Stoke Poges

Stoke Poges is situated between Slough and Gerrards Cross. It is an area made up of several scattered hamlets and comprises estates, woodlands and common land.
In 1086 it was known as Stockes and was the meeting place of the Stoke Hundred (one of the Chiltern Hundreds). In 1291 Robert Poges married Amicia de Stoke and the parish became known as Stoke Poges. Until well into the 19th century the southern boundary was the Bath Road and in 1835 Slough was designated in a topographical dictionary as a hamlet in the parish of Stoke Poges.

St Giles church is remote from the village but situated near the Manor House one and a half miles distant. This was probably firstly a Saxon thane's dwelling then an 'embattled' castle of the 14th century and lastly was the Elizabethan Manor house of the 2nd Earl of Huntingdon. Part of the church is Saxon but it is mostly Norman with the Tudor Hastings Chapel as a later addition.

The churchyard is famous for its connection with Thomas Gray the poet who died in 1771 and who there lies buried with his mother. His Elegy written in a Country Churchyard surely one of the best known poems in the English language, is generally supposed to have been written at Stoke Poges as the poet spent much time here with his mother who lived for some years at West End Farm in the village. This, enlarged, became Stoke Court and was the home of the Penn family. It is now the administrative headquarters of an International Pharmaceutical Company and has recently been rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1979.

Adjoining the churchyard is the National Trust Field where stands the monument to Gray erected in 1799 by John Penn, a grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania. This has been restored after an appeal launched by the late Sir John Betjeman in 1977.

James Wyatt's Gothic vicarage was built in 1802 to replace an earlier building which John Penn had demolished as it spoiled his view from Stolce Park, the house he had built in the late 18th century, the old Manor House having fallen into decay. One wing of this is still standing and is occupied as business premises. Stoke Park House is now the headquarters of the Stoke Poges Golf Club and the surrounding parkland forms the championship Golf Course.

Sefton Park originally known as Stoke Farm was built for Lady Molyneux daughter of the Earl of Sefton. Another well-known person who lived there was Lady de Frece, better known as Vesta Tilley the actress. During the Second World War, the Gordon Highlanders' famous 51st division and American G.I.s were quartered there prior to the invasion of Normandy and were visited by many famous war leaders though it was 'hush hush' at the time. After the war Glaxo Laboratories moved in and there developed the Salk vaccine.

In Rogers Lane is the house known as Uplands, built in 1772 to house a lace factory, later becoming the village workhouse and now a gracious family home.
Not far from the vicarage is the Clock House built in 1765 as almshouses to replace the original Hospital (or Almshouses) founded by Lord Hastings in 1557. The oldest house in the village is an early 16th century timber-framed house also now occupied by a business firm.

As Thomas Gray's poem has it the villagers seem mainly to have kept 'the noiseless tenour of their way', in the past being mostly employed on the land or in service in the large houses. The exception seems to have been at the time of the Enclosures in the early part of the last century when the villagers' rights of grazing their animals on the common were extinguished. Between 1810 and 1814 a great struggle went on in the parish — many of the gentry and villagers joined forces to preserve the right of the poor to gather fuel on 200 of the original 460 acres. This is now designated an 'area of special scientific interest' and is still administered by four elected trustees from the village under the chairmanship of the vicar of Stoke Poges as was agreed at the time of Enclosure.

It is interesting to note that the needy still have help with their fuel bills, paid for from funds derived from charges to Public Authorities for such things as telephone poles, gas pipes laid across the common etc.

In a mysterious Census of the Poor of 1832 in the Bodleian Library at Oxford there are reports of the villagers, one being transported for seven years and another 'taken up on suspicion of being concerned in an intended conspiracy to fire the workhouse'.

Folk of good character are mentioned and also men who were 'shady' and 'bosky' i.e. given to drink. Among the craftsmen mentioned are brickmakers, sawyers, wheelwrights, a cordwainer, a smith and an unusual occupation of 'kindler maker'.
At the time of the First World War the population of the village was under 1500 and 48 fell in battle. Now the population is 5,000, made up of all sections of the socio-economic groups who get their livelihoods in London, Slough, Windsor, Heathrow Airport etc. The village contains all types of dwelling and an up to date shopping precinct and although no longer presents an agricultural outlook possesses a strong community spirit.

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