The Two thousand Year Old River Crossing
The Half Hidden Castle

Secrets of Haddenham

Dragon font  HaddenhamThe dragon font.

The village of Haddenham has over 120 listed buildings, and most of them are made of an unusual material; Witchert.

Witchert was cheap and available. It could be dug up out of the ground just where you wanted to build, so it was used for all sorts of buildings and walls up to about 1920. Here are some of them.

The shortest version of this walk is slightly over half a mile, or 900m; good if you are not too mobile. The longest version is a mile and a quarter, or 2.6 km.

To get there, take the A418 South West from Aylesbury, and when you get near to the village, a couple of miles off the main road, follow signs for Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital. Keep on past the entrance to Tiggywinkles and park next to the green; there’s a pond.

You might see some Aylesbury ducks at the pond; they used to be bred in the village. This breed is easy to recognise. The plumage is white, the bill is pink, and the legs and feet are orange. They are quite large, especially compared to the other ducks I saw on the pond. Ducks with an orange bill are not Aylesbury ducks.

Haddenham has often been a location for film and television. Eleven episodes of Midsomer Murders have been filmed here, and when Kermit, Fozzie Bear and Gonzo parachute into England in The Great Muppet Caper, it’s this pond they end up in.

Church and Anchor Barn  HaddenhamThe church and Anchor Barn

Go through the Lych gate and up to the church. It’s usually open, I was told. It’s probably as old as the 12th Century, but most of what you will see will be early 13th Century. See if you can find the initals GW (George West) and JG (John Goodchild), both churchwardens. There’s the year, too; 1637.

Just to the right as you go in is the font, believed to have come from the Saxon church that once stood here. There’s a dragon carved into it; not the only dragon in the village.

When you leave the church, turn left. Outside in the corner between the porch and the aisle is another font. This one lived for years in the vicarage garden before being placed here. Beyond that, nobody knows where it came from. It’s 12th or 13th Century.

Leave the churchyard through the gate by the tower. To your left is Anchor Barn, now a cottage. It’s your first witchert building. The long house next to it on the Green is the same age. Called The Anchor, it is also made from witchert and was once an inn.

Cross the road, and walk along Flint Street. See how many of the buildings are made from witchert, here and throughout the village. Usually, they’ll have rounded corners, about 18” (45 cm) of stonework at the base, and wide eaves.

Flint Street bends right. At the end is Bag Hill Barn, once part of a farmyard. Turn right, and go up to Gibson Lane. Go up it.

Dragon Head Cottage is a little way up on the right, at the end of Dragon Alley. The porch is nicely carved. You can choose the short route or the long version here. For the longer walk, keep going up the lane.

At the end, turn left into The Croft. The door high up in the wall on your right is to a threshing barn. After The Croft bends right, you will see an alley on the left; it has a ‘No cycling’ sign. At the end on the left is The Kings Head. But turn right and you are in the High Street.

Haddenham35 High Street.

Opposite South End is 35 High Street, a nice timber framed and brick infilled house. Further along the High Street is a Methodist chapel.

I‘m sure you’ve seen quite a few chapels in the past, but although the front is part stone this 1822 building is the tallest witchert building in the world, with 18’ thick (45 cm) walls that are 24 feet, over 7 metres tall. Not bad for a building made of soil, especially in England’s damp climate!

Haddenham museumCarved model of the Haddenham feast of 150 years ago, in the museum.

Tucked behind the chapel is the Haddenham Museum. Free to enter, it’s open Tuesdays 10 - 12, and Sundays 2-4:30 (Closed January and February). It isn’t a very big museum, but I recommend it; it packs a lot in to a small space without being cramped.

The Bone House  HaddenhamThe witchert built Bone House.

From the museum, continue along the High Street until you reach a house with a blue front door and windows. This is The Bone House. The front elevation is decorated with sheep’s knuckle bones set into the witchert, to form patterns of hearts and diamonds and witchert implements. I’m told there are sheep skulls too, but I didn’t spot them.

Retrace your steps to Dragon Head Cottage and walk up the alley. You are now back on the short route.The witchert walls to either side of the alley with their stone built (grumpling) base and red tiled tops, are listed buildings.

Door in Witchert wallA small door in the witchert wall next to Dragon Tail Cottage.

At the end of the alley is a double ended dragon hedge, in front of Dragon Cottage. On the other side of the alley is Dragon Tail Cottage.
Turn right, and walk back towards The Green. On your left is the Green Dragon pub. The pub was named for the coat of arms of the Earl of Pembroke, who was granted the manorial rights of the parish in 1657.

This is not the original pub building. There was a fire in the village in 1760 and the pub was one of the buildings destroyed. This replacement is 18th Century. 

Back at the green, look just to the left of the church. The medieval timber framed Church Farmhouse (15th Century) is one of what’s called the Wealden type; as most of them are in The Weald, in Kent.

It’s a typical example, made in four sections (bays) in a row. The end bays are jettied; they project beyond the dimensions of the floor below. The middle two bays do not. Originally, these two middle bays were one great hall, open to the roof. One end bay would be the service end, with buttery and pantry, the other held more private rooms for the householders.

How to build with witchert

Last building on the list is the great 15th Century Tythe Barn. Set in the farmyard of Manor Farm, it is open as a gift shop from Thursday to Sunday. This means you can go inside and see the great timbers that make it on those days.

Signs from The Green will direct you past the end of Flint Street, and there’s parking behind the barn if you prefer not to walk. There’s a cafe on the farm on the days when the Tythe Barn is open.

The Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital is open on weekdays from April to October, then every day until September.

Ken Perry of the Haddenham Museum was very helpful and answered all my questions. Thank you, Ken.

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