Great Missenden

There has been a village of Great Missenden since Saxon times. The name is derived from the river Miss or Mease and from the word 'dene' — a narrow wooded valley. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Today the river is known as The Misbourne and whereas it was once an attractive stream rising near the Black
Horse at Mobwell and serving several watermills, it is now almost non-existent and is enclosed in a culvert beneath Buryfields Recreation Ground.
Situated as it is on the main road between Aylesbury and London, Great Missenden was once a popular stopping place for travellers and at one time there were twelve inns along the High Street.

The large number of inns provided a great deal of employment for the villagers, together with blacksmiths, wheelwrights etc. The many farms in the area also provided work and on the outskirts there was at one time a brickworks. The women of the village were involved in straw-plaiting for the hatmakers of Luton and St Albans, lacemaking and in the service of the gentry who occupied the many great country houses in the area.

The one thing which brought the greatest change to life in Great Missenden was the coming of the Metropolitan Railway in 1892. This meant that trade for the inns was drastically reduced, the need for so many horses and horse-drawn vehicles also fell and thus many of the villagers were forced to seek other employment which was not readily available at that time.

Once the journey to London via the train was made easier, several notable people began to look at Great Missenden as a place to live. Many politicians, actors, authors and businessmen needing to be within easy reach of the capital have found the Chiltern Hills surrounding Great Missenden an ideal place to make their homes.

Important buildings include Missenden Abbey, founded in 1133 by William de Missenden who had inherited the land from Walter Giffard, a knight of the Norman conquest.

The Abbey eventually owned much land in the neighbourhood and in 1367 King Henry HI granted a fair to be held on August 14th and 15th — the feast days of the Blessed Virgin to whom the Abbey is dedicated. This fair survived until the middle of the 19th century.

The Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul stands on the site of a Saxon church and although the exact age of the church is not known, the first Vicar was appointed in 1199. In the churchyard, the tomb of Thomas Backhouse commemorates a retired sailor who, in 1800 was buried upright under a pyramid-shaped monument on the hillside above Havenfields. Some years later his body was removed to the churchyard.

In today's Great Missenden the High Street is very different.
Gone are the inns, the small grocery shops, the haberdashers and many others to be replaced by numerous antique dealers, estate agents and a supermarket. The old ironmongery business remains together with the bakery and the butchers. Mr Caleb King, who started the ironmongers shop, could make anything in tin-ware starting from scratch. He also had the first motor car in Great Missenden — an Austin Seven — which could be hired to take fares almost anywhere.

At Havenfields there is a violin maker's establishment where highly skilled work is still carried out.

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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