A Potted History of Penn & Tylers Green


With finds from the Stone Age and written records from 1183, the villages we now know as Penn & Tylers Green have a long and illustrious history. Tiles made in the villages were of the highest quality and are to be found in Windsor Castle. The Civil War saw Royalists versus Roundheads battles in the vicinity. In 1796, Edmund Burke’s school for aristocratic French émigré boys in the village was visited by kings, dukes and ministers. It is only in recent years that the village of Tylers Green has grown to outnumber its older brother, Penn. For more details read on….

Miles Green provides the following potted history of Penn & Tylers Green.

The Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romano-British

We are only the latest in an unimaginably long line of human beings living in this favoured spot. Wycombe valley connects the Thames to the Icknield Way, the prehistoric trackway running from East Anglia to Salisbury Plain, and there is abundant evidence all along the valley of man’s presence at every stage in his history. Between Cock Lane and Hammersley Lane, finds have included: a Stone Age axe and many struck flint flakes used as tools; sherds of rough Iron Age pottery; Romano-British pottery, roof tiles, a quern used for grinding corn, coins and jewellery. A flint arrowhead was found in Wheeler Avenue. A Bronze Age axe and a spearhead and Roman coins and brooches have been found in or near Common Wood. Roman coins have been found in the fields in front of Puttenham Farm.


The earliest written record of Penn is to Hugh Clerk of Penn in 1183. Domesday Book does not name Penn because it was then linked with Taplow as an estate which had been owned by King Harold and the survey named only the places from which tax was collected. But there is convincing evidence of a well established settlement in Penn at that time of about 100 people. There was a lookout point and beacon on Beacon Hill and local men were called to defend an island fort, Shaftsey, on the Thames at Hedsor, against the Danes. The beacon, which gave Beaconsfield its name, was part of a chain from the naval base at Portsmouth via Butser Hill Hindhead, Hogsback and Windsor, and on via Penn to West Wycombe, Stokenchurch and the Aylesbury vale.

Tylers Green did not yet exist, either in name or as a separate community, but was an outlying part of the manor of Wycombe. Hammersley Lane led to the ‘hill pasture’ (OE hamor, hill; leāh, pasture), which we now call Tylers Green. The boundary with Penn was also the boundary between the Hundreds of Desborough and Burnham and ran through a line of ponds, including Widmer pond on the Front Common, and the beacon, as it still does to this day. A Saxon burial was found on Deadmans Dean Bottom and a Saxon silver brooch below Ashwells.

Until the middle of the 19th century, Tylers Green was part of Wycombe Heath, a 4,000 acre common of heath and woodland stretching over seven parishes, from Tyler End and Winchmore Hill in the south, up to Great Kingshill in the north. Its perimeter or ‘ends’ were marked by small settlements such as Tyler End, Widmer End, Heath End, Spurlings End, Mop End, and Beamond End (see 1824 map), and its southern edge consisted of Kings Wood, St John’s Wood, Common Wood and Penn Wood. During the Saxon and early Norman period, there would have been little if any settlement on the Heath and there is good evidence that the Heath was also a hunting chase for the Citizens of London, with the origin of their rights, perhaps going back to a Middle Saxon kingdom of the 6th and 7th centuries.

OE penn, means ‘enclosure or pen’. It seems that Penn and Common Woods were then a single wood, which was the enclosure or pen used to keep deer, in order to hunt them both there and on the wider heath. Because of its importance, it was called ‘the penn’ and gave its name to the later parish. Norman scribes translated the name as La Penne or La Penna, because Saxons pronounced the second ‘n’ as a separate syllable. Thus a Saxon resident would have said he came from ‘The Pen-na’. This form lasted for more than three hundred years after the Norman Conquest in 1066.

12th century

Before the Conquest, there was no town of Wycombe, but only a series of small settlements which gave rise to the probable origin of the name Wycombe as meaning ‘at the settlements’. The combination of water power for mills, its position on the main road between the royal palaces in London and Woodstock near Oxford, and lordship by Henry II, encouraged its development. The earliest written records show that there was a rapid post-Conquest expansion up the north side of the Wycombe valley and, by 1166, several small manors were well established including Ashwells on Cock Lane and Remes or Town Farm at the bottom of Beacon Hill. Three other farms appear in the earliest tax return of 1332: Colehatch on Hammersley Lane, Pistles (Pussulle, probably meaning ‘peas hill’) at the top end of Beacon Hill, and Rayners. These five farms remained little changed until the 19th century and largely made up what we now call Tylers Green.

On the Penn side, the de la Pennes, who were almost certainly Norman and took their name from the place, were lords of the manor and their overlords were the de Turvilles who held a small castle at Weston Turville. Penn’s population was then about 200. There were two manor houses, one belonging to the de la Penne’s at Penbury and another, Withiheg (hence Witheridge Lane), now Puttenham Farm, both overlooking a wooden church at Church Knoll, which is in the valley at the end of crown Lane. Penn Church moved to its present site around 1177. The Normans called the common and Beacon Hill, “Garret Green”, (later Gerrards Green), meaning look-out point.

13th century

Nicholas de la Penne was hanged in 1222 for murdering a neighbouring landowner from Beaconsfield and part of his estate was given to Baron Stephen de Segrave. A Statute of 1285 first allowed a lord to enclose part of a shared common, provided he left enough pasture for the commoners. It was probably soon afterwards that the de la Penne family moved from their first cramped manor house at Penbury, near Penn Church, to the present site of Penn House on former heathland, because it had room for an enclosed warren, a dovecote, a rookery and a windmill, all important manorial privileges. The Heath had several different landlords and for the Wycombe side of the parish boundary, it was Bassetsbury Manor, named after its first early 13th century lord, Alan Basset.

14th century

This was a prosperous period for Penn as Penn floor tiles made their appearance in Westminster Palace, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. Penn had the most extensive, successful and well-organized commercial tile workshops in medieval England. For over forty years between the 1350s and 1380s, Penn tilers secured something close to a monopoly in the South-East and were manufacturing vast quantities of floor and roof tiles for royal palaces, monasteries and churches, manor houses and rich merchants’ houses, in London and the surrounding counties. As commoners, they had the right to dig free clay from the green and so gave it their name.

The name Tiler End Green replaced Garret Green, but lookouts were still needed and Thomas de la Penne was Commissioner of Array, responsible for erecting ‘bekyns’ in the accustomed spots to warn of French invasion. The tower and aisle were added to Penn Church. The Vicar of Penn was murdered with an axe. The Black Death kilIed about half the population, reducing it to around 100. This may have been the time when Penbury moved onto former heathland.

15th century

The Yorkist king, Edward IV pardoned John Penne for supporting the Lancastrian cause. Penn Church was owned by Chalcombe Priory in Northamptonshire, and was improved with heightened walls, a fine timbered roof and Doom painting. The growth of Lollardy, particularly in Amersham and its surrounding parishes, including Penn, was a warning of the Protestant reformation which was to sweep away the authority of the Pope and many of the practices of the Roman Catholic church in the following century.

16th century

In 1522, thirteen Penn bowmen were rated “good” in a military survey organized by Cardinal Wolsey. In 15??, As Anglicanism took hold, the Vicar of Penn was put in Aylesbury Jail in 15?? by his ¬churchwardens “for uttering certain opprobrious words”. Henry VIII appointed Sybil Penne as foster mother to the future Edward VI, and rewarded her with local land and property, including Penn Church. Her ghost is supposed to haunt Hampton Court. Periodic plagues that affected London meant that children were often sent here to enjoy the healthy air of Penn. In 1577, the first written record of alehouses named two in Penn, probably the Crown and Red Lion. Beacon Hill would have blazed for the Spanish Armada in 1588.

17th century

The Civil War saw most of Buckinghamshire backing the Parliamentarians. Sir Gregory Norton, one of the judges who condemned Charles II to death, lived near Penn Church. In 1642, a Royalist force of 5000 horse and artillery “sounded their trumpets and made a glorious show” on the high ground of Penn before they marched down Cock Lane and Hammersley Lane to a disastrous ambush and battle on the Rye. Roundhead soldier James Smith drowned after faIling into Long Pond by the roadside outside Stnehouse near Penn Church. William Penn, the Quaker, who was to found Pennsylvania, and George Fox, the Quaker leader, held big Quaker meetings at the home of Penn’s future wife, Gulielma Springett. She lived in a large old mansion house on the common by Widmer Pond (see 1777 map), which was later home to Sir Nathaniel Curzon and his wife Sarah Penn, heiress to the Manor of Penn.

18th century

Daniel Baker, who was High Sheriff in 1721, later owned the same mansion and kept a diary of all his narrow escapes from danger in the house and on the common, such as when the house caught fire and when his saddle slipped and he was dragged 200 yards across the ground. In 1726, he obtained an agreement from the lord of Bassetsbury Manor, which included Tylers Green that was to last for 1000 years, ‘to rail and beautify’ the common by ‘planting elm or other trees in Walks, Rows, Knolls or Clumps’ on the ‘Wast Ground of Tylering Green’ – in effect to make a park in front of the mansion house. Twenty years later, a similar agreement allowed his son to plant trees extending ‘as far as the Gravel Pit lying west from the said Mansion about two hundred yards’ (ie the pit surrounded by Bank Road), down as far as Potters Cross and up beyond ‘Great Widmore pond’ which he was allowed to stock with ‘Carp, Tench or other Fish’. The elm trees were to give Elm Road its name, but were lost to Dutch Elm disease in 1976. The sale by the Bakers of the mansion, in 1769, brought the first mention of cricket bats in Penn when ‘9 cricket batts and 4 balls’ were sold for 8/6d.

General Haviland, a veteran of many of the wars of the mid 18th century, lived in the mansion and, in 1796, it became Edmund Burke’s school for aristocratic French émigré boys and was visited by kings, dukes and ministers, as well as a stone-throwing anti-French mob that tore down a wall and broke the windows. The house was pulled down in 1822.
At the start of the century there had been a population in Penn of 480 with no school and no almshouse. By its end, the population had doubled and there was serious poverty. There was however, a boys’ school at Church Knoll, several cottages used to house poor families and a workhouse where Penn Church Hall now stands. The poor had to wear a badge with a P on their sleeve and another P to show they were from Penn. The famous highwayman Jack Shrimpton, hanged in 1713, was born in Penn. The beacon would have been prepared for the last time to warn of invasion by Napoleon.

19th century

Population increase and a resulting scarcity of land had started illegal enclosures nibbling away on the edges of the common from the mid-17th century onwards (the Old Bell House on the Front Common was first enclosed for a garden sometime before 1746 and a cottage was built on it in 1769 and obtained a licence as a pub, known as The Bell. However, it was the fast growing Wycombe chair industry that attracted new people to Tylers Green from 1800 onwards, and by the 1830s, encroachments were coming thick and fast. Sir Philip Rose, who started to build Rayners in 1847, wrote to the Deans and Canons of Windsor, who were then the lords of Bassetsbury manor, in 1854, to say:
‘Within living memory Tyler’s Green was an open common without any house or building upon it, but small encroachments were from time to time made upon the Waste at the skirt of the great Wood (St John’s Wood which used to come down as far as Wheeler Avenue) on which mud houses were afterwards built which have gradually given place to buildings of a more substantial character, until within 40 or 50 years a population has grown up upon the Waste of several hundred souls with houses built closely together wherever a spot of ground could be safely enclosed … a population now of nearly 600 is all comprised within the space of a quarter of a mile. It will be difficult to point to any other instance where a population has been collected so rapidly by illegal means and with so little resistance on the part of the owners of the soil.’ …loud complaints from the neighbourhood & some warning notices… but empty threats…so in the estimation of the inhabitants the encroachments have acquired a security little short of the most legal tenure.

There has been rapid growth before but at an increasing pace in the last few years…in the last two years nearly 20 new cottages have been erected on the common…at the present moment there are preparations for encroachments not of feet or yards but of roods and poles…in one instance approximately an acre.

The only means of stopping it is by an Enclosure of the Common which is now being promoted in earnest by adjoining proprietors & it is understood that the Deans & Canons cordially support. It is clear that under no Enclosure can existing buildings be removed. The population is necessarily of a low & degraded class, for the most part extremely ignorant and needing most careful and judicious treatment.’

An elderly local, writing in about 1960, remembered that until about 90 years earlier, if a man could fence or grow a hedge around a plot of common land and keep it for 20 years, it was his own. This seems to be borne out by a long legal case concerning the Bell in 1796, although another counsel’s opinion, in 1829, was that an encroachment made only 12 or 13 years previously and not checked might be presumed by the jurors to have been made with the lord’s consent. Often, the Steward of the Manor would impose an annual rent on the ‘crib-holder’ or ‘snatch-holder, but in many cases the rent was so small it was not worth collecting and if no action was taken, in due course, a possessory title could be claimed by the ‘squatter’

As Philip Rose noted in 1854, neighbouring proprietors were going ahead with enclosures of common land – Penn parish, including Common Wood and Penn Wood, was enclosed in 1855 and the many resulting small private ‘allotments’ created potential building plots all along the Hazlemere Road. Tylers Green Common was never enclosed and so the opportunity for illegal enclosure continued until the population had reached 800 and about half the 50 acre common had been lost. There seems to have been little significant encroachment on the common after 1868 when the 347 acre St Johns Wood, which was still part of Wycombe Heath and owned by the Crown, was finally enclosed. The Inclosure Award included the creation of two new ‘Public Carriage Roads’, St John’s Wood Road and New Road, lined by small private allotments, which for the next forty years or so, remained open. The definition of property boundaries on the common is still much the same today as shown on the first large scale OS map of 1875.

Four new churches and chapels were built (Wesleyan Methodist (1808); Baptist, Beacon Hill (1809); Methodist Ranters (1843); St Margaret’s, by Philip Rose (1854). A girls’ school (now Penn Church Hall) was built in 1839, an infants’ school on Elm Road, in 1840. The Red Lion, The Crown and The Bell were joined by two new pubs: Queens Head (1800), Horse & Groom (1832, now the new doctors’surgery), and six beerhouses: Rose Cottage (1830, in Hammersley Lane), Victoria (1830), The Dog (1832 on Hazlemere Road), Sportsman & Dog (1842, on Beacon Hill), Horse & Jockey (1844), Fox & Pheasant (by the Village Hall).

20th century

In 1900, a walk from Penn Church to Old Beaconsfield passed only a few farms and cottages. The road was dusty and made up with flints and there were only horse drawn vehicles. There were about 1,000 people in the whole parish of whom some 600 lived in Penn village. Penn Parish Council had warmly supported a railway station, predicting in all innocence, that ‘The Hamlet of Penn including Tylers Green has about 1,500 inhabitants and there are several gentlemen having residences in London who would doubtless use the Beaconsfield station in their journey to and from London’. Little did they realise that the whole nature of the parish was about to change. The railway arrived in 1906, a garage opened in Knotty Green and Witherage Lane had to be widened. The Penn Estate, which owned most of the parish’s 4,000 acres, were to gradually sell over half of them during the following century and the population had doubled by 1950 and quadrupled by 2000, with half the population living in Knotty Green.

By 1900, the population of Tylers Green had risen to about 900 and in 1906, there was a sale in small lots of the former St Johns Wood in response to demand created by the new railway. But development was slow and there were still only 1,000 inhabitants in 1916. A newly arrived war widow noted that ‘excluding the vicarage, there are but four people of substance living here’. In 1919, there was a further sale of St Johns Wood and there was steady development along Hazlemere Road, New Road and St Johns Road. It was not until 1957 that the serious building started with the first houses of the Deer Park Estate in Coppice Farm Road and Ashley drive. The population today is about 4,500, of whom 85% live on what used to be a part of Wycombe Heath.

Copyright:  Miles Green

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