Chesham

Chesham
Chesham Market Sq Clock.jpg
Chesham Clock Tower in Market Square
Chesham is located in Buckinghamshire
Chesham
Chesham
Chesham shown within Buckinghamshire
Population21,483 (2011 Census)[1]
OS grid referenceSP965015
Civil parish
  • Chesham
District
Shire county
Region
CountryEngland
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townCHESHAM
Postcode districtHP5
Dialling code01494
PoliceThames Valley
FireBuckinghamshire
AmbulanceSouth Central
EU ParliamentSouth East England
UK Parliament
List of places
UK
England
Buckinghamshire
51°42′11″N 0°36′07″W / 51°42′11″N 0°36′07″W / 51.703; -0.602

Chesham (əm/, locally əm/, or əm/) is a market town in the Chiltern Hills, Buckinghamshire, England. It is located 11 miles south-east of the county town of Aylesbury. Chesham is also a civil parish designated a town council within Chiltern district. It is situated in the Chess Valley[2] and surrounded by farmland, as well as being bordered on one side by the parishes of Amersham and Chesham Bois. The earliest records of Chesham as a settlement are from the second half of the 10th century although there is archaeological evidence of people in this area from around 8000 BC. Henry III granted the town a royal charter for a weekly market in 1257.[3]

The town is known for its four Bs, usually quoted as:- boots, beer, brushes and Baptists.[4] Chesham's prosperity grew significantly during the 18th and 19th centuries with the development of manufacturing industry.

In the face of fierce competition from both home and abroad all these traditional industries rapidly declined. The ready availability of skilled labour encouraged new industries to the town both before and after the end of the Second World War. Today employment in the town is provided mainly by small businesses engaged in light industry, technology and professional services.

From the early part of the 20th century onwards there has been a considerable expansion of the town with new housing developments and civic infrastructure. Increasingly Chesham has also become a commuter town with improved connection to London via the London Underground and road networks. The town centre has been progressively redeveloped since the 1960s and was pedestrianised in the 1990s. The population of the town has increased to slightly over 20,000 but further growth has been restricted because the area forms part of the Metropolitan Green Belt.

Transport

In contrast to other towns in south Buckinghamshire, Chesham historically was not well served by road transport links. The stage coach bypassed the town and, unlike Amersham, there were no turnpikes and consequently roads were poorly maintained. Significant change occurred in the post Second World War period with the opening of the M1 motorway. The A416 now runs through the town, from Amersham to Berkhamsted, and connects the town to the more recently upgraded A41. The A416 was diverted around the High Street and later upgraded to be dual-lane. Although these improvements enable more through traffic, traffic congestion has increased. Chesham's High Street was pedestrianised in 1990 and the benefits to the High Street have been felt ever since. Whilst some of the previous bustle has been lost, the impact of pedestrianisation has generally been positive.

Rail

Chesham tube station

Chesham tube station, close to the town centre, is the terminus for the Chesham branch, a single track spur off the London Underground Metropolitan line connecting to Chalfont and Latimer station. It was opened in July 1889. The original plan involved the extension of the line from the station to the LNWR at Berkhamsted, but the idea was abandoned as the Metropolitan line reached Amersham and thence Aylesbury. There were some sizeable goods yards beyond the station, which were closed and now function as Waitrose's car park except for one portion occupied by a coal merchants.

In 1959 electrification of the Metropolitan line to Chesham provided a more reliable connection to London. Following the cessation of London Underground services to Aylesbury in 1961 and the closure of Ongar in 1994, Chesham has become the furthest location served from central London, in terms of both distance and travelling time. Prior to December 2010, apart from a few direct trains to London at peak times, a shuttle service operated to and from Chalfont and Latimer station. Since then the town has benefited from direct trains to London all day.[52]

The nearest National Rail connections are Amersham station, although the LU line also connects directly to Chalfont & Latimer station, from where the Metropolitan line and National Rail Chiltern Railways provide a joint service with Metropolitan line trains travelling to Baker Street station and Chiltern Railways trains travelling to Marylebone station. There is also access to London via Berkhamsted railway station on the West Coast Main Line.

Bus services

Bus companies running local services include Arriva, Carousel Buses, Red Rose and Redline.

Residential areas of the town are connected with the central shopping-area. Chesham is also connected by services to nearby Amersham, and further afield to High Wycombe, Hemel Hempstead, and Uxbridge.[53]Less frequent services run to Aylesbury and to surrounding villages.

Car usage and parking

There are six pay and display car parks in the town, managed by Chiltern District Council. This demand for parking reflects the relatively high car usage, a result of both affluence and the limited public transport provision in rural areas. As a consequenceChiltern District has the 4th highest carbon footprint of all local authorities.[54]

Cycling

There is limited provision for cycle use within the town. The town is one setting off point for exploring the Chilterns and cycling heritage trails have been developed by the district authority, two of which are centred on countryside around Chesham.[55]

Air transport

Luton airport is 15 miles away and Heathrow airport 22 miles away. The Bovingdon stack is directly above the town.

Education

Between the 1960s and the mid-1990s Primary education provision in Chesham as elsewhere in the county was organised into First (ages 4–8) and Middle (ages 8 – 12) with some Combined Schools taking pupils across the whole age range (4 -12). In 1996 the arrangements were modified and the age of transfer to Secondary education was changed to age 11. Today, the schools still retain some elements of the previous arrangement reflected also in their names. There are six Primary Schools within Chesham with catchment areas based on post codes: – Elmtree First School, Newtown Infant School, Brushwood Junior School, Thomas Harding Junior School, Ivingswood Academy (previously Little Spring Primary School), Waterside Combined School. Attendance by Chesham children at some of the village schools close to the town is also popular.[56]

Secondary education

At secondary level Buckinghamshire continues to operate a system of selective education with pupils sitting the eleven plus exam to determine entry to either a Grammar school or Secondary Modern School (also known locally as an Upper School).[57] Two Secondary Schools are located in the town: – Chiltern Hills Academy, a co-educational Church of England Academy, previously known as Chesham Park Community College which was formed from the merger of Lowndes School and Cestreham School) and Chesham Grammar School, a co-educational grammar school, which until May 2010 was called Chesham High School. Chesham also falls within the catchment areas of two further grammar schools, Dr Challoner's Grammar School for boys' in Amersham and Dr Challoner's High School for girls in Little Chalfont.

Independent schools

In the Chiltern and South Bucks area around Chesham and over the county border in Hertfordshire there are also a number of independent fee-paying schools providing education between ages 4–13 and up to age 18. Chesham Preparatory School is an independent school which opened in 1938 in the town and shortly after relocated to the outskirts of Chesham at Orchard Leigh, providing fee-paying and scholarship-supported education.[58]

Special, further and adult education provision

Chesham is the location of a nationally renowned Special school, Heritage House School which first opened in April 1968 and caters for pupils between the ages of 2 to 19 with severe learning difficulties.[59]A Further education college Amersham & Wycombe College was founded in 1973 and has one of its four campuses in the town on the former Cestreham Senior Boys School at Lycrome Road. The college caters for a range of student cohorts with 2000 students on full-time courses and 5000 on a part-time bases.[60]Adult learning comprising a range of provision including academic, vocational and leisure courses, is provided a four sites in the town. Chesham Adult Learning Centre in Charteridge Lane, ElmTree School, ElmTree Hill, The Douglas McMinn Centre in East Street and The White Hill Centre White Hill.[61]The Chess Valley section of the Chiltern University of the Third Age (U3A) was formed in October 2008 in response to increasing demand for activities in the area and meets at St Mary's Church.[62]

Culture and recreation
The Elgiva Theatre
The Elgiva Hall opened on its original location in 1976.[63] In 1998, having made way for an enlarged supermarket development the Elgiva was rebuilt as a purpose-built theatre on its current site and reopened as the New Elgiva. Now rebranded The Elgiva it is a 300 seated/400 standing capacity theatre, with a Dolby Digital 35mm cinema and is owned and managed by Chesham Town Council. The Elgiva presents a wide-ranging programme of professional and amateur theatre productions, musicals, comedy, dance, one night shows and concerts, pantomimes, films, exhibitions and other public and private events by both professional and community organisations. The Little Theatre by the Park is a facility owned by the Town Council and leased to the Little Theatre Trustees. It is the home to the Chesham Bois Catholic Players and used by other local theatre companies and is used for dance and exercise groups.Chesham Museum is a newly established museum for the town and surrounding area which opened in 2004 having first been conceived in 1981. Initially it was housed in temporary premises at The Stables behind the Gamekeeper's Lodge Pub in Bellingdon Road. Since October 2009 it has been located at 15 Market Square.[64] There is also an annual Schools of Chesham carnival, Beer festival and bi-annual Chesham festival.

Chesham Library opened in Chesham in 1923 in a room at Cemetery Lodge on Berkhamsted Road. In 1927, it moved into new premises at 33 High Street on the Broadway which it shared with Chesham Urban District Council. After the war it expanded. A children's section was added in 1952. In 1971 the library moved to Elgiva Lane, a site it shared with the Elgive Theatre prior to the latter's relocation to new premises. Since then it has been updated to provide better access and improved internal facilities including the evolution of the reference library into a Study Centre. It also houses a special collection of Victorian era children's books including some previously owned by Florence Nightingale.[65]

The White Hill Centre, the site of an old school, is run by Chesham and District Community Association and since 1976 has provided educational, recreational social activities and facilities for societies and the local community to meet.[66]Opposite the town centre is Lowndes Park, a large park with playgrounds and formerly an open air paddling pool. There is a large pond in the park, known as Skottowe's Pond. Lowndes Park was donated to the town of Chesham in 1953. Prior to this it was part of the garden that belonged to the Lowndes family. The Moor, originally an island created by the diversion of the Chess to power mills is today an open space used for recreation and the location for travelling fairs which moved from their traditional location in the town centre in 1938. There are two public swimming pools in the town. An outdoor pool at the Moor in Waterside and a roofed pool (and leisure centre), next to Chesham Grammar School at the top of White Hill. The Town Council manages 227 allotments spread across three sites.[67] There are 135 footpaths in the Chesham area and in May 2010 the town became the first in the Chilterns to be recognised as a "Walkers are Welcome Town".[68][69]

Sport

Chesham United F.C. is the local football club which plays in the Southern League. At the end of the 2009–2010 season it was promoted to the Premier Division.[70] It was formed in 1917 through the merger of Chesham Generals (the team of the Chesham General Baptist church now called Broadway Baptist Church), which was founded in 1887, and Chesham Town FC (started as the football team of Christ Church, Waterside), a founding member of the Southern League which started out in 1894 as Chesham FC. The club's most successful period was during the 1967–68 season when it reached the final of the FA Amateur Cup at Wembley but lost out to Leytonstone F.C. 1-0 in front of a crowd of 54,000. The club has struggled financially and performance-wise over recent years but has recently had a cash injection from a new financial backer.[71]Chesham cricket club was founded in 1848 and is one of the oldest clubs in the Thames Valley Cricket League. Its home ground is at Amy Lane. In addition to four senior Saturday XIs it also runs two Sunday XIs and a women's side. Chesham also has a Junior section, which competes in Buckinghamshire and national competitions.[72]Chesham Rugby union Club ('The Stags'), was founded in 1980 and play rugby for boys ,girls and adult men and women at Chiltern Hills Academy. The Stags also run netball teams playing in local leagues for girls and women.

Town twinning and cultural exchanges

Chesham has twinned with three towns in other countries. It is organised by the Chesham Town Twinning Association. The first link-up was in 1980 with Friedrichsdorf,[73] at the foot of the Taunus Hills near Frankfurt, Germany. Next followed the association with Houilles,[74][75] a commune of Paris, France, in 1986 and thirdly, in 1995 a tie-up with Archena, in the Murcia region of Spain.[76]Some organisations also have international links. Emmanuel Church is linked with a church in Prague, Czech Republic. Chesham British Legion is linked with its Canadian equivalent in Buckingham, Quebec. Ley Hill Methodist Church is linked with Skopje Methodist Church in Macedonia.

Media, communications and filmography

The local newspaper covering Chesham and the surrounding area, although it no longer has an office based in the town, is the Buckinghamshire Examiner founded in 1889.[77] Another Buckinghamshire newspaper with a circulation area covering Chesham is the Bucks Free Press.[78] The non-commercial community news blog dedicated to Chesham and nearby villages is Chiltern Voice.[79]There is also a community website where residents can discuss local issues.

TV and mobile phone signals

Due to its position in a fold in the hill, TV and radio reception in Chesham can be poor and the town now has its own TV mast. In the 1970s, Chesham was one of the last towns in the south east to receive BBC2, and parts of it still cannot receive Channel 5. Houses taking their TV reception from the Chesham transmitter[80] have vertically polarised aerials, whilst those in a good enough position receive their signal from the Crystal Palace Transmitter in London with horizontally polarised aerials – they always could receive BBC2 (and indeed Channel 4 & Channel 5). Digital terrestrial television coverage is patchy for much the same reason. Mobile phone reception can be poor in the steeper parts of Chesham and outlying villages.

Filmography

The following TV series and episodes included filming in Chesham's Old Town and pedestrianised High Street:[81]

  • The Professionals Close Quarters (1978) – Hundridge Manor
  • Hammer House of Horror: Carpathian Eagle (1980) – Lowndes Park: The Silent Scream (1980) – 68 Broad Street
  • Inspector Morse The Day of the Devil (1993) – High Street
  • Midsomer Murders: The Axeman Cometh (2007) – Market Sq; Written in Blood (1997) – High St and Old Town; Sins of Commission – High St; Things that Go Bump in the Night (2004) – Market Sq; The Black Book – 15 Market Sq (2009); The Sword of Guillaume (2010) High St, Broadway War Memorial[82]
  • Nuzzle and Scratch (2009)CBeebies programme, Toy Shop episode filmed on the high street outside Harvey Johns
  • Scoop (2009) – High Street and Town
  • Chucklevision Well Suited (2000) – High Street (opening scene)
  • Black Mirror: "The National Anthem" (2011) – desolate shots of the High Street and of an area near The Vale are shown near the end
  • The Imitation Game – 73 Church Street appears as Alan Turing's lodging house in Bletchley, and also appears briefly in Dirk Bogarde vehicle The Password Is Courage (1962)
  • Doctor Foster – The Chess Medical Centre

History

Early history

Church Street in Chesham old town

There is archaeological evidence of the earliest settlement during the Late Mesolithic period around 5000 BC in East Street, Chesham where a large quantity of Flint tools were found.[5] The earliest farming evidence from the Neolithic era around 2500 BC. Bronze Age tribes settled in the valley around 1800 BC and they were succeeded by Iron Age Belgic people of the Catuvellauni tribe around 500 BC. Between 150–400 AD there is evidence of Romano-British farming and nearby at Latimer there is archaeological evidence of a Roman villa and the planting of grapevines. However the area was then deserted until the Saxon period around the 7th century'.[6]

Contrary to popular belief, the town is not named after the river; rather, the river is named after the town. The first recorded reference to Chesham is under the Old English name Cæstæleshamm meaning "the river-meadow at the pile of stones"[7] around 970 in the will of Lady Ælfgifu, who has been identified with the former wife of King Eadwig. She held an estate here which she bequeathed to Abingdon Abbey.[8]

Prior to 1066 there were three adjacent estates which comprised Caestreham which are briefly recorded in the Domesday Book as being of 1½, 4 and 8½ hides, having four mills. The most important of these manors was held by Queen Edith, the widow of Edward the Confessor. Other land having been returned to the Crown it was in the hands of Harold Godwinson and his brother Leofwine Godwinson.[7] Part of these later became Chesham Bois parish.[9][10] After 1066 Edith kept her lands and William the Conqueror divided royal lands between his half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Hugh de Bolbec.[7]

The land owners of Chesham

The Domesday Book records that there were three manors in Cestreham and one at nearby Latimer. William the Conqueror shared out the estates between four of his dependants. The vast majority of land was granted to Hugh de Bolebec and smaller parcels to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, Toustain Mantel and Alsi.[11]

Before the 13th century the three Cestreham manors were known as Chesham Higham, Chesham Bury and Chesham Boys (or 'Bois'). In the 14th century they were first recorded as 'the manors of Great Chesham'. Collectively they extended beyond the current Chesham town boundary.[11] Together with the manor at Latimer they were held by the Earls of Oxford and Surrey. During the 16th century Greater Chesham was owned by the Seymour family who disposed of it to the Cavendish family who were the Earls and later Dukes of Devonshire. It is from the 15th century that the earliest surviving properties survive and are to be found close by the church in an area called the Nap, and along part of the present-day Church Street. Though gradually disposing of land the Cavendishes maintained an influence in the town until the 19th century. The Lowndes family started purchasing land from the 16th century. William Lowndes was an influential politician and Secretary to the Treasury during the reigns of Mary II, William III and Queen Anne. He had the original Bury and manor house of Great Chesham, rebuilt in 1712. The Lowndes family settled in Chesham and over the next 200 years became equally influential both nationally through politics and the law and locally within the town as its principal benefactors.[7]

Ecclesiastical history

No evidence remains of any church prior to the Norman Conquest. However, the siting of puddingstones beneath the present-day church suggests a wooden church was constructed on the site during the Anglo-Saxon period. During the 12th century two families of Norman descent, the de Bolebecs and the Sifrewasts, each held a share of the advowson assigned to the adjacent manors of Chesham Higham and Chesham Bury respectively for the Church at Chesham which it is evidenced from about 1154 was dedicated to St Mary.[12] These moieties were subsequently given by the families to two monasteries. In 1194 the de Bolbecs bestowed their advowson to the abbot and monks of Woburn Abbey and henceforth the parish of Chesham Higham was renamed 'Chesham Woburn'. Meanwhile, and sometime before 1199, the Sifrewast family granted their advowson to the convent of St Mary's de Pré Leicester. As a consequence the advowson for the parish of Chesham Bury became known as 'Chesham Leicester'.[13] In 1536 Henry VIII seized control of church property as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Subsequently, during Edward VI and Elizabeth I's reigns, first Chesham Woburn and then Chesham Leicester advowsons became part of the estates of the Dukes of Bedford. Though there were originally two vicars appointed to the parish church of St Mary's from the 17th century a single incumbent was appointed. Jurisdiction was still shared between both advowsons and two parsonages, an 'upper' and 'lower', continued to be maintained until the 18th century when both were superseded by a single new parsonage.[13] The Duke of Bedford subsequently consolidated the moities by Act of Parliament in 1767.[11] To accommodate the increasing population during the 19th century a new parish church were built in 1867; Christ Church at Waterside, and further churches were built at Ashley Green and Bellingdon which were at the time both within the civil parish of Chesham.[13]

Thomas Harding memorial

Religious dissent and nonconformity

Chesham is noted for the religious dissent which dominated the town from the 15th century. In 1532 Thomas Harding was burnt at the stake in the town for being a Lollard and heretic. From the 17th century Chesham was a focus for those dissenting from mainstream religion. Quakers met in the late 17th century in Chesham and in 1798 they built the current meeting house. The first Baptists' meeting dates back to about 1640 and a place was registered for services in 1706. The first chapel was opened in 1712, one of many to be built for the various Baptist groups during the 18th and 19th centuries. John Wesley preached in Chesham in the 1760s and a Wesleyan Methodist society existed in the town. In more recent time a Wesleyan Methodist chapel was opened in 1897. The Christian Brethren which date back in Chesham to 1876, opened their Gospel Hall in 1895, which closed in December 2008. Broadway Baptist church had branches at the Vale, Hawridge, Ashley Green and Chartridge; only the one at Chartridge survives. Trinity Baptist church had branches at Hyde Heath, Ley Hill and Whelpley Hill; only the one at Hyde Heath survives. The Congregational Church had branches at Asheridge and Pond Park.

Emigration to the American colonies

In 1630 Aquila Chase left Chesham to join the colony, settling first at Hampton (now New Hampshire), then Newbury, Massachusetts. Descendants of Aquila became influential in shaping political, legislative and commercial matters from the colonial period until after the Declaration of Independence. For example, Salmon P. Chase was the United States Treasury Secretary and Chief Justice in the 1870s and after whom the Chase Manhattan Bank is named (although Chase did not have any connection with the bank).[14][15]

Industrial development

The primary industries of the town in medieval times were flour production, woodworking and weaving of wool. There were four mills built along the Chess which was diverted to generate sufficient power. Surplus flour was supplied to London. The number of clothworkers, including spinners and those associated with dying (fullers), grew rapidly between 1530 and 1730 and became the major industry in the town prior to a period of rapid decline. Between 1740 and 1798 mills were converted to produce paper (pulp) responding to London's insatiable demand for paper. However, technological developments in paper-making elsewhere rendered the mills unprofitable and they reverted to flour production in the 1850s.

Painting of Chesham town, circa 1750

New industries emerged from the 16th century onwards. The woodlands had been a source of firewood for London during the mediaeval period. A small-scale woodenware industry; making shovels, brooms, spoons and chairs, began around 1538 and its expansion was accompanied by the planting of beechwoods between 17th and 19th centuries.[7] Straw plaiting was seen as home-based work for the wives and daughters of labourers from the 18th century. Straw was also imported from Italy to produce the superior 'Tuscan plait' traded at a Saturday market for the Luton and Dunstable hat trade and remained the major cottage industry until around 1860, providing employment for women and girls some of whom attended a 'plait-school' in Waterside.[7] Lace making developed in the 16th century as a cottage industry and was valued for its quality. Chesham specialised in black lace. The industry declined in the 1850s due to mechinisation in Nottingham.[7] Between 1838 and 1864 silk-spinning, powered by a steam-driven mill in Waterside was started to make use of unemployed lace workers. This trend was relatively short-lived as changes in fashion and the growth of the railways resulted in competition from elsewhere for the valuable London markets.[7] However one exception was the firm of George Tutill, which specialised in high-quality banners and was responsible for three-quarters of those made for trade unions. The firm is still a going concern still specialising in flags and banners.

Three of the four Bs that have shaped Chesham's history relate to its industries. Brush making was introduced around 1829 to make use of the off-cuts from woodworking. Boot and shoe making which started as a cottage industry later expanding through small workshops thrived following the opening of tanneries around 1792 which also supplied leather for saddle making and glove. By the mid-19th century both brushmaking and footwear manufacture became major industries in the town with production concentrated in large factories. The industry declined in the early-20th century as the market for heavy boots declined. Beer brewing grew rapidly around the town centre in the 19th century again declining at the start of the 20th century.[7] These traditional industries were succeeded by smaller but more commercial enterprises which took advantage of the available skilled labour. For example, in 1908 the Chiltern Toy Works was opened by Joseph Eisenmann on Bellingdon Road, later moving to the 'new' industrial estate in Waterside, making high quality teddy bears. The works finally closed in 1960.[16] Post Second World War industry has ranged from the manufacture of glue (Industrial Adhesives) to aluminium-based packaging (Alcan), Aluminium Castings & Bronze Castings (Draycast Foundries Limited) and balloons (B-Loony).

The town in times of war

William the Conqueror paused at nearby Berkhamsted in 1066 en route to London. Henry VIII imposed a tax on the town to pay for his wars against Scotland and France.

In common with the majority of communities in Buckinghamshire, Chesham's Lollard heritage and puritan traditions ensured it would vehemently resist King Charles I's demand for Ship Money; a tax on tradesmen and landowners. In 1635 the townsfolk of Chesham protested to the Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, Sir Peter Temple, who was reluctantly enforcing a writ requiring payment of a levy to the King. Not surprisingly given the local allegiances to John Hampden, the towns' people largely sided with the Parliamentarians at the outbreak of the English Civil War. During 1642 the influential Parliamentarians John Pym and Earl of Warwick were headquartered in the town along with large numbers of troops. There are records of skirmishes in the area during 1643 when Prince Rupert was stationed near Aylesbury and dispatched Robert Dormer, 1st Earl of Carnarvon to pillage nearby towns, such as Wendover. Heading toward Chesham a company of horse of the Parliamentary Army from the town met them outside Great Missenden where a skirmish took place ending with the Parliamentary force being driven back.[11]

The records of the Posse Comitatus for Chesham in 1798 recorded over 800 men between the ages of 16–60 enrolled in a militia to defend the town in the event of invasion by Napoleon I or to deal with civil unrest. Less than 50 years later, in 1846 a similar register of 22 able-bodied men had been assembled to form the Chesham troop of the Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry which coincided with the billeting of troops from the Queen's Own 7th Hussars passing through the town on their way to Ireland.[17]

During the First World War 188 servicemen from Chesham lost their lives (see Landmarks). Alfred Burt a corporal in the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment from Chesham received the Victoria Cross for his actions in September 1915. The town provided temporary quarters for several regiments including the Kings Royal Rifles and the Royal Engineers honed their bridge building skills in local parks. Over the duration of the Second World War 80 servicemen lost their lives. Air raid shelters were built by the Council in 1940 although the official view was that the not being a strategic location the town was unlikely to be targeted. In fact at the end of the war it was estimated that 45 bombs fell in the Chesham area and it is known that nine people were killed.[18]

Social history

A Chesham workhouse for 90 paupers was operating in Germain Street as early as 1777. New legislation transferred the control of the Chesham institution to Amersham Poor Law Union in 1835. However, there were long-standing rivalries between the locals of both towns and in July that year violence broke out when an order was given to remove the paupers to Amersham. The Riot Act was read out to an angry crowd of 500 and arrests followed.[19]

Publicly funded education started with the opening of a British School in 1825 followed by a National School in 1845, an Infants' School in 1851 and the first Elementary School for girls in 1864. Chesham Building Society, opened for business in 1845 and continued to operate until June 2010 when it was taken over by the Skipton Building Society. Other public institutions also started at this time with the Fire Brigade coming in 1846, the first cemetery in 1858 and the Police Station built in 1861.[17]

Chesham cottage hospital, built for £865 17s 11d on land provided by Lord Chesham, opened in October 1869 and just ahead of an outbreak of typhoid in 1871. Despite a local campaign to save the hospital it closed in 2005.[20] In September 2010 the derelict hospital building was severely damaged by fire caused by arsonists according to police reports.[21] The Council commissioned a waterworks to be built in 1875 in Alma Road and mains drainage in the town and a sewage works was opened adjacent to the Chess, downstream in 1887. A gasworks was constructed on the southern part of the town in 1847. Bathing in the Chess at Waterside was an old tradition which became increasingly popular in the 19th century. Complaints that it had become a nuisance led to the Urban District Council surrounding the site with a concrete wall. This further increased its popularity and an open-air pool was built by the council in 1912.[22]

Transport connections have always come late to the town. The Metropolitan Railway eventually reached Chesham in July 1889. Electrification was not to come until the 1960s. Between the two world wars and in the 1950s and 60s there was much expansion in the town with new public housing developments along the Missenden Road, at Pond Park and at Botley.[13][23]

The first public viewings of cinema films in Chesham were provided by travelling showmen around 1900 and attracted large crowds. The first purpose-built cinema, The Empire Picture Hall, opened in Station Road in 1912 and in 1914 The Chesham Palace started up in The Broadway. Both showed silent films. By 1920 the Empire had closed. In 1930 the Chesham Palace was refurbished to show the new 'talkies' and reopened as The Astoria which remained in business until 1959 when the arrival of television forced it to close. The Embassy in Germain Street opened in 1935 and survived until 1982, closing due to competition from cinemas in nearby towns. The Elgiva Theatre, completed in 1976 beside St Mary's Way, was equipped to show films and on moving to a new site just across the road in 1998 state of the art projection equipment was installed in the new theatre (see image below).[24]

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