Prestwood

'We are the Prestwood nitwits . . .' This saying underlies the belief that this was a community with more than its fair share of 'simpletons'. Until the coming of the railway to Great Missenden in 1892, the people lived in houses straggled and isolated on top of their hill, and there was much inter-marriage.
Prestwood Blacks grew abundantly and competition was very keen to be able to climb the highest tree and fill the most baskets with the cherries which were then taken to Aylesbury and sold for threepence to sixpence a pound. Rivalry was high between two men, Will Peedle and Rupert Taylor, and every June, Will, at the top of the biggest tree, could be heard singing Little Boy Blue and boasting afterwards that his voice had been heard all over Prestwood. There was a yearly feast of cherry pies given freely by the orchard owners to all the villagers.

Denner sandstone and flints can still be found in many cottage paths, and were both incorporated with brick in the building of the dwelling houses. The flint stones were collected in baskets by the women and they were paid sixpence for a yard. The flints were also used for filling holes which appeared in the muddy track — the Straight Bit as it was called (now known as the High Street). The stone cutters wore goggles and sacks around their shoulders to keep out the cold and the wet.
From the beech wood the bodgers fashioned chair legs, whilst the women made lace which was sold to travelling pedlars, and plaited straw for the Luton hat trade.
At the turn of the century, Peggie Neal, perhaps one of the first multi-business tycoons — was a bookie's runner, sold hog puddings and castrated cats, first restraining them head first up his sleeve!

After dark, it is notoriously difficult to get horses to pass the corner of one lane. A lady, holding her head in her hands, gallops on a white horse over the uplands and round by Stoney Green Hall; and a wandering disconsolate spirit of some former tenant of Moat Farm seeks the hoard of guineas which were discovered in a wall and appropriated by those engaged in the work of repair.

The first school was opened in 1850 shortly after the consecration of the church which heralded the first Ecclesiastical Parish. In 1900 the headmistress was Miss Margaret McVicar who was a strict disciplinarian and much hated by the children. When she left, some of the boys smeared the gate posts with mud so that her skirts would be dirtied as she passed through them for the last time! In 1909 Moat Lane school opened, one of the first provided by the new Local Education Authorities.

In the Second World War, evacuees came from London. Mrs Harding had two little girls and occasionally, after a bad raid on London, the families, sometimes as many as ten, would come down for a night or two and sleep anywhere in her house. These two girls were very fond of cherries and they put their stones in the garden by the kitchen window — today a fine cherry tree flourishes there!
It is on record that the W.I. made 1,400 lbs of jam in 1942, and also made camouflage nets, collected soap which they sent to liberated France and mending kits to Holland.

When Clement Attlee was Prime Minister he was very fond of entertaining at Chequers and when he left office in 1951 he bought Cherry Cottage in Prestwood. Later when he took the title of Earl Attlee his son became Viscount Prestwood.

No longer is Prestwood a small village of cherry trees, fields and woods - now 6,000 people live here — very many commuting to London. But even so, one has only to walk a short distance in any direction to recapture the past.

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