By Dr Chris Woodman
The River Wye is steeped in history
The Domesday Book in 1086 listed 20 mills on the River Wye between West Wycombe and Bourne End. By 1815 there were as many as 34 mills listed for tax purposes!
Today, the River Wye is a fine sight as it flows beside the A40 alongside the Rye. Not a trolley to be seen!
The River Wye used to flow through High Wycombe Town Centre. This lovely painting by Francis Colmer shows Bridge Mill, which was near where the Swan Theatre now stands.
The River Wye was not always pretty. In particular, by the 1950s, it was not much loved where it flowed alongside Oxford Road.
In 1967, High Wycombe town centre was “modernised” and our historic river was ignominiously put into culverts.
Almost immediately it was recognised that putting the Wye in culverts was a mistake.
When the High Wycombe Society was formed in 1968, as a result of the Rye Protection Society’s success in preventing the A40 from being diverted across the Rye, it immediately began to campaign to make the most of the parts of the River Wye that were still above the ground. By 1972 we were arguing for the deculverting of the river from under the “Western Desert car park”, which eventually became the Eden shopping centre. By 1999, we were including deculverting of our waterways as one of the aims of our Society in our recruiting pamphlets.
By 2004, we were delighted to hear that Wycombe District Council had enshrined deculverting as an objective in its new Local Plan for Wycombe District.
Policy L5(3) – Wycombe District Local Plan 2004. (3) Wherever possible, all opportunities should be taken to improve the value and quality of river corridors through restoration and enhancement, particularly through deculverting. Permission will not be granted for the culverting of watercourses.
Part 1: Deculverting the Wye: A brief history