Location, location – and a busy station
Beaconsfield once served London as a popular retreat. Donald Stanley reveals more
Nearlier times Beaconsfield’s healthy climate provided a retreat from the capital or a stopping off place on the way to the Midlands or the West Country notwithstanding that owners of the estates often had commercial, legal and political interests elsewhere. Later it attracted schools and a convalescent home. For lawyers there were the stewardships of the manors and estates in the area and London’s courts were within convenient reach.
Some invested in local farms and inns consolidating arable land into fewer farms and letting the better farmhouses to upper middle-class families.
One 17th century attorney, Richard Gosnold, owned several local farms including Overs and Wattleton, as well as the Swan Inn. The Charsley family, which provided Beaconsfield with lawyers for about 150 years, acquired residential or retail properties rather than farms or inns. Robert, the first of their line, owned several shops converted from what had previously been the Swan Inn. He also built Wycombe End House which he leased to a succession of private residents; in the 1800s it became a private school.
Although some of the town’s apothecaries and surgeons were described as ‘opulent’ and lived in substantial residences, none are listed as owners of farms or inns.
The coming of the Great Western and Great Central Joint Railway provided a passenger service by which London could be reached in forty minutes thus making it possible for those of more modest means to work in the capital and live in the Chilterns. In anticipation, speculators began building on the farmland of the great estates to the North of what became known as the Old Town. Indeed, two of the first residential roads, Reynolds Road and Ledborough Lane, were developed in about 1903. Nonetheless, when Beaconsfield station opened in 1906 the newly built Railway Hotel, later renamed the Earl of Beaconsfield, provided stabling and a carriage house which were made available to visitors to private houses in the area.
The early shops included temporary huts on the railway embankment adjoining Station Road, the last one being removed in the early 1960s.
The local firm of Burgess, Holden & Watson, designed the first parade of shops and occupied an office over Lloyds Bank on the gable end of which one of the partners carved an animal which can still be seen. Sir Hugh Casson designed Waitrose which stands on the site of the Earl of Beaconsfield.
The Earl of Beaconsfield previously the Railway Hotel
Station taxi – one of the coaches still in service as late as the 1920s