There’s more to the ancient village of Whitchurch than you might think, if you are just passing through. Amongst other things, hidden away are a secret World War 2 workshop, a castle, and a Tudor house that’s in disguise.
I parked on the High Street, facing towards Winslow, a little way North of the petrol station. I was right next to a post box. If you can’t find a spot there, try the side streets on the South (Aylesbury) end of the village.
Keep on the same side of the road and walk North towards the Winslow end of the High Street. There’s a long half timbered house on your left, just after the gentle left hand bend. This 16th Century house is now known as Winster Paddocks, but it was once a coaching inn called The Cock Inn, and from 1914 to 1989 It was a butcher’s shop.
Walk further along, and just past a modern phonebox is The Tudor House. We think of Tudor buildings as being timber framed, but this one is rendered all over and painted cream. But look again, and you’ll see there’s the typical jetty on the front and side of the house, where the first floor overhangs the ground floor.
It’s just as you’d expect from the Tudor era. It’s almost certainly timber framed underneath.
Did you realise you’ve just walked past a mile stone? It’s under the parish noticeboard. Stand right next to it, and you are 45 miles from London.
Behind the phone box is a footpath. It takes you down the hill. The footpath turns right several yards in, but straight in front of you, next to Spring Cottage, is Whittle Hole. It looks like a square pond, but it’s really a spring that used to be the main source of water in the village.
I couldn’t work out if the spring is part of Spring Cottage’s garden or not so I didn’t approach it too closely, but I’ve heard that tea made from the spring water is very nice.
Follow the footpath from where it turns right. Wet leaves made the path a little slippy when I was there on Monday. You’ll come to a small gate, with a sign asking you to keep to the path, as you are now in somebody’s garden.
Go through the gate. When you leave the garden you will be in a small field. In the far left corner there’s a couple of stiles which take you into a bigger field. Follow the path as it bends right and up the slope.
If you turn round, you can look across to Aylesbury and the vale, and the Chilterns beyond. It is rather muddy here, but we’ve had a lot of rain recently. Once you are through the gate, you’ll find the moat and bank of Bolobec castle are on your right. A spring fed the moat.
At the end of the path take the right fork, Castle Lane, and walk up to the public footpath gate. It lets you into the field with the castle motte, on your right.
There was once an impressive stone keep and walls here, but where did it all go? There’s plenty of evidence in the village that the stones were used as building materials. But the earthworks are in good condition and there are some buried foundations remaining.
I found some very inquisitive sheep there the day I visited. On the other side of Castle Lane is the castle bailey, now a private garden.
On the motte of Bolobec Castle.
Bolobec Castle was the largest of the 18 castles in Bucks, and named after it’s builder, Hugh de Bolebec. The six acre motte and bailey castle was built in 1147. Cromwell gets the blame for its destruction, though it was already abandoned and in poor condition well before the Civil War.
Keep going along Castle Lane and join the end of Market Hill. This was once the old main road through the village, perhaps until the Aylesbury to Buckingham turnpike (the main road) opened in 1721.
Cross the modern main road here, to walk up Church Headland Lane. The first building you come to is The Old House. It is believed to have been built in 1400 by monks from Woburn Abbey when they took over the parish church.
Further along the lane by the road sign that warns of “no turning area” take the short alley that leads into the churchyard.
Whitchurch was a Saxon village; ‘hwit cirice” means “white church”. Perhaps it was made of the pale local Portland limestone, like the present one. It’s believed that the Saxon church was on the same site as the modern church, and up above the low built Saxon houses it would have been a good landmark.
St John the Evangelist’s church dates from 1220, but the first rector in the village started before that, in 1189.
The church was open when I visited the village. Inside, the tower is massively built but not very tall; it was meant to have a spire. If you stand quietly in the bottom of the tower, you can hear the church clock. From the back of the church, look at the columns in the nave. Can you see that they all lean to the left?
Outside, there’s a big sundial on the tower. Walk out through the gate and down Church Lane. At the bottom, look back at the church. Imagine how fine it would have looked with a spire.
Now look right. This fine, red brick and tile wooden framed building is the Old court House. It was built in the 15th Century. (but some say 1360)
A large part of the middle of this house was a great open hall, until a floor was inserted in the 16th Century. Have a look at the old board and studded door and frame in the middle of the front face of the house.
Walk past the Old Court house and along the High Street. Just before Beech Tree Court is a quaint 17th Century house with some nice herringbone brickwork.
In comparison, the next few houses along the High Street seem quite modern, though the youngest must be over a century old. Cross the main road somewhere here, and walk past the petrol station up to the side road called Little London.
There’s an entrance in a brick wall on the other side of the junction with the main road, for a big black and white house called The Firs. This house was home to “Churchill’s Toyshop” during World War 2, but known officially as Ministry of Defence 1, MD1.
Only a dozen miles from Chequers and with a secure high brick wall all around, the house was perfect for MD1, who carried out weapons research and development. More than 250 staff developed over two dozen different sorts of weapons.
This was the last stop on my route, which is just under a mile and a half long. I’ve arranged the route so you only have to cross the main road twice. It’s a circular walk so you can start at any point.
The White Swan is across the road from The Firs if you need refreshments.
If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave a comment below.
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Love the photo of the old court house - well composed.
Posted by: Dave Bagnall | 21 November 2019 at 07:10 PM
Perhaps I shouldn't give away all my secrets, but to take this I had to wait until there was both a gap in the clouds and a gap in the traffic; it's on the main road!
Posted by: Roger Bradbury | 27 November 2019 at 04:15 PM
Welcome the info on the walk at Whitchurch as I am researching my family history, who came from Whitchurch back in 1550 and a possible link back to 1538, so I am planning a visit there once lockdown finishes.
Posted by: David Kibble | 01 May 2021 at 08:02 PM
Glad it was helpful. Researching your family history back to the mid 16th Century is pretty impressive; I think we know my family's history as far back as the early 18th Century.
Posted by: Roger Bradbury | 03 May 2021 at 05:05 PM
Hi l am trying to find a photo of the Lacemaking cottages which was near the Whittle Water Hole in Whitchurch Bucks.
l gather Spring Cottage has put a fence on the footpath where the cottages were.
l found out this information from a walker who was looking for the Lacemaking cottages and although the cottages are no longer there l would like to find out the history of these Lacemaking Cottages and l gather there is a photo with two girls sitting outside. l have tried several searches but unable to find, your help would be much appreciated. Kind Regards Diane
Posted by: Diane Farnham | 04 July 2021 at 09:16 AM
I found a couple of photos on the Facebook page "Whitchurch & Oving, Bucks Memories". The page is run by a man called Ron Adams and I suggest you read his "About" section on that page. A Tin eye search could not find these photos anywhere else online but perhaps he can help you. Here are links to the two photos:
Please let me know if either of these photos is the one you were looking for.
Posted by: Roger Bradbury | 05 July 2021 at 11:44 AM
Thanks for the plug, Roger. The photo appears in a book called Whitchurch in Camera long out of print. It was compiled by Prof. Ian Beckett and myself as co-author. My input was to lend Ian a few photos. Members of my family lived in these cottages in the early 1900s. I also have a flickr page www.flickr.com/photos/dlanorsmada/albums
Posted by: Ron Adams | 14 August 2021 at 10:10 PM
I had a look at the 70s/80s Aylesbury photos at your link and found one of the Greenfields camping shop, which I had completely forgotten about going to! I lived in Winslow in those decades and also worked in Aylesbury for a while, so that's where I did my shopping if I couldn't get something in Winslow.
As you've obviously realised, photos of shops may not be very interesting when they are taken, but they do become so a few decades later.
Posted by: Roger Bradbury | 15 August 2021 at 12:14 PM
Thank you for your interesting walk around Whitchurch.
My great Grandparents were the last landlords of the Cock Inn. They had 6 children William, John, Horace, Alfred Emily my grandmother and Florence.
If any one can give me any information about the family I would be very interested to hear from them.
I have heard some interesting facts about the now Winster Paddocks but don't know how true they are.
Posted by: Marie Ford | 15 August 2021 at 11:05 PM
now I'm intrigued; what did you hear about Winster Paddocks?
Posted by: Roger Bradbury | 16 August 2021 at 12:16 PM
My mothers cousin told her that his mother Florence always said there was a hiding place in a wall, perhaps on a staircase. Also there is a very old painting or picture on a wall. Not sure how true this is. My mother is no longer with us nor any of the Whitchurch Bywater family. Unless anyone knows different?
Posted by: Marie Ford | 02 September 2021 at 09:11 PM
Perhaps it was a priest hole. Winster Paddocks is old enough to have contained one, and it would not be the only priest hole in England accessed from a staircase.
Wall paintings were used for decoration before the 20th century, if that's what you mean. Sometimes they are covered up in building alterations and forgotten about, then discovered years or centuries later when more alterations are made.
Posted by: Roger Bradbury | 03 September 2021 at 10:36 AM
You talk about Greenfields in Aylesbury, Roger, but I used to go to Winslow from Whitchurch in the early sixties. There was a shop called Girling's which was open on Sundays selling clothes at a good price inc. casual stuff.
Re. the Cock Inn, I worked as a Saturday lad when it was Parrott's butchers in 1957. There were three butchers shop in the village at that time.
Posted by: Ron Adams | 29 April 2022 at 02:11 PM