Triumphs and tragedies: what Chesham has lost and gained over 60 years
Looking back over the history of Chesham in the last sixty years, the question springs to mind ‘Has the Chesham Society made any real difference to the Town?’
Of course it is impossible to say what life would be like, or how the Town would look, if the Society had never been formed in Val Biro’s home on 7 August 1957. Suffice to say it seems probable that, without the Society, the Link Road would have been built which would have enlarged and extended St Mary’s Way, drawing more traffic into the town centre without anywhere for it to go after that, and destroying the peace and tranquility of Watermeadow and the Old Town.
On a less dramatic scale the west front of St Mary’s Church would have been disfigured in perpetuity by an inappropriate extension and there might well now be an incongruous office block sitting cheek-by-jowl with the eighteenth century charm of The Bury.
Without the Chesham Society fewer trees and daffodil bulbs would have been planted, there might not have been a pedestrian crossing on St Mary’s Way at Church Street, residents would have to go to Amersham to celebrate Heritage Open Days, and the rear of Sainsbury’s would have a blank fortress-like wall and there would be no direct access to the store from the High Street. The list could go on.
There are cases where the Society did not achieve its aims but sometimes it achieved something worthwhile, compared with what otherwise might have been the case. We did not succeed in the implementation of a circulatory road system around the Town centre but we did, as has been already been mentioned, stop the expansion of St Mary’s Way into a full-scale dual carriageway threatening Skottowes Pond and other sensitive sites.
Neither did we achieve a more exciting building for the new Town Hall, but at least the more steeply-pitched roof and brick cladding of the facade that we insisted on gives it a more satisfactory appearance than what the architects originally proposed.
Since the dark days of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, there has been a sea change in the public appreciation of the value of our built environment and architectural heritage. Then old buildings in a poor state of repair, or which were considered ‘life-expired’, would have been swept away in the interests of ‘progress’ and ‘modernisation’. Now they are lovingly restored and much valued, and a walk around the Old Town today is a pleasure that we can all enjoy. So it was perhaps inevitable in the climate of the age, that despite the Society’s protests important buildings such as The Lamb public house, The Crown Inn, and Lord’s Mill have been lost to the Town.
So we have to accept that the Society has had its failures, but these have been far outweighed by its successes – be they fully or partial – and those successes have made a real difference to the Town. This has been achieved in no small measure by the support and encouragement of the Society’s members, who continue to champion our collective cause. Here are some of our most noteworthy campaigns over the past sixty years.