Nostalgia: Stories from the streets of Chesham
Nostalgia by Peter Hawkes
THE Chesham Local History Group are launching a new book on Saturday 30th November at JPS Stationers in Market Square in the town.
Entitled “Stories from the Streets – A History of Chesham Shops” the book is the first volume of a history of Chesham’s favourite shops, with detailed descriptions by local reseachers alongside images from the 19th century through to the present day. Many of the shops featured will bring back happy memories for the town’s long established residents.
For those newer to Chesham there are maps and illustrations which will bring its forgotten streets to life, including unrivalled representations of the Market Square from the earliest times.
The book begins with a look at the origins of trade in Chesham, and describes how, at the head of a valley, in the foothills of the Chilterns, three streams came together to form a small river.
This became a natural meeting point for people from the hilltop settlements to gather and trade with each other and with the valley dwellers.
There’s no doubt that the buying and selling of sheep, cattle and other produce took place here in the heart of the
valley, in the hamlet of Ceasteleshamm, meaning a heap of stones beside a water meadow, which evolved into the town we now know as Chesham.
Later, the Saxons began to cultivate the land and built water-powered corn mills along
the river valley. Trading was going on in the small town for centuries but the turning point in the development of Chesham into a market town was in 1257, when Hugh de Vere, 4th Earl of Oxford and Lord of the Manor of Chesham Higham, obtained a Royal Charter for a weekly market and three annual markets.
It’s thought that this resulted in the laying out of the Market Square as we know it today. Initially, the market place would have assumed the vaguely triangular shape typical of many medieval market places.
The site for the market in Chesham was chosen because it was at the junction of four trading routes: that from the south-east, from Chenies, Rickmansworth and London; from the south, Amersham and High Wycombe; from the west, Great Missenden; and from the north, Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted. Thus the Market Square forms the hub of Chesham’s four historic shopping streets.
Hugh de Vere could now raise revenue by charging traders to use the market and by
leasing plots of land facing onto the Market Place for them to set up their own shop premises and workshops.
These were known as burgage plots, which were long and narrow, being about sixty to seventy metres long and ten metres wide.
They sometimes had narrow passages running alongside them giving access to buildings at the rear, some of which developed into the yards we can still see in the town today.
The first mention of a Market Hall in Chesham is in the 1679 Quarter Sessions
records. The original hall was enlarged in 1856, the upper floor being used for courts, public meetings and concerts, while the ground floor was left open under the arches for the use of market traders but it was later enclosed.
Sadly, the building was allowed to fall into disrepair and demolished in 1965, despite strong opposition. But thankfully, the clock tower and lantern were saved and restored to the Market Square in 1992, following pedestrianisation. In 2014 the original bell was also restored to the clock tower following a campaign led by Stirling Maguire and is now known as the Stirling Bell.
Take No.17 Market Square for example.
Believed to date from the seventeenth century, or possibly even earlier, the most memorable occupants of this Grade II listed building were the Brazils, the family of butchers who traded here for almost seventy years. Remember the little booth where you went to settle your bill with Mrs Brazil after being served with your hand-cut meat?
It was about 1931-2 that No.17 was taken over by William Brazil and Sons. Two
generations of Brazils had been trading previously in Red Lion Street but William Oscar
appears in the 1939 Register at 17, Market Square, along with his wife, Elsie, and son
Geoffrey, aged nineteen. Geoffrey’s occupation was ‘butcher and motor driver’, indicating that he delivered orders to customers as well as working alongside his father in the shop.
Later Geoffrey Brazil would take over the family business, his wife Peggy also
becoming involved, sitting in a small booth in the customer’s area of the shop, taking their payments.
Eventually, Brazil’s became the only butcher’s shop left in the Market Square and was always busy, despite competition from the supermarkets which had moved into
the town in the 1970s. Brazil’s finally closed in 1998 when Geoffrey hung up his apron and retired. The frontage and ornate sign still exists and the shop is now Brazil’s Restaurant.
The new book is available at JPS Stationers and Waterstones, Chesham or contact Peter Hawkes via www.hawkesdesign.co.uk.
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Last updated by System Admin on 27th August, 2018