This weekend marks 10 years since a devastating fire engulfed Chesham’s Royal British Legion – gutting it completely and forcing nearby residents to be evacuated.
The Reverend of a church that gave shelter to Chesham residents caught up in the fire at the Royal British Legion in Broad Street at the time said the blaze would cause “a big loss” to the community.
The huge fire took hold of the two-storey building, completely destroying the roof after starting at around 3.30am.
Firefighters from Chesham, Amersham, Great Missenden, Beaconsfield, Aylesbury, Stokenchurch, Berkhamsted and Tring descended on the town and battled the blaze throughout the morning as nearby roads were cordoned off and residents were evacuated.
At the time, there were fears the community would be seriously affected. Reverend John Shepherd from the Emmanuel Church said the May 19, 2009, blaze would “significantly impact” the people of the town – but the Legion team spectacularly bounced back, starting a six-year journey to establish an RBL club in Chesham once again.
Now, the club – in its new location at the Douglas McMinn Centre in East Street – is still serving the community with events, clubs and meetings.
John Woodstock, club chairman at Chesham Royal British Legion Club, reflects on the past decade since the devastating blaze changed the town:
Ten years ago this month, in the early hours of May 19, 2009, the British Legion Club at 111 Broad Street was engulfed by fire. Despite the heroic efforts of the local fire brigade the building that was completed in 1938 by the people of Chesham was lost and so began the six year journey to re-establish a Royal British Legion Club in Chesham.
Help was at hand in the shape of Chesham United Football Club, which opened its doors for the members to use, as and when we wanted.
The football club’s chairman at the time was Mr Charles Manchester and with his help and support not only did we have a place to meet but also legal help from his barrister towards claiming compensation from the British Legion head office. We, the club members, will forever be grateful for all his input.
Over the next six years a small group of dedicated Legion Club members met with a team from RBL head office representing its board of trustees.
We met many times in order to negotiate an appropriate settlement; sometimes during the day whilst taking time off from work and at other times in the evenings. Finally, having agreed a settlement and with money in our bank account, we set about looking for new premises.
Luckily, the Chesham Conservative Club’s lease with the Douglas McMinn Centre was coming to an end and was not going to be renewed and this gave us the opportunity to take over their leased premises on the ground floor of the centre.
On Christmas Day 2015, the new premises of the Royal British Legion Club were opened.
Our membership is much reduced from the number we had in 2009 but they are one of the friendliest groups of people you could wish to meet.
We have opened our club to the Royal Naval Association who meet once a month (first Thursday) and most Sunday lunchtimes for a tot or two.
We have regular bingo evenings, meat raffles, open the box nights (with prize money up to £1,500) and live entertainment on some Saturdays.
We now have two beer festivals every year; last month’s was a sell-out and we hope to have the same success at our October festival.
We also have regular race nights, skittles on a full length alley and quizzes. Our prices are very competitive and overall, I believe the club offers great value for a membership fee of less than £30 per year. Details of all our events can be found on the notice board outside the Club and on the Club’s Facebook page “Chesham Legion Friends”. Why don’t you become a member of our Facebook group and you can see all that is going on?
The club also has a darts team and two crib teams. We would like to have a second darts team so if you are interested then let us know.
So the message is do come and experience our friendly social-minded club, you would be welcomed as a visitor. Membership is open to all and available all year round, and of course when you join you are supporting the poppy appeal and all the good work that the Royal British Legion carries out.
I would like to finish this piece with a big thank you to you the people of Chesham, for the magnificent support you gave us, in the town centre, on the one hundred year anniversary of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 - you were magnificent.
I know the chairman of the branch, Bob Parrin, and I felt very proud to be in your company. The respect you showed told everyone that Chesham is a great community.