Memories of Great Missenden

My grandfather lived at Sedges Farm and my family lived near by. We enjoyed the company of three young cousins. This number was greatly increased during the school holidays when several 'town' cousins came to stay on the farm, and local children joined in too. Extra men were employed at harvest-time, and work went on for several days. When the threshing machine was working in the rick-yard all the children were armed with sticks, with the intention of slaying the mice as they were disturbed. We were always rewarded with delicious farmhouse cake and lemonade and the harvesters had homemade wine—not old enough to be potent, although there were times at the end of the day when their feet used to 'wander' a little.
Not only did we enjoy glorious long summers in those days but we also had extremely hard winters. One- year we had prolonged snow and frost, and heavy snowdrifts completely covered parts of a nearby lane including the hedges, and a very large carthorse walked from his meadow across the snow into another farmer's meadow.
I suppose Great Missenden has altered least of all the villages in this district. It was not so very many years ago that the local baker baked his bread in an enormous oven heated by solid fuels, and how delicious it was too. It was delivered to customers by pony and trap several times a week. Often at tea-time the muffin-man would call, ringing his bell as he approached the house.
On occasions, I was taken by my grandfather to Missenden Abbey to walk round the beautiful gardens. It has a long and interesting history, as had Sedges Farm where I spent so many happy days during school holidays.
In fact there were rather strange inscriptions on the walls of the three attic rooms in the roof of the farm, believed to be inscribed by monks. Unfortunately the old stairway to the attics has been replaced and some of the wall removed and likewise the attics have been altered and the inscriptions covered or removed by the builders. The farmhouse still stands, commanding a lovely view across the hills, with Great Missenden church nestling in the hillside.
I also remember the many gipsy families who camped in the shelter of the thick high hedges in what is still called Gipsy Lane near the farm. The same families came and went year after year, the men sometimes stone-picking in the fields before the ploughing and sowing.

Ivy Smith, Great Kingshill

Before the coming of the railway in 1892, Great Missenden was quite a small rural community and the centre of a considerable agricultural district. Nevertheless, it boasted no less than twelve public houses in its one main street. This sometimes led to quite riotous behaviour round the village green in Church Street, on Saturdays and holidays. A travelling fair often occupied the green also, to add to the excitement.
The old High Street was cobbled and used by a considerable amount of horse traffic. This caused it to be encrusted by a deep layer of manure. In dry weather the shop windows had to be barricaded against the flying filth. The Oxford to London coach came through the village daily, with its four horses and a postillion blowing his horn.
The fire engine was kept behind one of the inns and was drawn by horses lent by the riding stables.
There was a Town Crier, called Tomlin, with his handbell who called the local news and dates of auctions, agricultural shows and the time and the weather.
A lamplighter went through the village each evening lighting the lamps for a few hours of darkness.
A muffin-man walked from Chesham with a tray of muffins, covered with a white cloth, balanced on his head.
A horse-brake used to meet the London train on Sundays and take passengers on a circular drive in the country, passing Chequers and on to Wendover where tea was provided at the Shoulder of Mutton, then back to Great Missenden and the train for an inclusive fare of half-a-crown.
The butcher, who was also the slaughterer, made large quantities of lard and dripping and customers brought their own bowls to be filled. The great treat on Wednesdays used to be hot dripping toast.
A well-known figure of those times was a drover called Jesse, who drove cattle from the market at Aylesbury to the slaughter-house. Jesse sustained himself by calling at the various hostelries on his route. When he arrived at the Black Horse on the outskirts of the village, he would leave the cattle outside while he enjoyed his final drink. It was a favourite trick of a number of children living nearby, chase the cattle into the handy village pond and watch with delight a somewhat bemused Jesse look-for his herd.
The bakery, recently closed, belonged to the Clark family for over two hundred years. They also owned mill, which was known as Deep Mill, and ground wheat for the flour. Housewives used to bring in Christmas turkeys and cakes, and large joints and pies to the bakehouse to be cooked in the bread oven.
The Squire's four sisters, the Misses Carrington, lived at Missenden Abbey, were very kind but autocratic ladies. When they visited in the village, the women were expected to appear at their doors in their aprons, and curtsey. On one occasion when two women in the street failed to do this they were asked ‘whether their knees were stiff’. Children were invited each spring to a Snowdrop Tea at the Squire's mansion, now a College of Adult Education. They were allowed to pick as many snowdrops as they liked in the Park and were then entertained to tea in house.
Lacemakers sat three or four together in the bay windows of houses in Church Street. They used ‘chaddy pots', similar to a warming pan, filled with coals and tucked under their skirts for warmth, when it was dark the group sat round one candle which had a special glass reflector. A salesman collected the completed lace periodically for very small sums.
Straw plaiting was also done by the cottagers at home, for the Luton hat trade. They used to sit in their doorways plaiting the wet straw, which resulted very sore hands.
The Buckingham Arms (now the National Westminster Bank) had some very interesting people always staying there. There is in existence still a visitors' book dating back to the early 1900's which is filled with comment and drawings and some poems. One party of people who stayed there regularly were some strolling players who performed plays and melodramas in an old building in the yard behind the Red Lion. One villager worked after school hours at this hotel as 'Boots' and stable boy from the age of eight.
The village school headmaster of those days insisted that as the district was an agricultural one all boys must be taught to cultivate a pole of land. They were allowed to sell their produce, which sometimes came to as much as 12s 6d which they collected at Christmas.

Members of Great Missenden



Extracted from 'A Pattern of Hundreds'(1975) with the kind permission of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes

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