The heritage interests of members of the High Wycombe Society are as diverse as the assets they care about! For that reason, you will find our members volunteering for a wide range of heritage organisations at local, county and national levels, as well as enjoying themselves at Pann Mill Open Days.
Back in 2011 a number of us worked together on a project to celebrate the centenary of a stained glass window in the Town Hall. We researched the lives of those honoured in the window for their contribution to the town. We held an exhibition at Wycombe Library and published a book “Wycombe Pioneers of Progress”. Copies are still available from the Society for £12 (+p&p if applicable).
Two members of that project team: Denise Lindsay and Christine Clark are seen below manning a stall at a Bucks Local History Network event (run by the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society) in 2012.
The theme of the day was “Women in Buckinghamshire” so we prepared a display for this event featuring Hannah Ball, the local founder of Sunday Schools and Dame Frances Dove, founder of Wycombe Abbey School, not to mention all the women honoured in the “Dove Window” at All Saints’ church, High Wycombe. Did you know that there’s a very small picture of Amy Johnson’s plane in the sky near St Hilda?
In 2014 at a conference entitled “Defining Buckinghamshire” we contributed a display entitled “Defining Wycombe”, a good excuse to study early maps of the old borough boundary, and the traditional means by which it was maintained. We also explored the origins and changes to the definitions of civil parish boundaries in the vicinity of Wycombe since their introduction up until the current day.
The Bucks Archaeological Society conferences have become a regular fixture for some of us, so we were delighted when we were asked if we could help that Society celebrate their 170-year anniversary next year. In April 2018 we co-hosted a talk by guest speaker Leslie Webster, former Senior Keeper of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking collections in the British Museum, who came to High Wycombe to speak about Buckinghamshire’s Saxon Prince: the burial at Taplow.
In 2015 we helped research and encouraged restoration of a set of historic railings in the corner of The Rye. We were delighted when Wycombe Abbey School decided to carry out the restoration and replace the War Office Gates. The original gates had been removed and contributed to the war effort during the Second World War.
In 2017 we collaborated on a project led by Wycombe District Council in conjunction with Bucks New University and other volunteers (with Heritage Lottery funding) to produce a WWI Heritage Trail in the form of an app. Society members helped develop the route the trail would take and write the script. Posing here at the official launch of the app at Wycombe Museum are two Society members, Sally Scagell and Malcolm Connell, who played the parts of a Red Cross volunteer and a tailor respectively.
During 2016/17 the Society provoked and participated in the Bucks Free Press led campaign to restore the Red Lion in the High Street. Funds were raised for the lion to be restored by Colin Mantripp, a grandson of Frank Hudson who carved the lion in 1956. (Its predecessor is at Wycombe Museum). Pictured here is an early morning view of the lion being lifted back into its position on the portico in the High Street prior to a formal unveiling event on St George’s day 2017.
WHAT next? The Society was invited to participate in the formation of the Wycombe Heritage and Arts Trust (WHAT) and has a close interest in the future of Wycombe museum which transferred to trust status in 2016. Many Society members volunteer there.
A number of us are also frequent users of the Local Studies Centre in High Wycombe library, and Buckinghamshire Archives (previously known as the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies) in Aylesbury where many High Wycombe-related archives are held, including a copy of all the minutes of our predecessor organisation: the Rye Protection Society.
The Society also has some archive material of its own. We were proud to contribute to the SWOP online collection of historical photographs available here. More recently we have scanned a number of negatives from our archives relating to Wycombe in the 1970s – work in progress can be viewed here.
In 2018 we became the guardian of over 100 cans of historic 16mm cine film of High Wycombe and district. We have launched a project to raise funds to conserve these films for the future and to make their content accessible more widely in digital form. See here for further details and an opportunity to donate to the cause.
In 2018 we also received an interesting collection of brochures relating to auctions of properties in the Town Centre between the 1960’s and 1980’s. These have been scanned and will soon be available to view electronically here.
A highlight of 2019 was once again our attendance and participation in a conference organised by the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society, the subject “Social Housing: from Almshouses to ‘Right-to-buy'” prompted us to research and prepare exhibition material on the history of High Wycombe’s almshouses.
There is never a shortage of potential heritage project ideas, nor of opportunities for sharing our discoveries by giving talks, doing guided walks or contributing newsletter articles. But volunteer hours are finite and, although we encourage people to ask us questions, we don’t have all the answers! We are always pleased to hear from people willing to help or, better still, run a heritage project. We would like to improve our range of publications. We would also like to be more proactive in preserving our heritage.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of ad hoc inquiries flow in to us from afar. We try to answer them when we can, but sometimes we have to admit defeat.
If you know of any interesting information about who and what travelled from and to West Wycombe station between 1862 (when it opened as part of the extension of the line to Thame), and 1958 (when the station closed), please get in touch.
Another enquirer would like to know whether the pavilions known as the pepper boxes on the Pepper Box bridge on Chapel Lane have ever served any function.
Inquiries we have been more successful at answering in the recent past include:
What was High Wycombe like in 1967? A Pink Floyd fan from California wanted to know. (A clue to his interest lies in the question).
What equipment was installed in the first power station in High Wycombe? A correspondent from Wales wanted to know. (A report in the BFP of its official opening gave him the answer he was looking for).
Where exactly was the Rope Walk in High Wycombe? (Yes, we did have one – it’s very clearly to be seen on an 1875 map of the town).
What was the newly-built building I saw on a hillside in High Wycombe as a child in 1938? My teacher said it was a mosque but it couldn’t have been. (The inquirer’s teacher wasn’t the only one to mistake the byzantine-style church of St Mary and St George for a mosque, but was delighted to receive our response)
Why did my ancestor from High Wycombe choose to emigrate to Australia in 1912? (Living conditions in Newlands at that time compared to the rosy advertisements for assisted passages to Australia might have provided the answer, but it was a lot more complicated than that!).
There will always be more to learn about our town.