Local History


We are fortunate in having a number of villagers interested in local history of which the most knowledgeable is Miles Green.  We hope you enjoy the articles below.  For a quick overview, see the “Potted History”.  The others go into particular aspects in more detail and we hope to add to them in the months and years ahead.  Many of the articles have appeared in either the village magazine “Village Voice” or the local church magazine.

Past, Present and Future. Celebrating our 60th AGM

in St Margaret’s Parish Rooms on 17 May 2019

I have been asked to say a few words to mark what is for all practical purposes the 60th Annual General Meeting of the P&TG Residents Society.

It isn’t quite the 60th anniversary! As many of you will remember, this Society is the result of a merger in 2003 between the P&TG Residents Association and the P&TG Society; two separate organisations with very different origins but both of them sharing the same basic objective; that objective being protecting the locality and improving the quality of life of the residents.

Let me take you through some of the history of those 60 years.

The P&TG Residents Association was originally just the Tylers Green Residents Association. It was set up on a small scale in 1958 by the residents of the new Deer Park development (Ashley Drive area).  We don’t know much about its very early years. We know that it published a regular Bulletin, but the earliest surviving copy dates from 1969.(Liz Tebbutt has No. 29 dated June 1962).  ‘Penn’ was added to the name in 1967.

The point of the Association was that it should serve this community; and the present-day Society that all of us here are members of can certainly pay tribute to that early committee for a number of important community benefits that we enjoy today.

Perhaps the most signal legacy of the Association is Village Voice. When it first started out it was a fairly unsophisticated publication, called not Village Voice but a ‘Bulletin’, typed out on someone’s typewriter on those stencils that a few of us remember from our youth; and it was then run off on an electric duplicator kept in someone’s garage. The sheets were then folded, collated and stapled.  There may be some of you here who will remember that laborious process.   The Editor of the Bulletin for many years was Ken Stevens, who was also Chairman of Chepping Wycombe Parish Council as well as Chairman of the School Board until his untimely death in 1986.  If you go to Widmer Pond, have a look at the hand pump that sits beside it, and you will see that the pump is there as a well-merited tribute to Ken Stevens’s good work.

It’s hard to remember now, but until 1987, you only received a Bulletin if you were a paid up member of the Association. Not surprisingly it became an impossible task to know who had paid up and who hadn’t. Then a certain person came forward with the idea that this small local magazine could be financially self supporting without bothering with subscriptions at all – an idea that was initially met with some scepticism; but that person was Peter Brown; and Peter, who was the first Editor of the new-look Village Voice, was confident that it would be viable; so we set it up on the basis that a copy went to every household every two months for no charge.  As we know, Village Voice has since gone from strength to strength and now provides the funds for many other activities as well as being a vital component in creating and maintaining a sense of communal identity.

That feeling of community was fostered in other ways also; for example through The Play Group. The Residents Association involvement with the Playgroup started very informally in 1968 with a group of parents volunteering to help in whatever way they could.  Few of those people had any particular qualifications other than experience in bringing up their own children. But it became very popular. By 1974, there were three separate groups at different locations and a waiting list.

And then there was the now familiar annual event, the charity Half Marathon which was first organised, under the auspices of the Association back in 1984. The idea for it sprang from Peter & Tina Brown following the tragic death of their daughter Claire from Leukaemia.  370 runners took part in the first run, all prizes and trophies were donated by local traders, and considerable sums of money were raised. The half marathon and fun run are now without question one of the big village events of the year. By 2015, just over 30 years from that first event, a total of over £1/4m had been generated for a host of charities; as well as a lot of pleasure and fun for all the participants.

And when it came to events organised by the Association, that was not all. There was also a regular round of other annual events – a village Quiz, a Children’s Xmas party, barn dances.  The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Celebration of 1977 was a memorable occasion organised by the Association. And alongside all that was the continual and onerous task of submitting comments to the local councils in Wycombe and Chiltern on the growing number and size of planning applications. Perhaps I could just mention that several people here tonight took their turn at the helm of the Residents Association.  Chairmen since the 1980s have been Ken Stevens, Philip Capps, Miles Green, Edna Tagg, Miles Green again, Peter Brown, Cathy O’Leary, and Jean Stidwell.  David Harris was the last Chairman of the Association and had also been Treasurer since 1983 – and he still is our Treasurer today – an unbroken service of 36 years!

But in mentioning David’s name, this is where I come to the Penn and Tylers Green Society.

The P&TG Society

I mentioned that the origins of the P&TG Residents Association are somewhat lost in the mists of time. By contrast the origins of the P&TG Society are very well known indeed. The Society was brought into being quite suddenly in 1965 after a very public row over the ambitious plans of the then Vicar of Penn to build a new Community Centre directly opposite Holy Trinity Church. These plans would have required the demolition of the Church Hall (dating from 1839) and the adjacent almshouses (dating from 1831). The furore was like nothing previously seen in the village. Felicity Riddick, who used to live at the Knoll in Penn, described the architect’s plans [in a letter that Miles has given me] as a “monstrous carbuncle”… “a cross between an enormous birdcage and the elephant house at the zoo” and (she said) “absolutely out of scale and out of keeping” with the buildings around it.

A committee of the great and the good was rapidly formed to oppose the plans. My predecessor, the last Lord Howe, was the President and the Vice-Presidents included John Betjeman, Rupert Davies, Countess Howe, the Earl of Ranfurly, Sir Oliver Millar and two well-known local authors, Alison Uttley and the novelist Elizabeth Taylor.  The vicar, without consulting anybody, had appointed his cousin, the eminent modernist architect, Sir Hugh Casson, to design the new building; and John Betjeman, when he heard about the plan, took it upon himself to write personally to Sir Hugh, saying:

“Now if your scheme of the modern Penn centre, attractive as it is in itself, goes up on the present site, two irreplaceable assets will be lost to the village of Penn. They are the grouping of church, 17th century inn, The Crown, 18th century houses and attractive 1859 almshouses, which could easily be repaired and modernised with the aid of the National Almshouses Association.”

At the end of the letter he tactfully suggests that Sir Hugh might consider relocating the scheme to another spot somewhere in the Parish.

Felicity Riddick, who later became Chairman of the P&TG Society, describes what happened next:

“When the great day came to unveil the project, the crammed Church Hall rose as one man and shouted Sir Hugh down….It was an amazing scene – very rude no doubt, but extremely effective, and the plan was withdrawn to the discomfiture of the vicar and Sir Hugh, who poor man had been led to expect a grateful and impressed audience…..

 “Anyway, the upshot was the founding of the Penn and Tylers Green Society to act as a guardian of the better buildings….and the village in general, to maintain good relations with the Council Planning Office but basically to avoid such a fearfully unsuitable development from happening again.”

In the end, the vicar got his way, though only partially. The Church Hall remained; but the old almshouses, to the regret of many, were demolished to make way for what is now Penn Mead; the construction of which was funded by the Le Rossignol family in memory of their two sons who were killed in the War.

Once that episode was over, the Society realised that it had real work to do. It is quite alarming to realise that 50 years ago there was neither a Conservation Area in Penn nor any listed buildings. Buildings of real architectural and historical importance were completely unprotected. Indeed it was not until 1987 that St Margaret’s Church and its four glebe properties was protected by Grade II listing. So the gradual listing of buildings in the village has to go down as one of the Society’s big achievements.

The Conservation Area is large (85 acres). It has about 330 properties within it of which 50 are listed, with many others, particularly the vernacular cottages, adding significantly to the character of the Conservation Area. It started off in 1970 and was then augmented in stages – the back common was added in  1981, Rayners in 1986 and the top of Beacon Hill in 1992.  In 2007 there was a formal appraisal of the P&TG Joint Conservation Area after which it was adopted by WDC as part of its planning guidance.

Another important achievement of the P&TG Society was our Open Evenings which many of us felt played an important role in promoting a sense of community. I say ‘our’ Open Evenings because both Elizabeth and I have played a full and enjoyable part in nearly all these events over the last 35 years.   Penn and Tylers Green has been blessed with an unusually varied and interesting history and we have been able to explore it through talks, slides, shared presentations, drama and music, put together almost entirely by Miles Green, and nearly always including hospitality, usually a supper.   I am looking at a long and impressive list of these memorable occasions.

Miles was not the only leading light of the Society, and I feel I should make mention of its several Chairs over the years; Frankie Wigram, Felicity Riddick, Monica Bazell, John Broadbent and Jean Rollason, who all in their different ways contributed greatly to its success.

Jean Rollason retired in 2002, and no-one stepped forward to take her place. That was the point at which a merger with the Residents Association was proposed.   At that juncture David Harris was Chairman of the Residents Association and Miles Green was vice-Chairman of the Society.  Both recognised the synergies and common aims of the two organisations; and both were much in favour of the merger which duly went ahead to create our present Residents Society.  [I am pleased to say that the records of the P&TG Society were accepted by the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies in Aylesbury as a valuable social record of its time.]

Residents Society

An early decision of the newly merged Residents Society was to go for charitable status and here we were very fortunate to have the services of Brian Bennett as our new Company Secretary.  He steered us expertly through the shoals of the necessary legalities, drafted Rules and Articles of Association for us and kept us after that on the straight and narrow until his retirement last year.

The second hugely important decision was to buy Common Wood – which was threatened with development and closing off – and this we did in 2003, purchasing 248 acres of the wood itself with an adjoining 8 acre field, by raising £100,000 through a local appeal to go with over £1/2m from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Penn Parish Council also gave £25,000.   Since then we have managed the wood, with Mike Morley as our Manager, by dint of volunteer work parties, at virtually no net cost.    We subsequently decided that it would be wise to ensure public access to the wood in perpetuity by transferring the legal freehold to the Woodland Trust whilst retaining all rights of management; and this we did.   We were later, and very generously, given Millar Wood, which is just above Potters Cross, by Sir Oliver Millar’s family, to ensure that this approach to Penn remains unspoilt.

More recently, we purchased the wide verges at the entrance to Coppice Farm Road and got them designated as Village Green.

And what has happened since?

Village Voice has gone from strength to strength, under Peter Brown until 2005 and since then under Cathy O’Leary, its editorially independent Editor, growing both in size and quality.   [Coloured covers appeared in 2002 and coloured text and photos in 2007.]    It is the essential source of all our funds with the motto “By the village for the village”.

The Village pre-school is now under one roof at the Methodist Church in Coppice Farm Road and has adapted, very successfully, to the growing demands of government legislation. It was triumphantly awarded the status of “Outstanding” by OFSTED just over a year ago.  The team of teachers now led by Nicky Lovegrove, previously by Gill Lynn, and overseen by Sharron Herron, are highly qualified and very enthusiastic.

Planning remains a difficult and increasingly contentious task; and responsibility for this currently resides with Robert Robinson, whose grasp of complex detail is second to none.   Considerable efforts have been made over the years to establish regular and effective contacts with the Councillors and planning officers concerned, involving on occasion our MPs.  It is true to say that the development of Ashwells and Gomm Valley have occupied a good deal of time over the last 30 years,  and more recently the Society has set up an Ashwells Forum to bring together the views of residents and councillors.   We win some and we lose some, but we do our best to ensure that the justified views and concerns of our community are taken into account when planning decisions are made.

I am conscious that there has not been time this evening to mention by name all those who now, or in the past, have contributed to the Residents Society activities, but I know that you all play your part in this fine organisation and can take a quiet satisfaction from a job well done.

My last comment is about these AGMs because these meetings are themselves an important opportunity for us all to keep in touch and I would simply urge you to keep up your invaluable support for the Residents Society in their continuing efforts to make Penn & Tylers Green a good place in which to live.   I personally see the Society as an organisation without which we could not do, and I am always pleased to be able to speak on its behalf as its President. Here we are, 60 years on, with much to celebrate and be proud of. It would be good to think that it will still be looking after our children’s and grandchildren’s interests 60 years from now.

MSG/FH, May 2019

 Posted by at 6:08 pm

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