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Chesham

Excavations at Stratford's YardA few Palaeolithic tools have been found in Chesham, for instance a handaxe found in the construction of a school on Nashleigh Hill and one at the library. The area, close to the River Chess, seems to have been attractive in prehistory. Mesolithic flint scatters have been found at Thomas Harding School and in Cowcroft Wood. A Mesolithic to Neolithic flint scatter was excavated on the site of a sixteenth century building at Stratford’s Yard and nearby at East Street. The assemblage included over 2000 blades, over 2400 flakes and over 50 cores as well as many tools such as scrapers, awls, microliths and knives and animal bone, charred cereal and nuts. A few Neolithic flint flakes have been found in fields around Crabtree Farm. Late Neolithic to Middle Bronze Age activity in the form of pits and ring-ditches have been found recently at Chessvale Bowling Club. The Rolling Pin in Lowndes Park may be a Bronze Age barrow, but it also may be a post-medieval prospect mound as part of the ground of The Bury. One sherd of Early Iron Age pottery was found at Lower Hundridge Farm.

 

The Rolling Pin, Lowndes ParkQuite a lot of Roman material has been found in the parish. Several coins from the parish are actually Greek rather than Roman. Roman pottery sherds have been found in a few gardens, such as at 1 High Street; 23 Missenden Road; Taswell Cottages; betwen Wey Lane and Germain Street; Duck Alley; Bilson’s Yard and 14-15 Germains Close. Roman pottery has also been found fieldwalking around Lower Hundridge Farm. Twelve Roman pottery sherds were found when a hole was dug to extract a petrol tank on Blucher Street. 400 Roman pottery sherds found at Dawes Close during building works points to a substantial building here, perhaps a villa. Excavations at Rackleys uncovered a Roman rubbish pit containing pottery, animal bone and a fragment of iron, suggesting nearby occupation and possibly metalworking. A possible Roman cemetery was uncovered on Latimer Road. Roman occupation was also found at Wright’s Mill, as well as a thirteenth to fifteenth century building.

 

Many mills are recorded in the medieval period: Cannon Mill; Lord’s Mill; Chesham Higham Manor Mill; Blackwell Mill; Elliot or Bois Mill; and Paynes Mill. Most of these continued until the nineteenth century or later, turning into fulling mills in the sixteenth century and by the eighteenth being transformed into paper mills. More mills were built in later centuries, such as Amy Mill. Most of the medieval mills were attached to manors, such as Chesham Higham Manor; Chesham Leicester manor, the rectory was later sited here and Lowndes Park was also part of this manor, being recorded in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as a deer park; Chesham Woburn manor, where there are records of a possible second church in the fifteenth century; The Bury, though the current house dates to the seventeenth century, there are records of a watermill here in the twelfth century; and Blackwell manor, though Blackwell Hall dates to the sixteenth to seventeenth century. Thorne Manor is only recorded in the post-medieval period.

 

Site of The Balks at Chesham HospitalLower Hundridge Farm may have early beginnings as thirteenth to fourteenth century pottery has been found in fieldwalking surveys in the fields around. There are also medieval cultivation terraces called the Balks to the east of the town above the railway line. There are records of Chesham in Domesday and there are slightly later records of a market place, though the seventeenth to eighteenth century market hall has since been demolished.

 

St Mary's ChurchThe oldest surviving building is St Mary’s church. Some secular buildings also date to the medieval period. The oldest in the parish is probably 54-56 Church Street, which used to be all one house. It was built in the fourteenth century with a hall parallel to the street and a cross-wing at right angles to it, and these two elements make up the main part of the two modern dwellings. 1 Blucher Street also retains a medieval great hall within the later brickwork, and there is a sixteenth century gatehouse here. Codmore Farm dates back to the fifteenth century, as does Vale Farm, Hollybush Farm and Great Germains.

 

54-56 Church StreetThe other listed buildings in the parish date from the sixteenth century Ivy House Farm, Mount Nugent Farm, Little Germains and the White House in Lye Green to the nineteenth century houses like The Meades, Chesham Bois Manor House and the Queen’s Head on Church Street. In between there are buildings such as Weedon’s Almshouse, which dates to the seventeenth century, and other eighteenth century religious buildings such as the Friend’s Meeting House, the Particular Baptist Chapel and the Baptist Chapel on Red Lion Street. Christ Church was built in the nineteenth century. A cross was erected in 1908 to the memory of the burning of Thomas Harding as a heretic in the sixteenth century on the site of White Hill School. There was also a windmill in Chesham but it was moved to Lacey Green, where it still stands. There was also a pair of post-medieval stocks on the Broadway but these were removed in the nineteenth century.

 

The later centuries also brought industry. Seventeenth to eighteenth century pottery kilns were excavated in the pipeline trench for a new Scout hut in the allotments next to Emmanuel Church. There are records of a twentieth century brickworks at Brockhurst and a pottery dump dating to the eighteenth century found here during topsoil stripping for a water main might suggest an earlier kiln. The area also became important for chalk extraction, and pits have been recorded on historic maps at Pednor Bottom, several around Francis Wood and even in Lowndes Park.