Frances Mathew was telling me about her interesting great-grampy George Bridges of Chesham.

About George Bridges

George James Bridges was born on March 6, 1892 in Chelsea, London where his father had been working as a policeman. His father was Chesham born-and-bred John Bridges, and his mother was Lucy Mary Ryder Warrell, who hailed from Chenies. The family moved back to Chesham in the early 1900s, residing at 153 Waterside close to his paternal grandparents. George had an older brother, John Henry who also became a policeman.

After he left school, George was taught to drive by a local doctor, in return for washing up medicine bottles. In those days there were few people in Chesham who could drive, and he worked as a chauffeur. George was the first driver to be employed by Chesham Post Office.

George married Minnie Ellis in January 1915. After the Great War started, George signed up in May 1915, age 23. He was at war when their first daughter Eva was born in September 1915. His driving skills were put to the test whilst on active service. He served with the Royal Army Service Corps, in the Motor Transport Battalion, fulfilling important transport duties as a dispatch motorcycle rider in Rouen, Ypres in Flanders. Later he was posted to German East Africa (now Tanzania), where he learnt Swahili. Injuries incurred during his military service led to ill health years later. George did not speak of his experiences during the war to any of his family.

In April 1919, George returned to Chesham and resumed his career as a chauffeur. His second daughter Mary was born in December 1925. George was a Christian and his family were part of the congregation at Christ Church, Waterside, Chesham where George also sang in the choir. He later worked as a driver for Chesham building company Rust and Ratcliffe. His last full-time job before retirement was as a shift-work telephone operator for the Chesham Electric Light and Power Company in Higham Road, which later became part of the Eastern Electricity Board upon nationalisation.


His wife Minnie died in 1956, and then George went to live with his daughter Mary and her husband, local brushmaker, Robert ‘Bob’ Russell. When George retired from full-time work, he continued to work part-time with his son-in-law at the family brush-making firm R. Russell Brushes in Townsend Road, a family firm founded in 1840.

George was a friendly, upright, reserved, and unassuming gentleman. He was content, never miserable, and enjoyed being close to his family. George’s real joys were his family, his garden, local wildlife, and his hobbies which were woodwork, motor maintenance, local history and painting. It was the care given by his daughter and son-in-law for 24 years that enabled him the time and comfort to devote so much time to these pastimes. In return, he was able to help with childcare support for his two young grandsons Robert and Alan.

Painting Chesham

George loved painting, and his pieces are technically very precise. He typically worked by planning each one meticulously to ensure the perspective was correct. Some of George’s paintbrushes consisted of just a few hairs to provide the finest detail. George’s motto was ‘draw what you see, not what you think you see’.

George also had a real passion for Chesham’s history and he loved to talk about it. George wrote a set of history essays about old Chesham. These were based upon his own memories and articles from the local newspaper. He kept interesting press cuttings, especially those with old photos and memories of bygone times, in shoeboxes. George was one of the first to compile the local history of Chesham in such an organised and complete manner.

He combined his interest in local history and painting to recreate scenes of Chesham’s past. George spent years scouring the town for old prints, drawings, postcards and photographs from different sources. From these he constructed images of late Victorian and Edwardian Chesham, which was then a picturesque town of narrow streets, half-timbered houses and vanished landmarks. He painted a remarkable collection of watercolours, many based on the photographs and old postcards. He used watercolour to make the scenes come alive and signed them “G. Bridges” or “G.B.”

He was well-known amongst other local historians, and was keen to share his research and paintings, which he freely contributed to other people’s local history books. In 1965 he contributed to Chesham Society’s exhibition “Picture Chesham”, showing old photos and images of Chesham. Some of the scenes are still easily recognisable, and remarkably little changed. However much of the town depicted in George’s paintings, such as the old yards and many of the pubs, were demolished in the name of slum clearance, road-widening and modernisation The paintings give a glimpse of the days of yore. It was a nostalgia for the Chesham of his boyhood. He firmly believed and sometimes said: ‘If Chesham had been preserved, it would be one of the showpieces of Britain’.


George died on June 28, 1980, at the age of 88. When the folders containing his paintings and papers were passed onto his great-granddaughter Frances, who lives in Chesham, she knew that these were a treasure trove which had to be shared. In 2020 Frances Mathew, and Chesham publisher Peter Hawkes, turned George Bridges’ work into a beautiful colour book called “Old Chesham – Paintings and stories by George Bridges”. The book includes his history notes illustrated by his own paintings.

The book has over a hundred of his colour paintings of Chesham, plus some photos and maps. In its 106 pages Chesham’s origins, the churches and chapels, the streets and yards, the pubs, the river, and some local characters are all covered. It costs £12.95 and is available as a fixed price item on eBay or for sale at Chesham High Street Post Office.