History of the Village

A Short History of Chalfont St. Giles.


See also, the diary of Rev. Pownoll Phipps, vicar of Chalfont St Giles in 1887, available here in pdf format, and this site: www.chalfonthistory.co.uk.


Chalfont St. Giles, with its duck pond, 18th century cottages and ancient High Street is a picturesque village on the edge of the Chilterns, 25 miles from London and roughly the same distance from Oxford.


Early researchers believed the word Chalfont derived from the old English cealc, chalk, and funt, spring; this theory was supported by the fact that the wells of the district are thickly impregnated with chalk. Others ingeniously suggested it was an abbreviation of Celdenes funtan or Chiltern springs (Celdenes, or in the original Celtic Celyddon, being the early form of Chiltern). Still others preferred chald, or as it was pronounced at the time of the Anglo-Saxons, "cald," meaning "cold," which became ceald pronounced "kyald." This was softened to "chald" and Chaldfont spoken rapidly became "Chalfont," meaning cold springs.


The name is given in the Domesday Book (1086) as Celfunte and Celfunde, at which time the name applied also to what is now Chalfont St. Peter, and there are many subsequent variations of the spelling, including Chaufhunte in 1195 and Chalfunt in 1220, the year Salisbury Cathedral was begun. In the Pipe Roll of 1196, among the people amerced in Burnham Hundred was Richard de Sancto Egidio, which almost certainly means Richard of Chalfont St. Giles. Apart from this, the earliest recorded references to Chalfont St. Giles are Chalfund Sancti Egidii in 1237 and Chaufuntseyntegyle in 1262, the year Balliol College in Oxford was founded.


In 1086, when the Domesday Survey was prepared, the manor, afterwards known as Chalfont Manor or Chalfont Bury, was assessed at four hides and three virgates and was held by Manno the Breton. There was land for fifteen ploughs. In the demesne there was one hide, and on it three ploughs, and thirteen villeins and eight bordars had twelve ploughs. There were four serfs and three mills, one paying five ores and two others paying nothing, meadow for one plough, woodland for six hundred swine, and in the same wood was a falcon eyrie. In all it was worth six pounds and ten shillings. The manor had formerly been held by Tovi, a thane of King Edward, and Alward his man held half a hide.


Among the oldest buildings in the village are the Parish Church, Milton's Cottage and Stonewell Farm. A rectory has stood upon the site of the present "old" Rectory for many years, the building seen today dating from the 17th century, when it comprised two parlours, a hall and seven chambers, a buttery, cellar, laundry and milk house. Other notable privately owned buildings include The Vache, which stands on the site of a medieval residence built by the Norman lords of the manor (de la Vache) on land granted by William the Conqueror. Later owned by the Fleetwood family and forfeited at the Restoration of 1660 because Fleetwood had signed Charles l's death warrant, it became the home of the Pallisers, friends of Captain James Cook, mariner and explorer, to whom the family erected a monument to him which can be seen in the grounds.


Another privately owned treasure is Bottrells Close, which was already over 100 years old when Milton's friend Thomas Ellwood lived in it. The persistent legend that it was once occupied by Madame Tussaud, founder of the famous waxworks, appears to be just that, although there is a family connection. Newland Park in Gorelands Lane, now part of the Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, has a history dating back to 1208; the main house was rebuilt in 1770 and between 1910 and 1921 was a refuge for suffragettes. Emmaline Pankhurst, Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and H. G. Wells were frequent visitors.


The Parish Church, which stands on low ground close to the River Misbourne, was built between 1150 and 1180, when Henry II was King, and Thomas a' Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury. In it can be seen 14th century wall paintings, rare 15th century painted battlements and a heavily-carved altar rail donated by Bishop Hare, one-time dean of St Paul's Cathedral. The half-timbered Stonewell Farm, on the corner of Bowstridge Lane and Deanway, was also mentioned in the Domesday Book. Further up the Deanway is Milton's Cottage, occupied by the poet and Parliamentarian between the years 1665 and 1667.


On the crossroads of the A413 London-Amersham road and the B4442 (which shadows the old Roman road from Verulamium to Silchester) stands The Pheasant , formerly an inn but reopened in 2102 as The Wheelhouse Veterinary Centre.


At the higher end of the village is the hamlet of Three Households, renowned for its cherry and apple orchards. A couple of miles south on the further borders of the parish is the Quaker village of Jordans. It was built in 1912 by a consortium which included architect Frederick Rowntree, a member of the famous Quaker family of York, makers of chocolate and cocoa. A co-operative store, a post office and village hall were included in the designs, but - in line with Quaker temperance ideals - no pub.


As well as its picturesque village green, still the scene of lively cricket matches, Jordans boasts an historic Friends' Meeting House, built in 1688, with an adjoining cemetery in which lie the mortal remains of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, and his family. Close by is the Mayflower Barn, originally the main barn of the 17th century Jordans Farm (now a guest house and conference centre), and according to tradition built of old timbers taken from the ship "Mayflower" in which the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America in 1620.


Separated from neighbouring Chalfont St. Peter in 1237, the parish of Chalfont St. Giles is in the deanery of Amersham and has been in the diocese of Oxford since 1845, when it was transferred from the diocese of Lincoln. In the Great Ejectment of 1662, the Rector, Thomas Valentine, along with other clergymen in the country, found himself unable to accept the newly restored Prayer Book and lost his position. His congregation joined him in meeting for worship at The Vache, then owned by Charles Fleetwood. Eventually their successors became the Deanway United Church.


According to the census of 1951 the population of Chalfont St. Giles was 4544. In 1911, it was 1762; in 1861, it was 1217; and it was 762 in 1801, when there were 152 families who inhabited 143 houses, with 11 houses uninhabited. A survey of the diocese of Lincoln for 1563 records that there were 45 families living in Chalfont St. Giles at that time. Today the parish covers an area of 3,641 acres, and the population (including Jordans) is about 7300. It has 57 footpaths and byways, extending a distance of over 23 miles.


The first Parish Council was formed in 1894. Eighteen candidates came forward, of whom nine were elected, and the first meeting was held on January 2 of the following year. The total precept for the year 1895-96 was 50. In 1889 the Metropolitan Railway opened a station at what is now Little Chalfont, then in the parish of Chalfont St Giles; at the request of the then Rector, Rev. Pownell Phipps, it was named Chalfont Road, which name it bore until 1915, when it became Chalfont & Latimer. In 1925, Councillor Newton proposed and Councillor Home seconded a motion that the council accede to the request of the inhabitants of Chalfont Station that it be renamed Little Chalfont. In June, 1933, in spite of strenuous objections by the Parish Council, including legal representation at a Public Inquiry, the Minister of Health transferred the Little Chalfont area to Amersham.


Chalfont St Giles is "twinned" with the 'double' village of Graft-De Rijp, 14 miles north of Amsterdam in Holland. Although today it has become a dormitory location for the capital, Graft-De Rijp remains very proud of its long history. Lying between the Beemster and the Schermer, it was at one time the second largest herring port in Holland and also an important whaling centre. The beautiful Raadhuis, or town hall, of De Rijp dates back to 1630. The Grote Kirk or Great Church which dominates the centre of the village was rebuilt in 1655 after the old one was reduced to ashes in the devastating fire of January 1654. There is a regular interchange of information and visits between the two places,and an illuminated address, made at the 1979 twinning ceremony, is kept in Chalfont St. Giles and put on display for a year at a time in local schools, the bank and post office.


The Parish Church of Chalfont St. Giles.


Undoubtedly the village's most significant building in historical terms: the earliest church on the present site was built between 1150 and 1180 and consisted of a chancel, nave and south aisle, which were enlarged at later dates, and a west tower, which was subsequently demolished and rebuilt further west. From this period there remain only the bases of the pillars of the south arcade, and walling on each side of the chancel arch and at the west end of the nave, the latter being part of the original west tower.


During the early English Period (c. 1200-1275) the chancel was rebuilt and extended to its present length. Between 1275 and 1350 the nave was extended in a westerly direction and the south aisle was rebuilt and enlarged, necessitating the demolition of the tower, which was not rebuilt until about 1425. The south doorway was built about 1330 and has a moulded two-centre arch, decorated with a series of four-leaf ornaments and-ball flowers. The east window of three lights in the chancel was probably inserted in the early 14th century; at about the same time the north aisle was widened and lengthened, an extra bay being added. As noted earlier the tower was rebuilt about 1425. This is largely the form in which we see the church today.


The church contains many interesting features: wall paintings dating from the early 14th century, brasses of the 16th century and a number of funeral hatchments which hang in the north and south aisles and date from 1718-1871. There is also a 13th century piscina (basin) in the chancel and another from the 15th century in the south aisle. At the base of the tower is a 15th century stoup where holy water would have been placed. The tower itself houses a clock made in Watford in 1711, and a ring of eight bells - six dating from 1724, which are hung in a 16th century wooden frame, and two modern bells hung in a steel frame in the clockroom underneath.


When the church was repaired in 1861, some small iron cannon balls were found embedded in the stone surround of the east window. They had no doubt been fired from the Silsden and Stone meadows, where Cromwell's troops were camped after the battle of Aylesbury. Three of these cannon balls can be seen in Milton's Cottage.


Old records show that in 1925, electric light was provided to replace the hanging oil lamps at a cost of 152; this was completed renewed in 1947 for 486. The depredations of death watch beetle necessitated the replacement of the south aisle roof in 1953, the only parts of the 15th century timbers retained being a few rafters and portions of the four wall brackets. The cost was 4,100. A new and enlarged vestry was built on the site of the 1861 vestry in 1955 as a Victory and Peace Thanksgiving Memorial. The contractor was E. Newton of Chalfont St Giles and the work cost 2,000. Since 1992, the repair and maintenance of this beautiful old building has been partly funded by The Society of Friends of Chalfont St Giles Parish Church. A number of projects have been undertaken, such as protecting the windows against vandalism, replacing the flagpole, limewashing the interior of the church, and most recently, the removal of the church bells so that they could be tuned as a complete ring. Members, many of whom are not involved in church work or worship, help by giving their time and skills, as well as raising funds.


Milton's Cottage.


The only extant home of John Milton (1608-1674), possibly England's greatest poet and Parliamentarian. Having been a prominent member of what would now perhaps be called the Diplomatic Service in revolutionary and Cromwellian times, the Restoration of the Monarchy resulted in John Milton's being victimised by the new government. When added to these difficulties the outbreak of the Black Death in London rendered life there impossible, in July 1665 the by now blind Milton, his wife Elizabeth Minshull and probably his daughter, Deborah, came to Chalfont St Giles, where his Quaker friend Thomas Ellwood had found him "a pretty box" to rent.


To employ his time, the poet brought with him the manuscript of Paradise Lost, which he had begun in 1642, working at it continuously since 1648. When it was completed Milton gave it to Ellwood to read and asked him how he liked it, to which Ellwood replied "Thou hast said much here of' Paradise Lost,' but what hast thou to say of' Paradise Found'?" thus providing the stimulus for Milton's next great work. The plague having abated, the Miltons returned to London sometime between 1666 and 1667, where the poet completed Paradise Regained.


In 1887, after an attempt was made to remove the house to America and rebuild it there, a movement was begun locally to purchase the house by local public subscription, Her Majesty Queen Victoria heading the list with a gift of £20. A Grade One listed building, the house is now managed by the Milton's Cottage trust, a registered charity.


A centre for scholarly pilgrimage and an irreplaceable part of our national heritage, Milton's Cottage is open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday and Bank Holidays from Easter to the end of October (2:00 pm -5:00 pm). Please the website www.miltonscottage.org for the most up to date information. The rooms on view are the original kitchen and living room and the displays consist of a selection of relics and bygones from the neighbourhood, as well as some exceedingly rare first editions of Milton's works. The beautiful garden is stocked with traditional cottage plants and a mulberry tree descended from one at Christ's College thought to have been growing in Milton's time.