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September 2021

Toys and Lights and Bikes

Here are just a few Second World War buildings you might not know about, in North Bucks.

Sticky Bombs

The Firs  Whitchurch  BucksIn 1940 this house in Whitchurch was requisitioned by a new department knows as MD1, Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

It was ideal for their purposes. Tucked away in the country, it had plenty of outbuildings and a nice secluded garden they thought would be handy for “experimental demolition work” Lathes, workbenches and equipment were installed, and work began.

Here they invented and manufactured devices for both conventional and irregular warfare. The limpet mine, the PIAT (Projectile Infantry Anti Tank) and the sticky bomb, designed to be used against German tanks in the event of invasion were just some of them.

These devices for defeating German tanks might have something to do with stories I’ve heard about tanks being seen in the fields just down the hill from The Firs, by the big bend on the Aylesbury road.

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A Road, With Knobs On

Gateposts  Weston Underwood

The Monday Photo

In the 18th Century this road through Weston Underwood was a private one for Weston House, and the public road ran somewhere to the South of the village.

The public could pass along the private road (the High Street) during the day, but through the 18th Century the two sets of gates were locked and manned at night.

Travellers had to use the public road instead, which ran somewhere to the South of Weston House and also to the South of the village. Weston house is long gone, demolished in 1828. It was set back from the road, out of shot to the right of this picture.

South is to the right in this picture and Olney is about a mile and a half beyond the gateposts. To the North of the road is Weston Park, the landscaped gardens of Weston House.

The second set of gates were about 100 yards behind the camera, by the crossroads where Cross Lane and Wood Lane join the High Street. There’s nothing left of them, at least above ground level.

Cross Lane is most likely named for the 15th Century village cross that used to stand at the junction; only the base remains. Wood Lane heads North West and will take you to Cowper’s Alcove, just inside the far edge of Weston Park.

These stone pillars with their carved pineapples on top are locally known as the Knobs.

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How To Recognise: Gothic Revival Church Windows

Wolverton Gothic revival churchThe 1843 church of St George the Martyr at Wolverton has lancet windows all of the same or very similar design. The roofs are all set at the same steep angle.

How Old Are Church Windows?
Part Four

This is the last part of a short series; a guide to identifying church windows.

Read this series and you will learn to recognise their type and approximate age, and from that you may be able to work out the age of that part of the church. But don’t forget, churches were commonly updated centuries after they were built with the latest windows of the time.

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Murder and Mystery at Hanslope

Gravestone of William Farrow  Hanslope

The Monday Photo

What does this gravestone at Hanslope have to do with a disused, hidden piece of road on the way there from Haversham?

It’s the story of murder, suicide and a mysterious inscription on a gravestone.

On a scorching hot July Sunday in 1912, William Farrow lay in wait for his employer, Squire Edward Watts. He had been Squire Watts’ head gamekeeper, but had recently been sacked. He hid in the spinney that surrounded the old crossroads, less than a mile along the road from Hanslope. He held a loaded shotgun.

If you turned left at this crossroads you would be heading towards Tathall End, but turning right takes you towards Castlethorpe. Going straight on took you into the private drive of Hanslope Park, where the squire and his wife Sophie lived.

In the Spinney

The 67 year old Squire Watts and his wife approached on foot from Hanslope, returning from church. Edward would usually walk a few paces in front of Sophie, and they would talk as they went along.

As they came along the road into the spinney William Farrow fired at the squire, who fell with a fatal head wound. Sophie cried out and ran to him.

Close by in the coach house of Hanslope Park (it’s still there) the wife of the coachman, Lily Green, heard the commotion and rushed out with her son William.

William was told to get help. He went back for his bicycle, then rode off to Hanslope, fetching the police, the doctor, and his father George. As William's father George Green approached the spinney, there was another shot from inside the spinney.

George Green bravely went to investigate, climbing the fence and finding a path through the undergrowth. 20 yards into the spinney he found the body of William Farrow, who had killed himself. He left behind his wife Annie and three children.

Unconsecrated Ground

The squire was cremated and his remains were placed in the family vault, in the church. But because Farrow had commited suicide he could not (the church warden told me) be buried on consecrated ground.

He was instead buried on the far edge of the ditch that formed the graveyard boundary, between the ditch and a hedge that wran close and parallel to it.

Annie Farrow had his grave stone (above) installed on the churchyard side of the ditch, so his remains are behind it, lying parallel to its rear face, and at 90 degrees to the usual arrangement.

If you can’t read it in the photo it says:

IN
LOVING MEMORY OF
WILLIAM FARROW
THE DEARLY BELOVED HUSBAND OF
ANNIE FARROW
WHO DIED JULY 21ST 1912
AGED 45 YEARS
WAITING UNTIL ALL SHALL BE REVEALED

At some point since then the ditch has been filled in, and the graveyard extended slightly. William Farrow now lies on consecrated ground.

The Mystery

The last line on the stone was a mystery for many years, until around 2006 when a member of the Farrow family came to the grave.

They said that in those days serving women and maids were held to be fair game during shooting parties at the park, and the squire had been making sexual approaches to Annie Farrow. Whether these approaches were refused or reluctantly accepted we will never know, but whatever happened might well be why William Fowler lay in wait for the squire, on that hot Summer day.

Sophie Watts, was of course much distressed at her husband’s murder. She later had the road diverted so it no longer ran through the site of her husband’s murder, producing the road layout of a bend with a side road coming off it we know today.

Hanslope Park is now a Government Communication Centre.

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How to Recognise: Classical Period Church Windows

Willen churchSt Mary’s at Willen was built in 1680 and this is the North side of the nave. Note the regular spacing and pleasant proportions. The hoodmould is an integral part of the surround, and extends all the way down to the sill.

How Old Are Church Windows?
Part Three

This is the third of a short series; a guide to identifying and dating church windows.

In these posts (there will be a total of four) you will learn to recognise their type and approximate age, and from that you may often be able to work out the age of at least part of the church, if not the whole building.

Photos of examples are all from North Bucks churches.

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Naughty at Church

18th Century graffiti  Gayhurst church

The Monday Photo

St Peter’s 18th Century church at Gayhurst was just five years old when somebody calling themselves "I. Wag" carved their name and age into the outside wall of the chancel.

It was 1733, and Wag claimed to be 12 years old. I bet the rector wasn’t very pleased when he found this fresh carved graffiti in the East end of the chancel.

It’s quite well and deeply carved, and must have taken a good while to do. But whoever did this bit of vandalising didn’t plan ahead and ran out of room; the letter “s” in “years” had to go under the rest of the word.

But who was I. Wag? The rector would want to find out too, but I think the carver knew this and used a false name; a wag of course is a joker, a wit. Wag is a real surname, but it’s very rare.

Without a real name to identify the offender, the rector would have suspected every 12 year old boy in the parish.

This is the earliest dated piece of graffiti I could find on the church. Wag might well have been the first to leave their mark, but they were not the last. T B (I think) carved the church in 1845, and “M. Williams (RAF)” used a pencil in 1930.

This church replaced a Medieval one that had been in a ruinous condition, probably the same one the first rector was appointed to in 1227.

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