Notes on Chesham


Description of Chesham from J. J. Sheahan, 1861

 The town and parish of Chesham, with its several hamlets, extend over an area of 12,657 acres, and contains 5,985 souls. Its rateable value is £20,137. The place derives its name from the small river Chess, which has its source here. Chesham is a small market town situated 3 miles N from Amersham, 13 miles S.E. from Aylesbury, 14 miles N.W. from Uxbridge, and 28 miles N.W. from London. The town is improving, and the country is beautifully diversified and very picturesque. The soil on the high lands abounds with flint and chalk, in the valleys it is more alluvial.

The town, which consists chiefly of three streets, is situated in a pleasant and fertile valley, and was formerly noted for its extensive manufacture of wood-ware and turnery. A considerable trade in shoe-making for the London and foreign markets is now carried on. The market for corn, cattle etc., is held on Wednesdays; and there are Fairs for cattle and sheep on the 21st of April, 22nd July, and 28th September. The town hall was partly rebuilt by Lord Chesham in 1856. Petty sessions are held in it on the first and third Wednesday in every month. The Gas works were erected in 1847. The Savings' Bank was established in 1854. The Mechanics' Institute was founded in 1851, and is held in the town hall. The library contains 400 volumes. The Young Men's Christian Association was instituted in 1854. The Temperance Hall was built for the Temperance Society in 1852 and a Police Station is about to be erected.

The Cemetery was opened in 1858, and consists of six acres, equally apportioned to the church people and dissenters. The grounds are tastefully laid out. The total cost of the cemetery, including the erection of two neat Chapels, is about £4,500.

The Vicarage is in the patronage of the Duke of Bedford, and incumbency of the Rev. Adolphus Frederick Aylward. Its annual gross value is £550, for which sum the small tithes were commuted in 1843. The rectorial tithes were commuted for £2,326. The great tithes were formerly divided between the Abbeys of Leicester and Woburn, each of which appointed a Vicar; but the medieties of the Vicarage were consolidated of both, built the present Vicarage House, and pulled down the two houses which had belonged to the portionists.



In the past, Ley Hill was well-known for its gypsies and drunkards! The former for the good camping facilities and the profusion of hazel twigs (from which they made clothes pegs) on the Common, and the latter for the close proximity of the four Pubs - The Swan, The Crown, The Five Bells and The Hen and Chickens.

The population of the village has changed over the past 50 years from agricultural workers and brickmakers, to professional people. Bricks are still made locally but by machine, not by hand.

The Common, still a very popular recreational place, has altered in appearance since local farmers ceased grazing their sheep there in the late 1930s. This has resulted in the growth of many scrub oak trees, and the disappearance of the gorse and raspberry canes which used to grow in profusion.

Ley Hill is proud of its community spirit, and a quarterly Newsletter is published and distributed by the Village Hall Committee. A good variety of activities take place during the year, which cater for all sections of the residents. One of these events happens at Christmastime, and is much looked forward to, especially by the children. People assemble outside the Village Hall around a glowing brazier, and sing carols. Afterwards, mince pies and coffee are served in the Hall. Another traditional annual event is a Meet of the Old Berkeley Foxhunt on the Common.

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