On 5th August 2018, over 150 mainly local people, mostly (but not all) drawn from the membership of the High Wycombe Society, came to Wycombe Abbey for an event to celebrate the Society’s Golden Anniversary.
Attendees were offered welcoming pre-lunch drinks in the Fisher library, a room named in honour of Miss Fisher, whose portrait hangs there. She was the headmistress of Wycombe Abbey at the time of the Rye Protection Society activities, just over 50 years ago.
Local artist, Lorna Cassidy, had been present at a meeting of the Wycombe Arts Association held in the Guildhall on 27th November 1968 which could be said to be the official moment the Society came into being. A copy of her sketch from that meeting was one of the exhibits on display; an embroidered Society banner of uncertain age, preserved over a number of decades by Lorna, also greeted guests as they entered Big School for lunch.
Big School was a fitting backdrop to our celebrations. The hall was built by the third Lord Carrington as a playroom for his daughters, shortly after he returned from Australia where he had been Governor of New South Wales. It houses a number of items of heritage interest, not least the ‘Shelburne Pew’, built for John, the 1st Earl of Shelburne of the 2nd creation. It used to be above the chancel in All Saints’ Parish Church, but was surplus to requirements in the nineteenth century.
The Society’s Timeline, first created by Ann Simone to celebrate our fortieth anniversary, had been extended to include more recent events, and was laid out on exhibition boards along one side of the hall.
Old photographs of High Wycombe from the Society archives were projected onto a screen above the stage, and the strains of Glenn Miller’s music in the background reminded attendees that his band had performed at Wycombe Abbey in 1942 shortly before his disappearance.
The caterers had devised an imaginative menu to fit the theme of the occasion, with food elements drawn from each of the past five decades culminating in the dessert, a so-called “Wycombe Tidy”, a deconstructed Eton Mess.
After lunch the Mayor of High Wycombe and our President, Stuart King, together cut our Birthday cake, while our pianist, Clifton Hughes, himself a former resident of High Wycombe, challenged all present to recognise the various composers whose styles were included in his medley on the theme of “Happy Birthday”.
Taking a keen interest in the music at the event was local legend, Peter Goodwin, whose past career included the production of dozens of operas and concerts in High Wycombe.
All were invited to join in a singsong, with familiar tunes but with words adapted by the late Eric Alexander. Long-standing Society member, Frances Alexander took the microphone to lead the singing of “Coming Through the Rye”, a tribute to our Society’s founding Secretary, Jack Scruton with words composed by her late husband. Our President then introduced and led the singing of another local song “Jurkins of Wycombe”, a cheerful lament of a disgruntled chairmaker.
Most of those present took up the offer of a short guided tour of the school and there were other sources of entertainment for those who remained in Big School. One subject of special interest was the Hatchments in the ceiling of the hall. Our Chairman has made a special study of these and had produced a leaflet to help people study them at their own pace. Spare copies of this leaflet will be available at future Society events.
Photos of various highlights from the past 10 years of the Society were also projected onto the large screen.
Souvenirs of Wycombe Abbey were on sale. Panels taken from the Society’s Wycombe Pioneers of Progress project back in 2011, provided information about a former Wycombe Abbey resident, the 2nd Lord Carrington.
A “poetry corner” displayed a number of contributions from Society members, including a poem written specially for the occasion by Eileen Walters. There was also an opportunity to take part in a challenging “fun picture quiz” previously displayed at one of our public meetings.
The afternoon concluded with tea and cake back in the Fisher library, where five lucky ticket holders were to discover they had won prizes in the draw. The organisers judged the event a success by the reluctance of people to leave.
(This narrative is a minimally edited version of an article in the Autumn Edition of the High Wycombe Society newsletter)