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Amersham (including the hamlets of Coleshill and Winchmore Hill)

"Hagmondesham, alias Homersham, a right pretty Market Towne on Fryday, of one street, well-built with Tymber, standing in Buckinghamshire and Chiterna, 2 miles and an halfe from Little Missenden. The D. of Buckingham was cheife Lord of it, since the Kinge, now the L. Russell by Gift, who dwelleth at Cheineis, 3 miles of by East. The Paroch Church standeth by North East toward the Middle of the Towne, and in a Chappell on the North side of it, lyeth buried Edmund Brudenell.....there cometh a Brooke, almost from Missenden, and passeth hard by Hamersham, leaving it almost by full South on the right ripe, and after running down by the Valleis of Chilterne Hills towards Colne Streame. From Hagmondesham to Uxbridge 9 miles."
[John Leland's Itinerary, c.1537]

Map showing the location of the parish


Bibliography Church Records Officials and Employees
Biography Descriptions and Travel Photographs
Business and Commerce Records History Probate Records
Cemeteries Maps Societies
Census Names, Geographical Town website
Church History    

Bibliography

All Buckinghamshire sources

'A History of Amersham' by Julian Hunt, published 2001 by Phillimore & Co., ISBN 1-86077-187-4.
"The buildings of England, Buckinghamshire", Pevsner N. and Williamson E., 1994, pp 129-142, ISBN 0 14 071062 0.
"The history and antiquities of the County of Buckingham", Lipscombe G., 1847, Vol.3, pp 146-179.
"The Place-Names of Buckinghamshire", Mawer A. and Stenton F.M., 1925, pp 209-212.
"The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Buckinghamshire, Page W. ed., 1905-1928, Vol.3, pp 141-155.
"Magna Britannia: Buckinghamshire", Lysons S. and Lysons D., 1806, Vol. 3, pp 495-8.
"Topographical Dictionary of England", Lewis S., 1831, Vol. 1, pp 35-6.
"Highways and Byways in Buckinghamshire", Shorter C., 1910, pp 147-150.
"Buckinghamshire Returns of the Census of Religious Worship 1851", Legg E. ed., 1991, pp 2-4, ISBN 0 901198 27 7.
"War Memorials and War Graves, Amersham, Chesham and area", Quick P., 1996, Vol 10, pp 1-5.

Amersham local sources

"The Parish Church of St. Mary, Amersham", Anon., 7th ed. c.1950, church guide.
"The Book of Amersham", Pike L.E. and Birch C., 1976.
"Yesterday's Town: Amersham", Salmon N. and Birch C., 1991.
"A right pretty market towne", Dean D., 1972 - privately printed typescript.
"Amersham 1895-1970, Some Reflections", Mason R.J., c.1970 - privately printed typescript.
"A History of Amersham", Goss, c.1936.
"Reflections of Amersham", Archer J., n.d. c.1980.
"The story of John Brazil", Archer J., 1979.
"Amersham in old picture postcards", Seabright C.J., 1989-90, 3 vols.

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Biography

The well-known natives and residents of Amersham include:

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Business and Commerce Records

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Cemeteries

There are few legible memorials in the churchyard immediately surrounding St.Mary's church, although the fine set of Drake family memorials inside the church have been transcribed by the author of this page. Modern burials for the Parish church are in a separate graveyard just the other side of the Misbourne.

Most modern memorials in the Amersham area are associated with the Chilterns Crematorium, about a mile out of the town on the Wycombe road.

The following Monumental Inscriptions are available as publications or as part of a Society library:

* = material held in a Society library is generally available for loan to all members either via post, or by collection at a meeting

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Census

In 1798 the Posse Comitatus listed 454 men between the ages of 16 and 60 in Amersham.

In the earliest government census of 1801, there were 2130 inhabitants in 442 families living in 397 houses recorded in Amersham.

Census Year Population
1801* 2314
1811* 2688
1821* 3104
1831* 3313
1841 3645
1851 3662
1861 3550
1871 3259
1881 3001
1891 3129
1901 3209
1911** 3392
1921** 4221
1931** 6380
1951** 10894
1961** 14612
1971** 16805
1981** 17540
1991** 17629

* = No names were recorded in census documents from 1801 to 1831.
** = Census documents from 1911 to 2001 are only available in summary form. Names are witheld under the 100 year rule.

Microfilm copies of all census enumerators' notebooks for 1841 to 1891 are held at the Local Studies Libraries at Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, as well as centrally at the PRO. A table of 19th century census headcount by parish is printed in the VCH of Bucks, Vol.2, pp 96-101.

Availability of census transcripts and indexes.

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Church History

St. Mary - Church of England Parish Church

Decorative letter for AmershamThe main parts of the Nave and Transepts of the church date back to the 13th century in Early English style. It was added to in the 14th and 15th centuries when a tower was also built. More recently the Drake Memorial Chapel, which contains some of the finest examples of the monumental masons' art in the county, was built in the 18th century. The Vestry and South Chapel were added in the 19th century to complete the church much as it stands today.

Although the river Misbourne, by whose banks the church stands, is now nothing more than an occasional trickle due to predatory water extraction from Chiltern boreholes, in mediaeval times it had a more substantial flow and supported at least 3 mills. Archaeological evidence shows that the floor of St. Mary's has had to be raised on several occasions, presumably to bring it above the level of the Misbourne and reduce flooding.

The exterior is starkly Victorian following its restoration by Preedy in 1870-1872, when much of it was faced with local flints. A plaque on the outside of the tower recalls that this was also rebuilt with finance from Thomas Tyrwhitt-Drake in 1888. Preedy rebuilt the chancel arch inside the church, which stayed in this form until Sebastian Comper was let loose on it in the 1960s. Pevsner did not appreciate his work and describes the interior rather harshly as having the atmosphere of a railway station waiting room. This was not helped in more recent times when the rector decided to remove all the pews with the result that visitors are faced with serried ranks of anonymous chairs. This does however make St. Mary's a suitable venue for orchestral concerts which are held there annually in the Amersham Festival of Music.

The churchyard has been largely cleared of monuments, and those that remain are mostly illegible. The Drake Chapel (normally locked, with key available from the Rectory) contains memorials to the Tothill, Drake and Tyrwhitt-Drake family stretching back from modern times unbroken to the 16th century. Some of the memorials from the period when the Drakes were estimated to be amongst the wealthiest commoners in the land, are outstanding examples of monumental sculpture from the best artists of their day. For shere pathos however, the memorial to young John Drake who died in 1623 takes some beating

Had hee liv'd to bee a man
This inch had grown but to a span.
Nowe is hee past all feare of paine,
'Twere sin to wish him heere againe.
Vewe but the way by wch we come,
Thow't say hee's best thats first at home.

Many of the memorials inside the church have been moved from their original positions and those in which they are described in earlier histories, however the visitor is struck with the fact that the Drakes and Tyrwhitt-Drakes seem to have a monopoly on memorial windows, brass plaques and sculpted memorials.

The East window is a fine example of 17th century Flemish glass, but is not original to Amersham. It was moved from the church at Lamer (nr. Wheathampsted, Herts) in 1761 by agreement between the Drakes and their Garrard cousins there.

To the East of the churchyard is the Memorial garden with a list of the names of the men of Amersham who gave their lives in the First World War.

Details of the stained glass in the church can be found on the following web sites (the site includes many photos):

Baptist Meeting Houses

Amersham has always been a centre of nonconformity in religious matters. It's two Baptist chapels, adjacent to each other behind the King's Arms in the High Street, arose from a split by the Particular Baptists in c.1740. The Upper Meeting House is now a private dwelling, but the Lower and larger one started in 1783 remains in use. It was extensively refitted in the 1980s.

Society of Friends' Meeting House

Amersham has long been a centre of Quaker beliefs, and was the home of William Penn's wife Gulielma Springett. Their meeting house is a c.1600 cottage in Whielden Street. It was enlarged in the late 17th century.

Other churches

More recent church building has taken place in the town of Amersham-on-the-Hill half a mile distant from the main Misbourne valley centre of the original town. This change was brought about by the siting of the Metropolitan Railway out of the valley in 1892. There are modern churches for the Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, Free Church and Methodist Church, all built in the 1960s. There was formerly a Wesleyan Methodist chapel in the old town.

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Church Records

The original copies of the Amersham parish registers have been deposited in the Buckinghamshire Record Office in Aylesbury, and they hold the following years:

Event Dates covered
Christenings 1561 - 1912
Marriages 1561 - 1898
Burials 1561 - 1903

Copies of the registers at the SOG from 1561 to 1812. Marriages from 1790 to 1812 appear in Pallot's marriage index held by the IHGS, and from 1561 to 1812 in Boyd's Marriage Index.

Marriages from Amersham have been printed as "Marriages at Amersham, 1561 to 1812" in 1908 as part of Phillimore's Parish Register Series. This volume was edited by Thomas Gurney.

Copies or indexes to the parish registers are available from societies as follows:

Event

Society Library*
Dates covered

Society Publications
Dates covered
Society
Christenings
1561 - 1812
Buckinghamshire Genealogical Society
Marriages
1561 - 1812
Buckinghamshire Genealogical Society
Marriages
1561 - 1812
Buckinghamshire Family History Society
Burials
1561 - 1812
Buckinghamshire Genealogical Society
Burials
1561 - 1812
Buckinghamshire Family History Society

* = material held in a Society library is generally available for loan to all members either via post, or by collection at a meeting

An ecclesiastical census was carried out throughout England on 30 March 1851 to record the attendance at all places of worship. These returns are in the Buckinghamshire Record Office and have been published by the Buckinghamshire Record Society (vol 27). The returns for Amersham showed the following numbers:

Church Attendance
Amersham, St Mary's 514 - Morning General Congregation
300 - Morning Sunday Scholars
814 - Morning Total

600 - Afternoon General Congregation
300 - Afternoon Sunday Scholars
900 - Afternoon Total

551 - Evening General Congregation
100 - Evening Sunday Scholars
651 - Evening Total

Amersham, Episcopal Chapel 98 - General Congregation
63 - Sunday Scholars
161 - Total
Amersham, Common Baptist
Preaching Station
56 - Evening General Congregation
56 - Evening Total
Amersham, Baptist Lower
Meeting House
298 - Morning General Congregation
137 - Morning Sunday Scholars
435 - Morning Total

286 - Afternoon General Congregation
148 - Afternoon Sunday Scholars
434 - Afternoon Total

353 - Evening General Congregation
353 - Evening Total

Amersham, Upper Meeting
House Baptist
60 - Morning General Congregation
28 - Morning Sunday Scholars
88 - Morning Total

78 - Afternoon General Congregation
29 - Afternoon Sunday Scholars
107 - Afternoon Total

65 - Evening General Congregation
65 - Evening Total

Amersham, Society of Friends
2 - Morning General Congregation
2 - Morning Total
Amersham, Wesleyan Methodists 23 - Morning General Congregation

28 - Afternoon General Congregation

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Descriptions and Travel

The following are links to historical descriptions of the town of Amersham, taken from notable publications:

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History

There has been a settlement on the site of Amersham town since Romano-British times and probably earlier. The ready water supply from the river Misbourne - a sorry victim of overextraction from Chiltern chalk in recent years - , the surrounding beechwoods and arable land, and its position at the crossroads of the natural route through the Wendover gap in the Chilterns and an ancient route South to the Thames valley, make it a natural place of settlement. The parish of Amersham today includes the outlying villages of Coleshill (for a long time an island of Hertfordshire in Bucks) and Amersham Common, as well as the old and new towns of Amersham.

At the time of Domesday in 1086 Amersham is recorded as having a farming area of 10 hides and 3 mills, owned by a variety of Norman nobles. During the mediaeval period the main manors at Amersham were owned by the Earls of Essex, then the Earls of Northampton, and finally the Stafford Dukes of Buckingham. When they were executed for treason, the manors fell to the hands of the Russell family, Dukes of Bedford, who were already considerable landowners at nearby Chenies. In the early 17th century they sold them to the Drake family of Shardeloes, in whose hands they remain to this day, even if that family now owns little land around the town.

The Drake family came to Amersham when Francis Drake married Joan Tothill, heiress to Shardeloes, in 1603. Two myths concerning these families need to be exploded. Francis was not related to his more famous naval namesake, but he was his godson. Joan was not the eldest of 33 children, rather she was the eldest of 3 daughters of a wealthy lawyer, William Tothill, whose father Richard had made his fortune as a printer and publisher in London. Through successfully sitting on the political fence during the Civil War, and a series of judicious marriages, the Drake family built up a considerable holding of land and wealth in the Amersham area. In 1760 they inherited the estates of Sir John Tyrwhitt, changing their name to Tyrwhitt-Drake. The family intermarried with other gentry families from Bucks and Herts (Denham, Garrard, Marshall, Raworth, Annesley, Halsey), and were responsible for many of the surviving ancient buildings in Amersham. Their patronage included restoration of St. Mary's church, building the Market Hall, and the Drake Almshouses - all of which still stand. As Lords of the Manor, the Drakes supplied at least one if not both of the members of Parliament for the borough of Amersham in an almost unbroken line from 1623 to the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, when Amersham was reduced to a single member.

The ancestral home of the Tothill and Drake families has been Shardeloes, an imposing building perched above its own lake just to the West of the town. The present house was built by William Drake during the 18th century on the site of an Elizabethan manor house, to designs by Stiff Leadbetter and Robert Adam, with landscaping by Humphrey Repton. It remained in the Drake family until death duties obliged the family to sell it in 1957, when it was converted into luxury flats, which is how it remains today. A failure to marry heiresses, producing large numbers of children, and a certain profligacy when combined with death duties meant that the Drakes sold off almost all their holdings in Amersham during the 20th century. An auction of many of the houses on the High Street, took place in 1928 when local papers reported the 'sale' of the town. The senior branch of the Drake family no longer lives in the town, and only the author of this page still lives in the area.The sale of Shardeloes in 1957 has had huge benefits for local and family historians. The muniments room at Shardeloes was stuffed full of legal and historical documents for many years, and almost all of these were then transferred to the County Record Office in Aylesbury. A series of Bucks Record Society papers and a book "Shardeloes Papers" by George Eland, the premier historian of Bucks in the first half of this century, highlight some of the more interesting ones.

Amersham has long been a hotbed of nonconformity in religious beliefs. Townsfolk responded to Wycliffe's ideas and supported the Lollard cause. In 1414, three of them were burned at the stake for these beliefs. Worse was to follow. In 1506 the Bishop of Lincoln held an inquisition in Amersham which resulted in more burnings with William Tylsworth's pyre ignited by his own daughter. A further inquisition in 1521 caused five more Amersham men to be burnt at the stake. These martyrs are remembered by a memorial just outside the town. The town was later host to Baptist, Methodist and Quaker churches, all of which had strong followings. The ecclesiastical census of 1851 shows that the Baptist church in the town was nearly as strong as the official church. The Quaker William Penn, later to become the proprietor of the American State of Pennsylvania, came often to Amersham, where he courted a local girl, Gulielma Springett, whom he married.

Throughout most of the 17th and 18th centuries, Amersham was a typical market town with its merchants, tradesmen and professionals, serving a largely rural agricultural community. Its main industries were lace making and staw plaiting for women and agriculture and chair making for men. The site of one of the mills near the centre of the town became Weller's brewery. Weller's Entire (they knew how to name a drink in those days) was supplied to tied houses for many miles around. In time the brewery was lost in the inevitable round of amalgamations. The site became a factory for Goya perfumes, and is now divided into many small offices. When the brewery was declining along with the fortunes of the Drakes, another local family, the Brazils, were making good. From their butchery business they grew to operating a large sausage and meat pie making factory on the Eastern side of the town. In time this became part of the Bowyers group before being closed down around 1980. To the consternation of reactionaries, the derelict site of the meat products factory was recently converted into a very successful supermarket, which provides a valuable service to the area. Amersham's largest employer today is a latecomer. During the Second World War the government set up a facility for manufacturing radioactive luminous paints in a house with a large orchard behind it in Amersham Common. After the war this grew into the largest supplier of radioactive materials for medicine, industry and research, now called Amersham International plc, whose products carry the name of Amersham to the corners of the globe on a daily basis.

The defining event for the change of Amersham from small market town to commuter community for London, was the coming of the railway. Stevenson had tried to build a line from London through Amersham to Birmingham in the 1840s, but he was thwarted by opposition from local landowners. Fifty years later the inevitable happened and the Metropolitan line was opened from London's Marylebone, through Amersham to Aylesbury, in 1892. Thomas Tyrwhitt-Drake had objected to the line following the natural route through the Misbourne valley, and succeeded in getting it hidden away on the North side of the hillside above Amersham, out of view of the town and Shardeloes. As a result, a whole 'Metroland' community of shops and houses mushroomed around the station, a good half mile from the old town. Now called Amersham-on-the-Hill, this is the largest centre of population in the area today. Instead of bringing industry to the area, the railway has always been a feeder taking people to London, and the majority of Amersham's people now work away from the town.

Thomas was following in the conservative footsteps of his father of the same name. After the introduction of the penny post in 1840 there was a massive increase in the number of letters being written and delivered. Everywhere across Britain houses were being numbered to help speedier and more correct deliveries. Thomas Tyrwhitt-Drake owned most of the houses in Amersham High Street and autocratically believed that numbers were both unsightly and unnecessary. He refused to have them added to the front doors of his houses. When threatened with legal action, he finally caved in and had the numbers affixed. On the inside of the doors...

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Maps

A County map of Buckinghamshire can be found on the Buckinghamshire Genealogical Society pages.

In 1637 John Halsey of Great Gaddesden, Herts, drew a map of Amersham showing the High Street, church and the old manor house at Bury End, together with surrounding fields and their areas. The original of this is kept by the Bucks Archaeological Society.

In John Rocque's 1761 topographical survey of Berkshire, sheet VII includes a map of Amersham and Shardeloes showing that the town had little changed since the previous century.

Amersham is one of the English towns that has been reproduced at a scale of 15 inches to the mile in the reprints of old Ordnance Survey maps from the late 19th/early 20th century by Alan Godfrey.

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Names, Geographical

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Officials and Employees

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Photographs

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Probate

Amersham is in the Archdeaconry of Buckingham in the Diocese of Lincoln. Wills before 1858 will be found in the Buckinghamshire Record Office, Aylesbury, where there are card indexes for wills (1483-1857) and admons (1632-1857).

Societies

The following is a list of societies and groups specifically for this parish or village and the surrounding hamlets and which relate to either local, or family history.

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Town website

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Valid HTML 4.0![Last updated: 17th March 2014 - Kevin Quick / Barney Tyrwhitt-Drake]