Keeping in touch with members
The Chesham Society’s activities have not all been doom laden and regular communication with its membership has always been at the forefront with publications and events intended to entertain as well as inform. In the early years of the Society there were parties and social evenings, car rallies, walks and at least one concert. In 1964 it held a black tie dinner and dance at the Beacon School. Tickets were 25/- (£1.25) each with dancing until the small hours. It made a profit of £69.0.0. Events the following year included a car treasure hunt and the entry cost was 10/- (50p) per car.
Also in 1965 the Society mounted an exhibition entitled Picture Chesham. Many local people lent photographs and artefacts and material was borrowed from the Civic Trust and County Museum and Library. Items on display included four local traders’ tokens dating between 1653 and 1795.
The Chesham Camera Club was commissioned to take views – both attractive and hideous – as well as shots that corresponded with historic photographs on display, which formed a ‘Do you recognise?’ quiz. A painting competition for local schools was included in the exhibition and eight schools took part. The two-day exhibition attracted a staggering 1,700 people prompting The Bucks Examiner to call it an ‘overwhelming success’.
Although the Society intermittently produced newsletters since its inception, it was in 1973 that it produced its first regular edition of Focus. In the early days it was simply stapled together but, from the 1980s with Adrian Tattersfield’s delightful illustrations and Richard Clews’ articles under the pseudonym ‘Observer’, it established itself as the principal form of communication with the growing membership. Merrin Molesworth became Editor of Focus in 1994 and gave it a more professional appearance and imaginative content.
More recently the Society has gone online using social media and email but the ever-popular Focus continues its quarterly appearance and is still delivered by hand by Angela Bishop and her team of volunteers.
In addition to Focus in the 1970s and 1980s, outings were organised to the theatre at Stratford-on-Avon, St Katherine’s Dock, the Thames Barrier and, more locally, Dundridge Manor and a musical evening with the Amersham Society. In 1973 the first of many popular barbecues and barn dances were held thanks to Bryan and Shirley Middle. The original Town Trail had been put together and published by Ray Payne and his group in 1980 and by the 1990s a revised edition was needed. With a donation of £100 from Chesham Building Society a new Trail was launched during Environment Week in 1991 and proved popular throughout the decade.
Chesham Museum has taken on the mantle of organising walks in and around the Town but every other year the Society organises Heritage Open Day, part of the annual nationwide long weekend of events and activities celebrating our collective history.
Chesham’s very first Heritage Open Day in 1998 threw open the doors of the newly refurbished main rooms of The Bury. It was a great success, in fact so many people turned up that the Society’s volunteers had to turn some away. Refreshments were laid on and, because The Bury was – and in fact still is – a working office, guided tours were organised.
The Society has continued to keep The Bury on its list of attractions on every Heritage Open Day since. The event continues to grow – 2016’s Heritage Open Day, held on a gloriously sunny day on 11 September, saw 21 heritage attractions open to the public which drew a total of nearly 3500 visits. The Society has just secured a grant from Chesham Town Council to help finance 2018’s Heritage Open Day which is expected to be bigger and better than ever.
However the backbone of members’ events has always been regular meetings to inform and entertain the membership on a variety of issues and topics. In the recent past these meetings have covered such diverse subjects as HS2, the formation of the Red Squirrel Brewery, the success of Chiltern Hills Academy, Chesham Allotments Group, the EU referendum, and Peter Hawkes’ marvellous illustrated publications on aspects of Chesham life. If anyone has an idea for a future members’ meeting, do get in touch