The broad High Street of this growing country town is lined with cobbled courtyards leading to ancient inns and thatched cottages. A stream flows through the Mill Stream House, a public house. A monument on a nearby hillside commemorates the Lollards, extremist followers of the religious reformer John Wyclif. They were burned at the stake during the turbulent 15th and 16th centuries.
Aylesbury is now a busy modern town at the junction of six main roads, but its centre recalls more leisurely days. Narrow Tudor alleys run between four squares – St Mary’s, Market, Temple and Kingsbury. St Mary’s Square has old terraces of houses on three sides and the ancient church, with its distinctive ‘Aylesbury’ font, on the fourth. The cattle market is still in use, reached through the arches under the old Town Hall.
Six miles northwest lies Quainton, an exceptionally attractive village, with a large green and many thatched cottages. Many imposing monuments and medieval brasses embellish the interior of the church. The Quainton Railway Centre has one of the country’s most comprehensive collections of items relating to standard-gauge railways.
Beaconsfleld’s old inns, timbered cottages and creeper-clad 17th-century houses preserve the town’s elegance. The surrounding area was once thickly wooded, and the haunt of highwaymen. Sword cuts on the staircase of the George Inn were supposedly made by the highwayman Claude Duval while fighting off Bow Street Runners. Edmund Burke, the 18th-century politician and writer, was born in Beaconsfield, and G K Chesterton lived here for many years.
Chalfont St Giles
An attractive village to which Milton came in the year of the plague, 1665. Old, lonely and blind, he still managed to complete his masterpiece Paradise Lost and to write Paradise Regained. The former earned him £5. His cottage is now a museum. The Chiltern Open Air Museum has old buildings and other artefacts relating to life in the Chilterns in days gone by. There is a nature trail in the 25-acre park.
Rightly described as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Chilterns run in an arc from Goring in the Thames Valley to a point near Hitchin in Hertfordshire. Although the woodlands are not as extensive as they once were, the hills are noted for their beech trees. The name of the county may well he derived from the old word for beech tree, buecan. One of the highest oints is Coomhe Hill (853ft). Admirable walks are available. Around the High Wycombe area, the old rural craft of chairmaking once flourished. Traditional Windsor chairs are made of beeehwood, with ash andelm used for the bow and seat.
Cliveden House is flanked on one side by the Thames, on the other three by woodland. Built in 1851, it is the third house of its name to be erected on the site. Home of the Astor family, it was famous for ‘the Cliveden Set’, which aided by Dawson of The Times thought it knew what was best for Britain in the 1930’s. Nancy, Lady Astor, was a political hostess of great influence, and Britain’s first woman MP, representing Plymouth from 1919 until after World War II. Cliveden House was given to the National Trust in 1942 by Lord Astor, son of William Waldorf Astor of New York, with the condition that it be used to promote Anglo-American friendship. It is now used by Stanford University as a study centre. The House was also the site of the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital. 50,000 Canadian Wounded were treated in hospitals erected here in two world wars.
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli lived at Hughenden Manor, a large mansion he had remodelled in 1862. It stands in a 169-acre estate which includes the church where he is buried. The statesman’s study contains letters from Queen Victoria and remains as it ‘ was at the time of his death.
Long Crendon is an attractive village with straggling thatched cottages, set where a four-arched bridge spans the River Thames. Needle-making was introduced here in the 16th century and continued until the work was taken over by factories in the 1830’s. Long Crendon Manor, part stone and part timber-framed, dates from the 13th century and has a courtyard guarded by a stone gatehouse. The Court House is a late 14th century building which was probably first used as a wool staple hall or store, but manorial courts were held here in the 15th century by the stewards of Catherine, wife of Henry V, who owned the manor at that time. The tall-towered grey stone church was begun in the 13th century.
The most outstanding feature of this busy Thames-side town is its elegant suspension bridge, begun in 1829. Beside the bridge is a monument to Charles Frohman the theatrical manager drowned aboard the Titanic in 1912. The riverside view is dominated by the spire of All Saintsparish church.
Medmenham, with its handsome church and its no less picturesque Dog and Badger Inn stands beside the Thames. The ruined abbey – now part of a private house was where Sir Francis Dashwood and his fellow members of the notorious Hell Fire Club met in the mid 18th century. Meanwhile, St Peter’s Church preserves an object said to be the hand of St James the Apostle, brought here from Reading Abbey. The Shelleys lived at Albion House, West Street and it was here that Mary wrote Frankenstein (1818). Dick Turpin is said to have frequented the Crown Hotel and the Compleat Angler Inn is named after Izaak Walton, who fished here. The willow tree in the gardens is said to have been planted by the Duke of Wellington.
In the late 1960s, the wind of change blew on Milton Keynes, when this formerly rather picturesque little village hard by the M1 was designated a New Town. The overwhelming impression nowadays is of ring-roads, concrete, walls of glass, and the very modern architecture of the vast shopping centre. Among the new enterprises is the Open University, which was established in 1971.
Nether Winchendon House seven miles south west of Aylesbury is a Tudor manor to which additions were made in the 18th century. Originally the home of monks who served in the churches and worked the land.
Newbury was formerly an important centre of the cloth trade. Its most famous citizen was Jack of Newbury who distinguished himself in peace and war. As a prosperous clothier, he financed the rebuilding of the church; as a warrior he led 150 men at Flodden in 1513. The Jacobean Cloth Hall has been restored and is now a museum. The River Kennet, spanned by an 18th century bridge, and the Kennet and Avon Canal add to the attractions, and Newbury Racecourse is suitably frequented by characters that appear to have wandered out of a Dick Francis novel. Just south of Newbury is Greenham Common, the scene of the peace camp of women opposed to the siting of nuclear missiles at the American air base here.
Annually on Shrove Tuesday the ringing of a handbell summons determined Olney housewives wielding frying pans to the famous pancake race. Competitors run from the market place to the handsome 14th-century church, and must toss and catch a pancake three times before completing the course. The custom is said to date back to the 15th century.
The poet Thomas Gray has made this little village eternally famous through his poem, Elegy in a Country Churchyard, and he himself is buried in the church. The churchyard is a tranquil spot, surrounded by trees; alongside it are beautiful memorial gardens, established in the 1920’s, leading down to a lake with a fountain and rose garden. It is easy to forget that one is only a few miles away from Slough.
This 160-acre artificial lake at the south- eastern corner of Windsor Great Park, laid out by the Duke of Cumberland in 1746, offers good boating and is surrounded by pleasant picnic spots; the Valley and Heather Gardens are attractive, and Kurume Punch Bowl is a mass of different coloured azaleas. The totem pole, 106ft high, was given to the Queen in 1958 to mark British Columbia’s centenary. It is carved by the Kwakiutl people and represents their clan ancestors. Nearby is an avenue of Canadian trees recalling the World War I work of the Canadian Forestry Corps. The colonnade of pillars on the south shore was brought from Leptis Magna and set up here on the instructions of George IV. Nearby is the famous Sunningdale golf course.
The manor of this picturesque village is a mock-Renaissance chateau, built in the 19th century for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. As well as mementoes of the family, it contains paintings by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney and Rubens, whilst the fine collection of furniture includes writing tables that belonged to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The gardens are formal, with fountains and sculptures brought from France, Italy and the Netherlands. There are also two deer enclosures and an aviary.
Among the modern buildings of this fast-growing village stand many 17th and 18th-century cottages, and the Dormer Hospital dates from 1569. All Saints Church is noteworthy for its Anglo Saxon crypt, one of only eight remaining in England; of interest, too, is the rare Anglo Saxon apse, set on pilasters. Ascott on the eastern outskirts of the village, is a mansion dating mainly from the 19th century but incorporating medieval timbers and some Jacobean work. It contains the Anthony de Rothschild collection of pictures, together with fine examples of furniture and oriental porcelain, and is set in fine parkland.
The old Chiltern town of Wendover stands on the edge of the ancient Icknield Way; to its west rises Coombe Hill, at 852ft the highest point of the Chiltern range, said to afford a view of St Paul’s Cathedral on a fine day and surmounted by a monument to Buckinghamshire men who died in the South African War. Though a busy road now runs through the town, many quaint old buildings survive, including the half-timbered Lion Hotel where Cromwell slept in 1643 and a windmill and water-mill which have been turned into houses. Bosworth House – now divided into cottage, house and Post Office -revealed 16th and 17th-century wall paintings when alterations were being made. Two remain in the house, though the others were taken to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The church is mainly 14th century, though much restored, and contains some interesting carvings and a curious brass to William Bradshawe.
Much of West Wycombe is under the protection of the National Trust. Amongst its old buildings, many of which date back to the 15th century, is a fine inn. West Wycombe Park, partly designed by Robert Adam, was built for Sir Francis Dashwood ofHellfire Club fame in thee 18th century and he also instigated the rebuilding of the church. the lame ball on the tower of which is a well known local landmark and used to he a meeting place for the Club. West Wycomhe Caves are also associated with Dashwood and the Hellfire Club. Dashwood was also a serious scholar and a friend of Benjamin Franklin.