Hundreds of changes through the years
From ancient stewardships and market days to the coming of the railways. Donald Stanley explores the diverse history of Beaconsfield
BEACONSFIELD is part of the Hundred of Burnham, one of three comprising the Chiltern Hundreds the Stewardship of which, being an office of profit under the Crown, may be sought by a Member of Parliament wishing to resign his seat.
For tax purposes in Saxon times, a hundred ‘hides’ were considered to be able to support a family. Beaconsfield became divided one part, the Hall Barn estate, being acquired by the Abbess of Burnham who held it until the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541). The other, Wilton Park, was acquired for a time by Missenden Abbey.
The introduction in the 1700s of properly maintained ‘turnpike’ roads made possible regular coach and goods wagon services and Beaconsfield became a staging post which brought business for its inns, blacksmiths and wheelwrights.
Local deposits made possible the manufacture of tiles and, when brick replaced wattle and daub, brick making as in Pot Kiln Lane. In common with other Buckinghamshire towns, lace was produced by women in their homes and the workhouse.
The coming of the railway in 1906 made it possible to work in London and live in the Chilterns. This led to the building of the New Town on which local life became centred leaving the original town relatively undisturbed.
As late as 1969, Kathleen Day wrote that the buildings in Beaconsfield Old Town had changed little in the previous half century apart from the absence of her family’s business, Day’s Stores, at the rear of which had been the Market Hall.
Between them and the old lock-up, now an estate agency, is the grassed over part of Aylesbury End facing The White Hart. This had been the Market Place and site of the fair which the Abbess of Burnham had acquired the right to hold each year on May 10.
The Tuesday market dates from a Royal Grant in 1255. A Candlemas Cattle Fair was held each February on the green outside the Parish Church on the other side of Wycombe End until the time of the First World War.
When the National Schools in the building that is now the Beaconsfield Masonic Centre the green was used as a play area between lessons, for physical exercises, singing games, and as a drill ground for Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and where the Maypole was erected on May Day.
Beaconsfield Village Green – from a 19th century print