Friday, 23 March 2012

Those Places Thursday - Chesham 'Boots, brushes and baptists'

Ornamental pillars at
Chesham station
Chesham is a market town in Buckinghamshire, and it has been my home since 2002. It's a nice place to live, surrounded by the open countryside of the Chiltern hills, but with a fast train service to London. In fact, the station is art of the London Underground, despite the fact that you have to walk up quite a steep hill to get to the station, and travel about 20 miles before the train actually goes under the ground. There is still a water-tower, a reminder of the days of steam trains, and there must still be water in it, because in the summer you can see bullrushes growing there.

It is a pretty little town, with a proper high street that still has independent shops, and a market twice a week. There used to be a market hall, too, but only the clock tower remains, as the main building was demolished a number of years ago. There is a medieval parish church, and wide range of other places of worship; Methodist, Roman Catholic, United Reformed, Salvation Army, Spiritualist and two Baptist churches (there used to be three) as well as a mosque. The local branch library is not very big, but it has a good family history and local history section. But the best place to start if you want to know about the town's history is Chesham Museum. Their site has a great collection of photographs and links to lots of other useful resources. One of the most interesting is the Roll of Honour listing the names of Chesham men who fell in the two world wars, with biographical details for most of them.

Chesham War Memorial - Remembrance Day parade 2010
Chesham was in the registration district of Amersham, from 1837 until 1974, since when it has been part of the Buckinghamshire district. Registration districts were based on Poor Law Unions, formed in 1834 by amalgamating groups of parishes. The Union Workhouse and the administration of the Union were usually based in the largest parish in the Union. In 1834 Chesham was much the largest of the parishes concerned, but the Poor Law Commissioners judged that the parish workhouse in Chesham was badly run, so the new Union was based on Amersham instead. When the paupers in the old parish workhouse were moved to Amersham in 1835, there was riot in the streets of Chesham. There is an account of this and more about the history of Amersham Union on Peter Higginbottom's wonderful The Workhouse site.

Parish church of St Mary, Chesham
Most of the records for Chesham are held at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies in Aylesbury, but those for the various nonconformist churches and chapels are at The National Archives in record series RG4 and RG 6. They can be searched and downloaded from the BMDregisters site. Another good way of finding out about Chesham, its records, and where they are held is by entering it as a search term on England Jurisdictions 1851 which is part of FamilySearch

The George and Dragon
For general information, maps and population statistics there is A Vision of Britain Through Time and you will find pictures of listed buildings on the Images of England site. This last works better if you register (free of charge) to use the advanced search facility. 

The listed buildings include the George and Dragon (left) in the High Street. Quite a number of pubs all over the country have closed in recent years, including this one, but fortunately it has recently re-opened under new management; it's much too attractive to be empty and unused.

Finally, I haven't forgotten about the 'Boots, brushes and Baptists' part of the title, above. This is something I was told by the estate agent when I was looking at houses here, and it reflects some of the main features of the town's history. I've already explained the 'Baptists' part, and two of the main local industries were the manufacture of small wood items, especially brushes, and boot making. You can see this for yourself by browsing the census for Chesham, where you will see that much of the population was engaged in one of these occupations. You might also notice that many of the women worked in lace-making or straw-plaiting, but neither of these starts with B so it wouldn't be such a snappy title if they were included.



  1. Audrey: I am descended from the Skottowes of Chesham, so it was wonderful to read your post.
    (Marian Press, Toronto)

  2. You have a beautiful home. My ancestors came from the towns of Curry Mallet and Watchet in the county of Somerset. Have you ever been there?