son of a farm worker and born in 1866 at Grange Farm in Deep Mill Lane, but moved away with his family before he was four years old.
The village is well preserved and there are many buildings of note. For such a small place it is hard to believe that almost 60 of the buildings are listed as being of historical importance. The name Missenden is Anglo-Saxon in origin and means “a valley where marsh plants grow”. It is built next to the River Misbourne which flows parallel to the road but to the left behind the church and buildings on Abbott Road.
The sheer beauty and peacefulness of this small village attracts television and film directors to be drawn here. It has been used a few times as settings for episodes of “Midsomer Murders”. Follow the link and go to locations and you will find more.
Shortly after the T-junction and on the left, immediately after Taylors Lane, a highly decorated wooden fingerpost of an old man points the way. Within a few yards the inviting 15th century Red Lion pub and adjacent village store are to the left. The pub has a pleasant beer garden to the rear with the river flowing through it. Just past this is the tiny village green with some old cottages set back from the road. After another 100 yards set back in private gardens on the left is the red-brick Missenden House, built in 1728.
On the right a few yards past Missenden House the South Bucks Way exits a field to rejoin the road and our route.
Continue along Abbott Road and through the village past the Red Lion Pub, Missenden House and after a few hundred yards past The Crown Inn – all to the left. Within a short distance, and where the road begins to bends left, cross over to the right and turn right past a gate and along a gravel track signed South Bucks Way. The track goes straight on with the River Misbourne flowing parallel at a short distance through the meadows to the left. Follow the track for half a mile, firstly past a lane off to your left and then past a crossing track. The track soon opens out into what is obviously parkland with mature trees scattered here and there. This is the park of the Shardeloes Estate and was laid out by Humphry Repton in 1793.
After 450 yards, when the main track turns right to go uphill, veer slightly left onto a path across the fields and eventually adjacent to a small lake formed by the damming of the river. On the hill to the right is the imposing Shardeloes House looking out across the valley below.
Overall the route through the Shardeloes Estate is fairly easy to follow and all traffic free on tracks and paths. The river, and finally the lake are always to the left. “The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” website has a leaflet with map and route description of the walk through here, but going in the opposite direction to us.
The River Misbourne is one of many chalk streams flowing through the Chiltern Hills. They are fed by ground water held in the chalk and can often dry up (or disappear underground) during long dry spells. On the Chiltern Photo Group website you can see a pictorial guide of the river from start to finish.
The present Shardeloes House was commissioned by William Drake MP and originally designed by Stiff Leadbetter. With Leadbetter’s consent Drake got Robert Adam to improve the plans and the house was finished in 1766. The smaller lower house was also one of Adam’s works.
Shardeloes was the ancestral home of the Drake (and Tyrwhitt Drake) family and their ancestors from 1593 – 1957. William Tothill and his wife Catherine (daughter of Sir John Denham) bought the old Elizabethan manor house at Shardeloes in the late 16th Century. They had three daughters and entertained Queen Elizabeth I here. Their oldest daughter and heiress Joan married Francis Drake of Esher. After she inherited the house it passed down through their family for over 360 years. They Drakes became Lords of the Manor at Amersham in 1665 when William Drake purchased the lands from the Earl of Bedford. In the mid 18th Century, through marriage, they family inherited the properties of Sir John Tyrwhitt and changed name to Tyrwhitt Drake.
Amersham was one of the so called “Rotten Boroughs” having a small electorate but still sending two Members to Parliament. From the mid 17th Century until the Reform Bill of 1832 the vast majority of the Members came from the family.
The Drakes were responsible for the construction of many of the buildings in the Old Town which still survive today. Some of the younger sons also served as rectors at St Mary’s Church.
History has it that a curse befell the family, stopping any direct heir from inheriting the family wealth. The curse was placed by the family of a boy murdered at sea whilst in the Drake family employ. It was said in order to break this curse a member of the family should spend a certain length of time living in a tunnel underneath the lake. One did, but gave up, and when he came out was declared insane. Myth has it, if the lake at Shardeloes dries up, then England will fall - though possibly a little out of date nowadays. The Tyrwhitt Drake’s are still Lords of the Manor but no longer live here. They were forced to sell most of their property in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s to pay high death duties.
During World War II the house served as a maternity hospital for Londoners to come to the countryside and have their children, over 5000 children were born here – Tim Rice, English lyricist and author was one of them. After the war the house was empty and neglected. In 1953 it was bought by a property company who hoped to knock it down and redevelop the site. However, a preservation order was placed on the building and in the 1970s the original house was redeveloped into flats.
As the route passes the lake, the path goes through a kissing gate and for a short distance becomes enclosed, then goes through another kissing gate to come out onto the grounds of Amersham Cricket Club. The club has two pitches with the clubhouse between them. Turn left to follow the hedgerow around the edge of the cricked ground (5 miles into the stage) to join the drive leading away from the clubhouse.
On exiting the cricket grounds turn left along the road and out of the Shardeloes Estate. As the road turns left go straight on onto a narrow path between trees. Follow the path to the River Misbourne and through a low tunnel, under the bypass road. Once through the tunnel follow the path to the right and next to the bypass for a short distance, then gradually left through trees and away from the bypass. The path comes out between bollards at a lay-by next to the Old Amersham Road. Go straight on between more bollards, staying on the right hand side when the path meets the road. Follow the road straight on as it turns into the wide High Street of Old Amersham.
The old town of Amersham dates back to before Saxon Times. The High Street is lined with many half timbered buildings, period cottages and coaching inns. In the Amersham Museum there are relics of tools used by people here almost 4,000 years ago. Evidence of tribes hunting in these hills from 4000 BC has also been discovered. Remains of Roman settlements have been found in the Chilterns, including one at the entrance to Shardeloes but this is now covered up by the road.
The Saxon name for Amersham was “Egmondesham” or “Agmodesham”. The name Egmondesham meaning “the homestead of a man named Egmonde”. In the Domesday Book of 1080 it is recorded as “Elmondesham” when it was listed as having 6 manors and held by Geoffrey de Mandeville, a knight of William the Conqueror. The manor previously belonged to Queen Edith of Wessex, wife of Edward the Confessor and sister of King Harold, until her death in 1075.
According to the Amersham Museum:
AMERSHAM is thought to date from 792 AD. In the Domesday Survey about 300 years later (1086) the name is recorded as ELMODESHAM after EALMOND thought to be the father of EGBERT the 1st King of all England. At that time the Chiltern Hills were dense forest and an easy hiding place for robbers and bandits. The frightening state of lawlessness in the hills was the origin of the old Chiltern saying: ‘If you beat a bush, it’s odds you’ll start a thief’.
Old Amersham has changed very little in the last few hundred years. The town gained its importance as a stopping point for coaches coming from and going to London. Along the wide High Street many coaching arches are still visible and almost all of the old inns still survive in one form or another. The Crown Inn is a 16th Century, The Kings Arms is a 14th Century coaching inn and has recently been refurbished. Both were used in making the 1990s hit movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral” with the later as “The Jolly Boatman” in the film. Many movies and TV programmes have been filmed in the town. A list of these can bee seen on the Amersham Website. The Saracen’s Head Inn dates from the 16th Century, and according to its website is haunted by two ghosts “one is alleged to be a young serving wench from the 17th Century, the other one remains a mystery”, The Elephant & Castle is 17th Century with stories of a ghost of a lady dressed in black, and thought to be gay as she is blamed for pinching barmaids’ bottoms. Other pubs still trading along the High Street include The Eagle, and The Swan (1671). As for the others along the High Street: The White Heart Inn closed in 1700 and is now homes; The Red Lion (17th C) is now Su Chases Interiors; The Griffin (17th C) has been converted to an Ask pasta restaurant and The George is ????.
There are many stories associated with Amersham, especially at some of the old pubs. However, one story does pop up a few times and it’s worth a mention. Below is the version from the www.amersham.org.uk website.
“The Crown has another royal connection. One day the landlord was sitting in a chair outside the Crown, enjoying the sunshine. As he basked, horses, carts and carriages made their way past on all kind of business. In those far off days of the 18th Century, Amersham was a sleepy market town where excitement of any kind was rare. A yellow post chaise pulled by two well groomed horses drew up outside the Crown. A kindly looking benevolent old gentleman with a very red face attired in hunting costume called out to the Landlord and asked in an abrupt manner if he could provide him with a carriage to Windsor. While the Crown's resident driver, Tom King harnessed the Crown's horses to their carriage, the gentleman took a drink in the tap room seated comfortably in a comer. Money changed hands, and the red faced old gentleman shook the Landlord's hand in thanks. It was only later that Tom King and the Landlord realized the gruff old gentleman had been no other than King George III. The regulars at the Crown never heard the last of this tale! For years they kept the anniversary, sometimes rather too well, remembering how the King himself had made an unexpected visit to an otherwise obscure part of his kingdom.”
Amersham’s main reason for retaining its old identity is thanks to another means of transport. The railway reached Amersham in 1892, but this was much later than other towns outside London. The delay was caused by complaints from local landowners who did not want it to pass over their land. When it eventually came it didn’t stop at the Old Town but on the hill above it. The Drakes as Lords of the Manor would not allow the view, from their house at Shardeloes to the Missenden Valley below, be spoilt by the steam from trains travelling along next to the river. It meant Amersham Station was about a mile from the town and as a consequence another town (Amersham on the Hill) grew up around the station as a commuter town for London. Hence, what is now called Old Amersham stopped developing and retained its character. Today Amersham on the Hill is the last stop on the Metropolitan Line.
At the end of the High Street is the Market Hall built by Sir William Drake in 1682 and given to the town. It protrudes out across the road and is truly the centrepiece of the place.
Amersham market goes back to 1200 when King John granted Geoffrey, Earl of Essex a charter to hold a market on Fridays and an annual fair on 7th & 8th September. In 1619 the market was changed to a Tuesday and the fair to 19th September. The Market Hall has open arches on the ground floor and it was here stalls were set up. Within one of these is the town lock-up where many residents have spent a sobering and cold night. On the wall is an old lead pump dated 1749 (1785?). The upper floor of the hall was used for trade guild meeting and is still used for functions today.
On the left immediately after the Market Hall it Church Street, with the tower of St Mary’s Church dominating the view from Market Square. Further along Church Street past the church are some old buildings including Badminton Court and The Maltings, both once part of Weller Brewery. They now contain offices, industrial units and craft shops. The brewery was in business from 1783 to 1929, was the main employer in the town and supplied most of the pubs in the local area.
Stay straight on along the High Street, past the market hall (at 6 miles) and for an extra few yards through Market Square, before crossing over to the left.
The buildings to the left, on the north side of Market Square date from the 15th Century and are called Church House. Near their far end an old doorway is dated 1624 and has an arch above it inscribed “Grammar School”. This was the entrance to the original Dr. Challoner’s School. Robert Chaloner was Rector of St. Mary’s from 1576 to 1584. He was then appointed Cannon of Windsor, a post he held until his death in 1621. In his last will and testament he left money and instructions to establish a free grammar school in Amersham. This was founded in 1624 on the first floor at Church House. The school continued here for almost three centuries until 1905. At this time the local council moved the school to Amersham on the Hill. It became co-educational, with both boys and girls. In the early 1960s with population growth, a new girl’s school was opened at Little Chalfont. Today the boy’s school has over 1,200 pupils and the girl’s over 1,000. The school’s most famous past pupil is probably actor Roger Moore.
Church House is believed to have been built in the 15th Century by a group of tradesmen called “the Fraternity of St. Katherine”. It was aimed at supporting people who had fallen on bad times and had a priest to pray for them. The Fraternity was dissolved in 1552, during the Reformation, but the house continued to be used by the local community. The building was originally open on the ground floor, but over the years was walled off to provide a school master’s house, accommodation and now is occupied shops.
Immediately after Church House turn left into a wide opening and along a metalled footpath. On reaching the graveyard veer slightly right to follow the path through the graveyard and past the church. At a T-junction of paths, with a wall in front and the river just over the wall, turn right and follow the path over a bridge.
The River Misbourne at this point is walled, looks neat and is very narrow. The building on the opposite side is Badminton Court, once property of the Weller Brewery and now offices. Look back along the river and you can see it actually flows under the building.
After 60 yards and at another T-junction of paths turn right. The river is now on the right and the wall of the cemetery is to the left. Follow the path to the end of the wall, where it starts to climb and comes out into a field. Turn left along a path, signed Martyr’s Memorial, climbing steeply upwards and diagonally across the field.
The Parish Church of St Mary dates from around 1140, but it has expanded and changed much over the years. The nave and transepts are from the 13th Century. The tower was added in the 15th Century. The Drake family chapel with its fine monuments to family members was added in the 18th Century. The vestry and south chapel were built in the 19th Century and were the final additions.
Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, is buried in the cemetery. She was executed on 13th July 1955 after being convicted of murdering her lover David Blakely. At the time of her death she was 28 years old. She was buried in an unmarked grave within the walls of Holloway Prison. However, because of rebuilding at the prison in the early 1970s, her remains were exhumed and reburied in the cemetery at St Marys. Her headstone at Amersham was simply inscribed “Ruth Hornby 1926 – 1955” – this being her original family name. Shortly after her death her 18 year old sister died suddenly, her husband George Ellis descended into alcoholism and hanged himself in 1958. In 1982 her eldest son Andy destroyed the headstone shortly before he committed suicide. He was only 11 when his mother was executed and was affected greatly by her death. Today the grave is unmarked, but I know it is next to a wall. Many believe there is even great doubt as to whether Ruth was guilty, and to read more about this follow the link to “Searching for the Truth about Ruth Ellis by Monica Weller”
The climb up to the Amersham Martyr’s Memorial is very steep and long, and depending on the time of year and which crop is planted, you can come out a different colour than when you began – I once came out yellow all over. However, the view behind of Old Amersham, with the Chilterns rolling into the distance makes it all worthwhile. As the path starts to level off, look directly down the hill and over the large Tesco superstore below to a road rising up the other side of the valley. The road is called Gore Hill and is believed to take its name from a bloody battle fought there between the Saxons and invading Danes in 921 AD.
The Martyr’s Memorial was erected in 1931 and sits in a corner of the field in an enclosure just a few yards left of the path. This is a lonely and peaceful place and although at the top of the climb, the ground around it has levelled out enough to block the view of the town below.
The Martyrs were Lollards and consisted of six men and a woman (William Tylsworth, John Scrivener, Thomas Barnard, James Morden, Robert Rave, Thomas Holmes and Joan Norman). William Tylsworth was the leader of the Lollards in Amersham and was burnt in 1506, his married daughter Joan was forced at sword point to light the fire. They other six were burnt at the stake in 1521. John Scrivener’s children were forced to light his fire. They were burnt for their religious beliefs. At the time the town was considered a hotbed of heresy and the local Bishop carefully choose the spot so the glow of the flames could easily be seen from the town below. The memorial is inscribed:
“In the shallow of depression at a spot 100 yards left of this monument seven Protestants, six men and one woman were burnt to death at the stake. They died for the principles of religious liberty, for the right to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures and to worship God according to their consciences as revealed through God’s Holy Word”
Lollardy was a political and religious movement which came about in the late 14th Century. It followed the teachings of John Wyclif (born 1320, died 31st December 1384) a prominent theologian at Oxford University. He believed the Catholic Church abused its powers, put too much emphasis on wealth and needed to be reformed. He disagreed that only trained priests should be allowed to preach and he also helped translate the bible into English.
On the back of the Martyr’s Memorial is a second inscription. It is to more residents of Amersham who were persecuted and killed for their beliefs. It states:
'The following men, worshippers at Amersham, were martyred in other places
Robert Cosin of Gt Missenden,
His body was buried at Norland Woods 1514
burned at Smithfield 1518
burned at Chesham 1532”
Apparently, on the night before they died the martyrs were imprisoned in The Chequers pub on London Road. The pub is still in use today, dates back to about 1450 and still provides rooms to rent for the night. They martyrs were kept in a back room and their gaoler was a man called Osman. Over the years The Chequers has built up a reputation of being the most haunted place in the town with up to nine ghosts identified. The screams from the back are thought to come from the martyrs; a hooded woman in white is believed to be Joan, daughter of William Tylsworth grieving for the father she was forced to burn; and the man dressed in black sometimes seen in the bar is Osman, the gaoler condemned to return to the place from where he sent innocent people to their deaths.
There are many stories about Amersham ghosts and you can read about some of them and other mysterious things which have happened in this old town at www.amersham.org.uk/ghosts.htm. Also, before leaving Old Amersham, I must mention a new website owned by Amersham Museum. This is entitled “History of the Amersham Area”, it is really tastefully done, and contains a huge amount of information on buildings, people and much more. One story from this website I found interesting is entitled “Ghost in The Griffin?” It seems very similar to the one above about The Crown.
“A coachman based at the Griffin was chosen to drive the King (possibly George IV). On the anniversary of this the coachman would get extremely drunk on his coach and sit in the yard blowing a coaching horn. When he retired the Inn took the horn away but continued allowing him to get drunk. It is said that on the anniversary of driving the King he can still be heard blowing the horn in the courtyard of the Griffin.”
At the top of the climb go straight on onto a narrow path between high garden fences and steep downhill. The path comes out sharply onto the busy Station Road (A416). Cross straight over with care and directly onto another narrow path – this time climbing between fences. At the top, where the path is crossed by another, go straight on. This leads out onto a residential road, called Stanley Hill Avenue, and next to a small green. Go straight on along the pavement, keeping the green to the left and crossing over to the left hand pavement soon after passing the green. On reaching the T-junction, turn left into Stanley Hill (A404), staying on the left hand pavement. At a traffic junction turn left under the railway bridge, then turn right at the roundabout to cross over into Raans Lane.
The large middle class estate between Station Road and Stanley Hill, through which the path to and along Stanley Hill Avenue follows, was built in the early 1930. It is only a short walk away from Amersham Station and the Metropolitan Line into London. This was an ideal place to build a commuter residential area. A 1973 BBC documentary, beautifully narrated by Sir John Betjeman and entitled “Metro-land”, tells the story of the expansion of the Metropolitan Line and how the urban sprawl grew up along the corridor of the line. I watched this video many years ago, but can’t find it on the web. If you can get hold of a copy please do, and send me a link.
Follow Raans Lane, staying on the left hand pavement, eventually past an industrial estate on the right. When the pavement turns left, following what seems to be the main road, go straight on across the road, staying with Raans Lane and over the railway.
If hungry and passing at the right time a mobile café is on hand to the right just inside the main entrance to the industrial estate and before the bridge over the railway.
The lane leads to Raans Farm. On approaching the farm stay left then veer right, keeping the farm to the left and past it to a gate (do not be tempted to turn right to some old farm buildings which have been converted to cottages).
The older part of the Raans Farm is to the right and almost all of the outbuildings have been converted to private dwellings. The farmhouse is mostly hidden behind a hedgerow to the right of the lane about 50 yards before reaching the other buildings. It dates from the 16th Century and is built on the site of the older 12th century Raans Manor – believed to be the oldest manor in Amersham. This manor and farm played an important role in the history of Amersham Common and controlled much of the land around here, including most of the area which is now Amersham-on-the-Hill, and the land through which the railway passes. Over the years it has been owned by many powerful families including the de Mandevilles, the Duke of Bedford and Lord Chesham. The name seems to derive from the Jordan de Rane and his descendants, firstly under-tenants of Geoffrey de Mandeville 2nd Earl of Essex from 1166 and later owners until the late 14th Century.
Before leaving Amersham, I will direct you to a write up by local historian, the late Jean Archer (Mayor of Amersham 1984 – 1987), entitled “The Amersham of Yesteryear”. It’s on the Amersham Town Council website, has some great old photos and gives a wonderful insight to how a child reared in the town and later a prominent citizen gives her thoughts and learning on the development of the place.
Go straight on through the gate along an enclosed track. The track is an unsurfaced old lane which leads to a wood named Chiltern Forest. On entering the forest the path divides in two, take the right fork to follow a path through the forest – now 8 miles into the stage.
Although it’s great to see the wonderful old buildings and memorials the route passes going through Amersham, it’s also lovely to get back into the quiet surroundings and greenery of the countryside. Chiltern Forest has a larger meaning and this wood is only a small part of it. The forest once covered almost all of the Chiltern Hills and half of the county of Buckinghamshire. Today the trees are mainly beeches and cover a much smaller area, in pockets like this one. The native trees were hardwoods, especially oaks and during the 18th Century almost all were cut down to provide wood for the furniture industries of High Wycombe and the surrounding areas. Their craftsmen were well skilled and called “Bodgers” (also see Wikipedia), though the term today is now sometimes used to describe someone as unskilled and good at making a mess of their work.
The path through the wood is undulating and wide. At some points narrow paths go off to both sides. However, just follow the main path straight through. To the left there are some large and clearly marked circular depressions in the ground. Most have got trees growing from them. These holes in the earth were made by bombs dropped from German planes during World War II, but luckily they were some of those which missed their targets. Whether it was local munitions industries, the nearby Hughenden Manor with its Intelligence Centre, Bletchley Park and its code breaking Enigma Machine, Royal Windsor or just London is unclear.
This part of Chilterns is named Lane Wood. Most of the wood is to the left and through the trees to the right crop fields are visible. During spring the floor of the wood, like most in the Chilterns, is covered with a carpet of bluebells.
After just over half a mile the path climbs steeply and comes out into a small cul-du-sac. Go straight on past Forest Cottages and to a T-junction with Bell Lane. Cross straight over and back into the forest now named West Wood, although the signs still say Chiltern Forest. Take the track to the left past a metal barrier and downhill and through the woods. After 600 yards turn left off the main track and onto a path which leads steeply downhill to a metal kissing gate.
Through the trees to the left are good views across the Chess Valley to Latimer House on the opposite hill with Latimer Park Farm below and its private fishing lake behind it.
Go through the gate into a field and turn left along its edge downhill. After 170 yards, where the edge of the field turns left, go straight on following the path diagonally across the field to just left of the bottom right hand corner. Exit the field to cross straight over the road (Latimer Road) then go through a kissing gate and straight across a field.
Exit the field to a lane and go straight on to cross a bridge over the River Chess. Follow the lane around to the right and uphill.
To the left, on crossing the River Chess, a statue of Neptune (God of the sea) reclines on the wall of a dam, behind which is Latimer Reservoir, also known as the “Great Water”. The River Chess as it flows over the dam is aptly known as “Neptune Falls” – although he is only reclining. The Doomsday Book records that a mill stood on the site of Neptune Falls just after the Norman Conquest of 1066.
The Latimer Park Estate is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty in the Chess Valley. The farm dates back many centuries and is sometimes referred to as Dell Farm in old documents. Excavations have revealed a wooden Roma Villa occupied part of the site. There is evidence of a wooden building from the 1st Century AD and a stone villa of a corridor stile from the about 150 AD to the late 3rd Century. From the 4th Century (the Dark Ages) onward little is known until Middle Saxon Times (AD650 – 850) when this area along the Chess Valley was given the name “Isenhampstede”. During this time iron was a metal from which many things were made, especially tools and weapons. A source of water was needed to cool the molten metal and downstream of these works the river would appear an iron brown coloured. Hence “isen” is Saxon for iron, “ham” Saxon for village and “stede” meaning a “standing place”.
The lane leads to a gate with a kissing gate to the right of it. Go through the kissing gate and turn right along a road.
A few yards to the left, along the road is the entrance to Latimer House. The red brick Elizabethan / Gothic style house replaced an older one which was badly damaged by fire in 1836. Latimer was home to the Cavendish Family for over 300 years, and their coat of arms still adorns the main doorway. It was acquired in 1615 by Sir William Cavendish, later 1st Earl of Devonshire. The first known mention of a manor here was in 1194 when it was described in records of the King’s Court as part of the Honour of Wallingford. However, it did not take the name Latimer (full name “Isenhampstead Latimer”) until the late 14th Century, many years after it had been given to William Latimer (3rd Lord Latimer), by Edward III in 1330. The manor remained in the Latimer Family until the mid-16th Century.
Latimer has many royal connections. In 1646 William Cavendish (3rd Earl Devonshire) and his mother Christian entertained King Charles I, whilst in the custody of Parliamentarian soldiers. His son Charles II also stayed as guest of the Countess of Devonshire before fleeing to the continent.
The original Elizabethan house was destroyed by a fire in the 1830s. It was replaced by the current red brick Tudor style mansion, built 1834 – 1838, designed by Edward Blore.
During the World War II, Latimer House was used as a secret interrogation centre where captured senior members of the German and Italian Forces were held prisoner. It is claimed that Rudolf Hess spent time here after his capture in Scotland. At this time all the rooms were bugged with the latest listening devices and the information collected from conversations between prisoners played a huge part in the winning of the war. In the Summer of 2013 ITV broadcast a new series of five programmes, entitled “Britain’s Secret Homes”. The series was made in partnership with English Heritage, and in a countdown from 50 to 1 it reveals what they believe to be the top 50 secret homes in the country. You can watch the last episode by following the link to YouTube and see how Latimer House faired in their choices.
From 1947 to 1983 it was the Joint Services Staff College. After this the house converted to a conference centre with extra accommodation blocks and conference facilities built behind it. Today the centre is run by De Vere Venues with parkland covering an area of 33 acres. It doubles as a hotel and conference / events centre and is called Latimer Place.
Latimer House is also claimed to be haunted. It recently offered haunted breaks and you can read of “A spooktacular UK Break” experienced by Jeremy Head of the Daily Mail in October 2007.
In the grounds of the house and adjacent to the road only a few yards past the entrance to the driveway is the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. It was commissioned by Charles Cavendish (1st Baron Chesham) and designed by Edward Blore. The church was completed in 1841 replacing a much older chapel dating back to at least the early 13th Century. In 1867 it was enlarged by architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, whose uncle was Rector.
Turn right along the road (Church Lane) and downhill through Latimer village, staying left past a small green. At the T-junction turn left along Flaunden Bottom.
POSSIBLE CHANGE – Turn left along road and past the entrance to Latimer House, after 100 yards turn right, signed Chess Valley Way, through fields and then down an enclosed path into Latimer Village.
For this short distance through the village our route joins a 10 mile path called the Chess Valley Walk. This starts at Chesham Station and finishes at Rickmansworth Station.
The village of Latimer is tiny and built around its small green – the house and conference centre on the hill cover a larger area. The green has two memorials relating to the Boer War. The larger is to those locals who died during the war and the smaller to "the horse ridden by General de Villebois Mareuil at the battle of Boshof, South Africa, 5th April 1900 in which the General was killed and the horse wounded". The horse was brought to England by Major General Lord Chesham KCB, and died on 5th February 1911.
Around the small green the houses have not changed much in over 200 years and blend in to make a beautiful and picturesque setting. You can view old pictures and read stories of people who lived here by visiting the Francis Firth website. To read more about the archeology and history of the Chess Valley follow the link to the Chess Valley Archeological & Historical Society.
Flaunden Bottom is narrow and has little traffic, but still take care as there is no pavement. After 350 yards and shortly after Home Farm turn right onto an enclosed track/footpath with a field to the left and a wood to the right. In just over 100 yards turn left and climbs uphill along a path between fences to Long Wood. To the left on the climb are good views over the narrow valley. On entering the woods continue straight on following a wide path – do not take the path to the right and do not be tempted to turn off the main path when opportunities arise (now at 10 miles into the stage). After half a mile follow the path as it turns right and changes to a track. After another 250 yards stay straight on past a turn to the right. The track soon veers left then right and towards a transmission mask. Within a short distance at a T-junction, with some outbuildings to the right, turn left onto a wider track. Stay straight on along this enclosed track for 0.4 miles to the village of Flaunden.
On approaching the village the spire of Flaunden church is visible above the hedgerow. The track leads to a road on the edge of the village – the church is to the left and the Green Dragon pub in front. Turn right past the pub and through the village.
Flaunden is just over 11 miles into the stage and has many half-timbered buildings and mellow brick cottages. The Church of St Mary Magdalene was built in 1838 of flint and wood and is thought to be the first designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. Strangely the church records go back to the early 1700s with even older records available. The reason for this will be revealed below. To the left, along Flaunden Hill and just past the church, the statue of a large green dragon peers over a hedge from the back of the pub of the same name – it does take people by surprise if the enter the village from Latimer along the road through Flaunden Bottom.
The Green Dragon dates from the 17th Century, has a large beer garden to the back, a hitching rail for horses, a cosy restaurant and a Tap Room which has virtually been unchanged since 1836. The pub website is very well laid out and has some great history, photos and lots of other information on the pub and the area. The same family has run the place since 1932 and through the years it has been one of the focal points of the village. There is a story of two young sisters visiting in the 1930’s and playing in the garden with the daughter of the then Landlord and Landlady. They were called Elizabeth & Margaret and were staying nearby Latimer House. Unknown to these locals at the time, was that within 15 years Elizabeth would be Queen of England.
Two other stories tell of more unscrupulous visitors. Joachim von Ribbentrop was Nazi Germany’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1936 to 1938. He had a weekend retreat at Latimer and often visited the Green Dragon as there was no local pub at Latimer. In 1938 he was recalled to Berlin to become Adolf Hitler’s Foreign Minister. After World II the Nazis were brought to account for their actions during the Nuremburg Trials (1945 - 46). Von Ribbentrop was the first of many Nazi war criminals to be executed there. He was hanged on 16th October 1946. It’s quit ironic to think that if von Ribbentrop had been taken prisoner by the Allies during the war he may well have spent time at Latimer House under interrogation.
Some years late another regular visitor to Flaunden and the Green Dragon was Guy Burgess (1911 – 1963) one of this country’s greatest traitors. Whilst studying at Cambridge University he was recruited into Soviet Intelligence by Anthony Blunt as part of what was later was known as the Cambridge Five. After university he worked for the Diplomatic Service and during the height of the Cold War, Burgess and the others passed on British secrets to the Soviets. In his visits to the village he stayed with close friends at the nearby Sharlowe’s Farm – just 100 yards further along our route and on the left. The pub website says he often dropped in for breakfast and would come back later for a casual beer. On 24th May 1851 the landlord noticed Burgess in an engaging conversation, in the Tap Room, with a man the landlord had never seen before. The following day Burgess headed for the Continent and from there onto the Soviet Union. A few days later the story of the spies within the British system made the headlines in the press. From photos the landlord recognised the stranger as Donald Maclean (1913 – 1983), another member of the Cambridge Five. He had also fled to the Soviet Union. It appears both were under suspicion by British Intelligence and had been tipped off. It was one of the biggest scandals of the century.
The Green Dragon has appeared three times in the TV series Midsomer Murders. Other parts of the village have also appeared. The pub website contains lots of information on the history of both the pub and the village. Another local website worth a mention is by Flaunden Village Hall.
Flaunden (click on DEF and then Flaunden to load) is a rear example of how a village can relocate. The original village was situated a mile and a half to the south on the banks of the River Chess and just a few hundred yards downstream from Latimer on what is now the Chess Valley Walk. There was a small church built in the 13th Century and a few cottages grew up around it. The village was susceptible to flooding from the river, so over 200 years ago the village and inhabitants were moved to higher ground. At the time the people here were employees of Lord Chesham. All that remains of the older village is the ruins of the church and a brick tomb. The latter is that of William Liberty a relative of the family who own the famous store in London. He was a brick maker who died in 1777. He requested to be buried away from the rest of the villagers so his bones could be recognised and not intertwined with others when it came to the “Judgement Day”. The tomb is now a grade 2 listed building.
The Church of St Mary Magdalene is of similar design to its predecessor and was mainly financed by former rector Rev Samuel King. Some parts of the older and now abandoned church were used in its construction and many other relics still survive.
Continue through the village to a crossroads. Cross straight over and soon exit the village as the road begins to descend.
Shortly after leaving Flaunden the Chiltern Way joins us from the RHS and stay with us to Holly Hedges Lane. This is a 187 mile circular walk through the Chiltern Hills and was created by the Chiltern Society as its Millennium Project. We did join it previously, but only for a short distance near the start of stage 4 on the descent from Bloom Wood to Winchbottom Lane.
After 350 yards stay with the road as it veers left and still downhill to a T-junction of roads. Cross straight over to climb a wooden stile and onto a track into a wood called Lower Plantation.
The area around here has the peculiar name “Hogpits Bottom” and 200 yards to the left of the T-junction is a pub called the Bricklayers Arms (18th Century). It’s old, quaint and very inviting. Its beers and foods have recently won many impressive awards. They were awarded by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), The Good Pub Guide, the Michelin Guide and many others. If you have time it’s well worth a visit.
For such an interesting and historic place the Flaunden entry in Wikipedia has very little information. However, I will still include the link as over time much more is usually added.
Follow the track / path straight through the wood (now on a long distance path called the Chiltern Way for a short distance). After almost half a mile, exit the wood through a wooden kissing gate onto a lane (Holly Hedges Lane) – we have now joined the Hertfordshire Way and follow it for the next mile.
The Hertfordshire Way is a 166 mile circular route within the County of Hertfordshire. It was originally inspired by the Ramblers to celebrate their diamond jubilee in 1995 and now promoted by an autonomous group called the Friends of The Hertfordshire Way.
Turn right along the lane and past an isolated house on the left - at 12 miles into the stage. After 400 yards, where the lane turns sharp right, turn left at a metal barrier onto a footpath (signed Hertfordshire Way) straight through the woods (Woodman’s Wood) – take the middle path.
The path winds at times and at one point is crossed by another. Stay straight on along the main path for 750 yards to where it comes out into the corner of a field. Go straight on along the left hand edge of the field and gradually downhill to a stile. Cross the stile to exit the field onto a road. Turn left, along the road, crossing over as soon as possible and after 100 yards, turn right into Windmill Hill.
Initially the road climbs steeply with woodland on both sides. At the top, to the left the trees disappear and give way to some desirable residences built around a small green with Rose Farm hiding behind them. To the right are the woods of Chipperfield Common, only indented at two points by a small car park and open grassland area opposite The Windmill Pub, and again another location in Midsomer Murders. It is also near the top of the steep climb where the Hertfordshire Way turns right into the woods and leaves us. However, we do cross paths again at St Albans and Hertford.
Stay straight on along the road (now The Common) for an extra 0.4 miles to Chipperfield Green. On approaching a crossroads next to the Two Brewers Pub turn right onto the green and finish a few yards later next to the war memorial on Chipperfield Green.
There are many interesting buildings around Chipperfield Green. St Paul’s Church was built in 1837, is mainly of flint and sits on the north east corner of the common, next to the green and at the centre of the village. The Two Brewers Inn dates from the 16th Century and was at one time a training house for bare-knuckle fighters. The inn started off as the centre house in a row of three. However it became so popular that its owners acquired the other two houses and enlarged the place. This explains its long and narrow look. Today the pub is part of the “Good Night Inns” group with 20 rooms to let. The old flint school, just west of the inn and north of the church, is now cottages and retains the original school's striking clock, erected to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Just south of the War Memorial is the cricket ground and pavilion and a short distance south of this on the opposite side of the road is the Queen Ann fronted 16th Century Manor House was once home to actor Peter Sellers. You can read more about Peter Sellers at Chipperfield Manor on Hertfordshire Life.
The common itself has many pleasant walks, covers an area of over 100 acres of which most is woodland. The whole area including the village is within the “Green Belt” and was once part of the Royal Manor of Kings Langley. The first evidence of the name Chipperfield dates to 1316, when Edward II bequeathed “the Manor House of Langley the closes adjoining together with the vesture of Chepervillewode for Fewel and other Necessaries” to the Dominican Black Friars. Chepervillewode is believed to be Chipperfield Wood, cheper being derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “ceapere” meaning merchant or trader. Hence the area is thought to have been the site of a market.
Chipperfield Common was given to the local authority by the Lord of the Manor in 1936, for the use of the people of the village. The common has much history to tell. There are bronze-age tumuli in the woods. Near the southern edge is the Apostles Pond used by the Dominican Friars as far back as 14th Century. It takes its name from the 12 lime trees planted around it in 1714, each named after an apostle. Apparently, Judas Iscariot got blown down in a storm. In the 1980s the other 11 were pollarded and 12 new trees were planted. There are some sweet chestnut trees, planted almost 650 year ago to provide shade for Isabel of Castile, the 1st Duchess of York, when she rode on the Common.
The village spreads over a large area and is built on a chalk plateau on the edge of the Chilterns. There are many interesting street names and a historical poem explains their origin. The Chipperfield Village Website provides much more information on the local area including up to date news and events. Below is the poem, reproduced with permission from the village website about the street names – the author is unknown.
All you who live in Chipperfield have heard of its royal past-
How kings came down from London town to hunt in its forests vast.
Dominican monks fished its pool all dressed in their monkish clothes,
But did you ever wonder how the names of its streets arose?
Now there’s a tale that I’ve heard tell (which may or may not be true)
That some there be – just two or three – who have blood that’s royal blue.
They know who they are but stay mum, that’s because to be frank it
Don’t look good when your claim to fame’s the wrong side of the blanket.
In fifteen ten King Henry Eight came riding along these lanes
(And this was quite some time before those Catherines, Anne and Janes).
The handsome Buck rode up the Hill, watching the villagers stare,
And into what they called The Street, which was the main thoroughfare
And there he quaffed a jar of mead ‘neath shade of a Royal Oak
And stopped a while to sing and dance with Chipperfield’s honest folk,
Waving farewell, he spurred his horse And galloped round to the hill
Up where the breezes turned the sails that powered the old Windmill.
And there he spied a local girl, Sweet Meggy,- the miller’s lass,
Plucking flowers as she tripped along just before going to Mass.
Pretty and young, rural and chaste, Dressed in a simple green gown,
Yes, she appealed to him far more than all of the girls in Town.
He spent the summer wooing her – Meggy, though, wouldn’t give way -
For she had vowed to marry Fred next year on the fifth of May.
Obsessed by Megg, Henry was mad – he didn’t think it funny
That she should dare to spurn a king And choose instead Fred Dunny.
Young Henry’s heart was all aflame for Meggy was such a peach
In muslin gown with sleeves of green A treasure just out of reach.
The King tried every trick he knew, he even wrote her a song-
You know the one, about Greensleeves, The love that had done him wrong.
He vowed to her his heart, his life, promised he’d make her his Queen
If she would just be his that night she’d sample the royal scene.
Compared to this, life with young Fred really seemed on the grey side,
And so sweet Megg gave in at last and fell there by the Wayside.
But when he’d had his way with her, King Henry made it plain
He couldn’t marry her at all ‘cos of a lady from Spain.
A babe on the way, Megg distraught rushed back to the arms of Fred
But he declared the date in May was off, whatever she said.
So Megg at last sought out the nuns at the Chapel beside the Croft,
For no-one else would take her in, when asked they just jeered and scoffed.
The baby was born (just like dad she looked when she coohed and smiled)
And Alexandra was the name they gave to the royal child.
Poor Megg became a nun, I’m told, and still on each fifth of May,
When moon shines bright on starry night you may glimps a shape in grey,
Dressed in Nun’s robes, clutching her child, she haunts the Fields until dawn,
Plucking flowers and singing “Greensleeves”, her tragic face all forlorn.
And thus the royal blood’s come down through sweet Alexandra’s birth
(She had three sons by a farmer, an honest man of the earth),
So have respect for your neighbour, whether graced with brawn or brains,
For he may come from Henry’s stock, with royal blood in his veins.
For some old photos, maps and more history of the village visit Hertfordshire Genealogy and Francis Firth. The Genealogy website claims that former American President, Jimmy Carter, can trace his roots back to Jeffries Farm at Chipperfield. The Chipperfield listing on Wikipedia is worth a visit, and to see listed buildings in the village go to British Listed Buildings.
Chipperfield, because of its beauty and history within the green belt, has been classified as a Conservation Area. At 112 hectares it is the largest in the Dacorum Borough. You can download the council’s plans for the area HERE. It is a huge file, but has some great photos and information on the area.
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