Grendon Underwood

Grendon Underwood lies between the Roman road of Akeman Street and the ancient Bernwode Forest from which it derives its name. Part of the woods are still there and muntjac or barking deer are to be seen, and in the wet oak and hazel woods, primroses and cowslips abound. From the 16th century, the village was a stopping place on the road between Warwickshire and London. 'Grendon Underwood, The dirtiest town that ever stood'. No doubt the state of the roads gave rise to this rhyme that has been handed down through generations.
Stories of rich tradition and legend come from John Aubrey, the antiquary, one of which is that Shakespeare passed through the woodlands of Bucks on his way to London from Stratford on Avon. There was a green track through Grendon, frequented by strolling players. It is believed that the bard used this path to arrive at The Ship Inn now Shakespeare House, where he would stay for the night. Tradition tells us that the characters, Dogberry and Verges were based on two Grendon constables who arrested Shakespeare for sleeping in the porch of the parish church. He was charged with robbing the church and when arrested, he asked that the chest be opened and finding nothing missing said 'much ado about nothing', which could have set the title for that play.

Shakespeare House is an ancient Elizabethan house near St Leonard's church. Oak framed with brick infilling, inside are large arched brick fireplaces with stone moulded facing. The gable has an oval window. It is said that this is the room in which the poet slept and composed.

When it was an inn, it could accommodate forty people. The house has had a greater importance than the exterior. The Petty Sessions for the Ashenden Hundreds of Bucks were held there.

From papers found in an old iron chest at Doddershall, it is known that troops were mustered there. A muster notice, 1674, directs the 'Rt. Hon. Lord Lieutenant of the Countie commands souldiers appear at the signe of the Shipp in Grindon' on a certain date, 'compleatly armed and well fixed' and that they should receive 'Two dayes pay and each muskateere a pounde of pouder.'
A lady in the village remembers life here nearly sixty years ago. Then traders came to sell their wares, and a carrier would bring parcels and take away a bundle of rabbit skins. 'Calico Jack' came from Waddesden with haberdashery, another would bring greengrocery and take you to Bicester or Aylesbury in his pony and trap to catch a train, and a fishmonger called.

A 'Club Feast' was held annually in the village school. Women cooked a meal for which poor people had paid into a club. The first spring cabbage was always ceremoniously cut for this. A church service preceded the meal and a band played for entertainment. Peonies were fixed to the church flag pole to signify the event. This must have been a longed-for meal at a time when near starvation was not unknown in villages.

The tramway started in 1872 to serve the estate of the Duke of Buckingham. Later coaches were added for the benefit of adjoining villages. In the 1930s, students used it to reach Aylesbury grammar schools. They would cycle to a crossing between Grendon and Waddesden to board, but if they missed it, they had to pedal furiously to the next stop at Quainton. If the driver was good tempered he would wait, shouting encouragement, as they laboured along. The tramway ceased in 1935.

Article written by members of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes for the publication "The Buckinghamshire Village Book" (1987) and reproduced here with their permission

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