Chesham Bois

The earliest that is known about Chesham Bois is that a prehistoric trade route came down from Ley Hill, across the river Chess and up Hollow Way Lane, continuing to Amersham, Penn and eventually the south coast. Ancient tracks such as this were marked at frequent intervals by stone boulders and locally the distinctive puddingstone, a mass of pebbles in a stone-like matrix, was used. Many of these stones can still be seen lining the drive from Bois Lane to the church.
The Domesday Survey of 1086 records that Chesham included a Saxon manor given by William the Conqueror to his half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux: but in the reign of King John its ownership in fee was acquired by a Norman family named de Bosco or du Bois. William du Bois occupied a manor house which he either rebuilt or erected about 1213, with a family chapel nearby. This forms the chancel of the present parish church of St Leonards, although the house itself has long since disappeared. The church is approached through an avenue of chestnut trees, and is first seen across an open meadow.

The manor passed through a number of different hands until Sir Thomas Cheyne purchased it in 1446. Sir Thomas was a Lollard, of whom there were a number in the Amersham area, and some were burnt at the stake in 1414. Sir Thomas himself was imprisoned in the Tower in the same year for his heretical beliefs. The Cheynes held the manor for the next three centuries until 1738 when it passed to the Russell family, who became Dukes of Bedford. The old rectory on Chesham Bois Common was designed and built in the characteristic Russell style, similar to that used in Chenies village and at Woburn; the two-storeyed porch bears the date 1833 and displays the ducal coronet.

Two farms were recorded at Chesham Bois in the 16th century, Manor Farm and Bois Farm. The latter is now part of the Beacon School on the main road to Chesham, where a massive and splendidly timbered Elizabethan barn, partly converted into a farm building, can still be seen. For a time in the 1930s this was used as a repertory theatre. Bois Mill, in the Chess valley has a long history. The house occupies the site of the original water-mill recorded in the Domesday Survey, when it was worth three shillings.

Even up to the middle of the 19th century very little development took place in this peaceful part of Bucks. The population in 1806 was 135 and fifty years later it had risen to 258. Towards the end of the century the village around Anne's Corner began to develop and when an enterprising builder, William Gomm, built some of the substantial houses facing the Common, most of their doors, fireplaces, balustrading and window-frames came from the late period houses which had been demolished to make way for Marylebone Station. Most of the present day housing development has taken place since the Second World War, with large gardens being divided up.


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