History Free

Lord Cobham's monument at StoweThe 115 foot tall Lord Cobham's monument at Stowe, Buckinghamshire was completed by 1749.

Coming up in the North Bucks Wanderer’s area in mid September are a long list of open days, and they are all listed on the Milton Keynes Heritage website. Not all these events are in Milton Keynes; they are also as far apart as Cosgrove, Olney, Stowe, and Winslow, amongst others.

As I grew up in Winslow, I’m interested in the events in the town. On Saturday the 14th of September are four events to see and do.

Open from 2 ‘till 5pm is 28 High Street, the Winslow Rural District Council offices when I was a boy. It now belongs to Winslow Town Council; it’s a Victorian building, I think.

The interior of Keach's Meeting House  WinslowThe interior of Keach's Meeting House.

Keach’s Meeting House is also open from 2pm to 5pm. It was built as a Nonconformist Baptist’s chapel in 1695. It’s tiny. The entrance is in Bell Walk, next to Limes Court.

Also open from 2 to 5 is the Brownie and Guide Hall. It’s in Church Street. Built in 1865 as the National School for Girls, it was bought by the Winslow Girl Guides in 1958. I was a baby when we moved to Church Street a year later, and you can read all about what I used to get up to as a small boy here. (But not until tomorrow morning, when that post is published here on this blog)

The solid garden gate to one side of the entrance used to lead into the vicarage garden, and I used to play with the vicar’s son in there, when I was a bit older.

See my next post (coming up tomorrow) on what I was like as a small boy in church Street.

Japanese visitors at Keach's Meeting House  WinslowI took this family from the Fukishima region of Japan and a local Japanese nun on a history trail around Winslow. This was in 2013, at Keach's Meeting House.

At 5pm there’s a History Walk, which lasts about an hour. Starting in the ancient centre of the town, you’ll never be further than 100 yards from the Market Square on the walk. It starts from outside Keach’s Meeting House. The History Walk is also on Thursday 19th.

There’s no need to book for any of these Winslow events, but some of the other heritage events require booking; check on the website.

The Bourbon Tower  at StoweThe Bourbon Tower at Stowe, Buckinghamshire. It was built in 1741 as a Keeper's Lodge.

It’s a busy day on the 14th. Also open (for example) from 10am to 4pm is All Saints Church, Bow Brickhill. They say that the tower stairs are very steep and narrow, but the views are outstanding.

On Friday 20th, the Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney are having an open day, while at Stowe on Sunday 22nd, they are doing free taster tours of the house, and free entry to the grounds.

In and around Aylesbury are more events:

You can visit RAF Halton’s Officer’s Mess.
There’s a Drawn to the Chilterns art exhibition in Wendover.
The 13th Century St Mary’s Church in Pitstone  has an Open Day.
A Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel will be open, at Waddesdon Hill.
There’s a round dozen events in Aylesbury, including Open Days at the ancient King's Head pub, a Quaker meeting house, and the huge council tower block in the centre of town that some call Pooley's Folly. I've got a lovely photo of that building somewhere, but I couldn't find it for you.

There’s lot’s to see and do, and you can find out more on the main Heritage Open Days website.


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Fletcher Was Here

Norman Stanley Fletcher

Near the entrance to the new theatre in Aylesbury is a statue of Ronnie Barker, as he looked when he played the prisoner Fletcher in the TV series Porridge, between 1974 and 1977. He considered Norman Stanley Fletcher to be his finest creation.

Born in Bedford in 1929, Ronald William George Barker was living in Oxford in 1948 and working in a bank there. He took a trip to Aylesbury to see a play at the Market Theatre, where the Manchester Repertory Company were Performing.

The Market Theatre was off the Market Square, and behind The Green Man pub. It's gone now.

Back home, he wrote to the company asking for a job and enclosing a photograph, but didn’t receive a reply. He wrote to them again asking for the photo back, and they offered him an audition. At the audition, he was hired on the spot.

His first role was in J.M. Barrie’s comedy play Quality Street. That was in November 1948; he was nineteen.

Ronnie Barker statue  Aylesbury

Once Ronnie Barker had performed in two more comedy plays he realised that he wanted to become a comic actor. In 1956 he made his first radio appearance in the sit com The Floggits. Later he played Able Seaman Fatso Johnson, in the excellent long running comedy series The Navy Lark.

This radio programme ran from 1959 to 1976, and he played a total of 40 different characters.

Many people don’t realise that he played another role in Porridge, too; that of the judge who sentences the “habitual criminal” Norman Stanley Fletcher to five years in the opening credits. Ronnie Barker played a huge variety of radio, TV, and film roles over the years; he was a man of great talent. He passed away aged 76, in October 2005.

If you want to hear how good he was in his younger days, The Navy Lark is often broadcast on Radio 4 Extra. See if you can spot which characters he plays; it’s not as easy as you might think.

Eye to eye with Ronnie Barker

I’ve written about some of the other statues in Aylesbury; there's lots of them:

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Aylesbury. David Bowie played in the Borough Assembly Hall, which is what the Market Theatre later became. Standing Square in Aylesbury. A Market Square hero. A Bird From Aylesbury. John Hampden gets the bird.

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The Church on the Hill

St Mary's church  Great Brickhill The war memorial and the church of St Mary, Great Brickhill.

Sometimes the memorials to the dead of World War One are dated 1914 to 1919, not 1918. The memorial at Great Brickhill is one of them.

There are various reasons given for this. One is that soldiers were sent to fight the Bolsheviks in Russia until 1919. Another is that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, and that was the official end of hostilities.

Of course the Armistice was declared in 1918.

Some men stayed in the forces in Europe after 1918 but died after hostilities had ended, and William James Dickens was one of them.

He died on his way home to be demobilised on Sunday, 2nd March 1919, and was buried at the communal cemetery at Theux in Belgium. It’s not a military cemetery, but some of the dead of both world wars are there.

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A Garden for the Fallen

Silent Soldier and poppy

At Steeple Claydon, while there’s a monument to the fallen in the church, there has never been a war memorial in the village, until now.

There’s now a stone memorial, in a new memorial garden.

It all started three years ago, when Steeple Claydon couple Norman (Nobby) white and Leslie White began their fight to establish what would be called the Steeple Claydon Memorial Garden.

They wrote letter after letter to officials, and found that most correspondence was not answered for months. But both times they wrote to their MP John Bercow, he answered them the next day.

After a long struggle, they were able to buy the strip of land in Meadoway near the centre of the village for just one pound. They gave it to the village.

The Whites and the rest of the Steeple Claydon Remembrance Group committee then had to work hard to get the garden ready in time. 

 As well as the stone memorial, there is a silent soldier, a place to sit, some shrubs and plants, and some patches of bare soil and grass where next year there will be a proper lawn.

I met Leslie White on the 7th of November when she came to slip a red woollen poppy over the silent soldier’s bayonet, and she told me all about the garden. It’s a bit late in the year for grass to grow she explained, but she expects the lawn to do well next year.

It was a close run thing for the garden to be ready for the opening; Leslie told me that she was out in the dark washing the garden’s path the night before the opening on the 21st of September.

As John Bercow had been so helpful to their fight he was asked to officially open the garden, and he accepted their offer.

The garden was ready for Remembrance Sunday this year, but donations are being asked for to pay for the garden’s construction. They’ve already raised £12,500, and hope to reach their £18,000 target soon. You can donate to:

Steeple Claydon Remembrance Group

Lloyds Bank sort code: 30 90 89

Account Number: 35489568

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100 Years Since the Armistice, in Winslow


Winslow Remembrance Day 2018 01

 In Winslow on Sunday 11th of November, the main road through the town was closed at 10:15am for the 2018 Remembrance Day Service, exactly 100 years after the start of the Armistice which led to the end of the first World War.

Men, women, and children marched from The Royal British Legion hall in Elmfields Gate to the war memorial on the High Street, at the end of the churchyard.

It was a very moving service, and very well attended. A wreath was laid for every one of the 51 men who died fighting for their country in the first world war, and as those wreaths were laid, each man’s name was read out. Other wreaths were also laid, but the ones for the 51 men were then arranged on the churchyard wall.

Let’s think about that for a minute. Winslow had a population of 1,698 in 1911, the nearest prewar date I can find figures for. About half were male, and the life expectancy for men was 51 years.

If we say that adults are anyone aged 18 or over, then approximately two thirds of the males in the town were adults, some 566 men. Out of those, 51 were killed in the war; one in every eleven adult males in the town.

These are not abstract figures. Imagine what it would be like if, out of every eleven men you knew, one was killed; probably unpleasantly.

Each of those men who died, and there are surnames in that list still found in Winslow today, had wives, children, parents, children, relatives or friends, who would never see them again.

Now imagine this happening in every town and village in the land. This is why we remember.

Here are some photos from the day.
Winslow Remembrance Day 2018 02


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A Bird From Aylesbury

John Hampden statue

At the Apocalypticus: Road to Ruin promo day in Kingsbury Square, Aylesbury (see my previous post) it was lunchtime so I walked down the Market Square and through the Saturday market to find something to eat, and found a burger van down by the bus station.

On my way back with a cup of tea and a quarter pounder with cheese I spotted this comedian of a pigeon sitting on John Hampden’s finger. I balanced the ‘burger and tea in one hand and quickly took this photo with the camera balanced (just) in the other.
There’s a plaque on the base, which says:

 "John Hampden
Born 1594. Died 1643
Member of Parliament for Wendover 1625-1629.
For Bucks 1640-1643.

He took part in the battle of Aylesbury 1st
November 1642 and was mortally wounded on
Chalgrove Field 18th June 1643. He died at the
Greyhound Inn at Thame 24th June,and was laid
to rest in Great Hampden church 25th June 1643.

“Mr John Hampden was one that friends and
enemies acknowledged to be most Eminent,
for Prudence, Piety, and Peaceable Counsels,
having the most universal praise of any
Gentleman that I remember of that Age."
                                              Richard Baxter, 16

Against my King I do not fight
But for my King and Kingdom's right.
                                         Inscription on Hampden Jewel." 

A well thought of man. John Hampden is said to have worn the Hampden Jewel around his neck at the Battle of Chalgrove. That is, on Chalgrove field. Both this battle and the Battle of Aylesbury took place in the English Civil War.

The bronze statue by the monumental sculptor Henry Fehr was erected in 1911. It was originally in a different position, but was moved in 1988 when the market square was pedestrianised.

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