Burnham

Burnham Hundred, along with those of Stoke and Desborough, make up the Chiltern Hundreds. Burnham has a mention in the Domesday Book. It is no longer a typical English village, though there is still a strong community feeling present. The main street is a conservation area and this will help to preserve the charming appearance of its buildings. Any new building has to be in keeping with the old. Very few of its inhabitants live in the High Street now, so from being a place of bustle day and night it is a busy trading centre during the day and almost deserted in the evenings.
The parish church of St Peter dates from the 13th century, though there is evidence that there was a church on the site before that time. Its structure has seen changes through the years. An extension is being erected at present, the Cornerstone Project. It has a team ministry which serves also the churches of Taplow, Hitcham and Dropmore.

Church Street was the centre of the village and the governing body, the Vestry, was responsible for civil and church affairs until the formation of the Parish Council in the mid 1880s. There was a market hall, stocks and the penitentiary 'Cage' for wrongdoers, the Five Bells, the Bricklayers' Arms, shops and cottages. South of the church the workhouse was built in 1763 but after 80 years it was closed and a primary school was built on the site. This has now disappeared, and a modern house built with the old materials. On the left side of the street there is a Tudor cottage, once a shop, now a private house, in which Mrs Sheila Critchley lived until her death. She began a Dollmakers' Circle in the district and was well known by many associations for her entertaining talks.

South east of the village was a watermill, Haymill. The pond serving it has largely disappeared. There are some large estates on the outskirts. Britwell Court, built in the 14th century, housed a very fine library when owned by the Christie-Miller family. The house was sold to a community of nuns, Servants of Christ, in-1919 and called the House of Prayer. It is no longer a religious: house. In 1903 a merchant banker, E. Clifton-Brown, bought an adjoining estate, Burnham Grove, and became famous for his Hampshire Down sheep and Tamworth pigs. This is now the Burnham Beeches Hotel. A previous owner was the uncle of  Thomas  Gray, the poet.  Dorneywood House is the second home of  the Foreign Secretary, having been given to the nation by the late Lord  Courtauld Thomson, brother-in-law of Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows. Lord Thomson also gave land to the  Scout Movement for a permanent camp site.

The forest of Burnham Beeches, about 500 acres, is owned by tbe Corporation of the City of London. There are medieval remains, Hardicanute's Moat. A beech tree in this forest is thought  to be the largest beech butt in England. It is aptly named 'His Majesty’ and has a girth, at 3 ft from the ground, of 29ft 1 inch. The beech trees form very peculiar shapes as they been pollarded for hundreds of years for fuel.

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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