This is a reprinted article from the Bucks Free Press, September 1953.
THE BUCKS FREE PRESS
TOURING BUCKS VILLAGES
WHEN MEN FOUGHT FOR A WIFE
Peaceful Coleshill Was Once A Village of Battles
Which is the most beautiful village in Buckinghamshire? From the point of view of scenery, there must be few to surpass Coleshill, that tiny hamlet on the hill overlooking Amersham.
Coleshill can boast of a history which is not only romantic, but thrilling. It was the village of battles.
Dim stories of the far-off days, when many a man fought his opponent for the hand of a beautiful maiden, are still told. Coleshill was the place where many of these fights took place. The reason? It is a long story, but the shortest way of explaining is, that until the end of the last century Coleshill was in the county of Hertfordshire, while Amersham, a mile or so below, was in Bucks. As far as it is known, the village formed an island with the county of Bucks all round it.
Home of "He" Men
It was here that the men used to congregate and fight out their battles because they were out of reach of the police, and also because the village was little known. In fact, up to this day there exist places where the battles were fought, and they are known by their names. For instance, Gore Hill, the steep road leading to Amersham, derives its name because of the terrible battles that took place on the top of the rise. Bloody Field and Deadman Deane are other places.
The village was the home of the "he" man, and residents still living can remember the times when men had their heads and bones smashed, and it was not uncommon for the fights to last for days, the contestants putting on a ''once-nightly show," until one side or the other called a truce.
While they were not fighting the young ones wooed, for Coleshill could boast of some fine young men and women. There was a great ceremony if one of their ladies was wooed by a young man from a "strange place'' (meaning another village). Should this have occurred .at the beginning of the last century then the lads of the village went to the maiden's home and performed an old custom known as "rough music." This consisted of the beating of drums and noisy implements, which continued until the wooer in question came forth from the house and vowed to fall in with their customs. This scheme usually worked. But should the visitor refuse the request, he was asked to meet the champion fighter of the village on the green, and he was always assured of a good audience.
However, all that is gone, and to-day Coleshill has fallen into the ways of all respectable villages.
I drove my car up Gore Hill and, on reaching the top, stopped to admire the beautiful view, for that is the thing that it is most noted for. Lying in the bottom of the valley was Amersham. with its church tower lighted up by the afternoon sun. Away on the distant hills could he seen Ivinghoe Beacon, while further to the right lay the Dunstable Downs and the hills close to Bedford. Truly, a beautiful sight.
One reason why the village is not well-known is because it lies off the main road. Turning sharp by the gigantic water tower, I approached it, passing some more wonderful scenery. At the far end of the village street I was able to get another glimpse of the country. Penn Church was easily distinguished, and the Oxfordshire hills around Nettlebed and Henley were visible. On the other side I paused long to admire the view. Away to the South could be seen a favorite haunt of mine, the Hogs Back, near Guildford. To form some idea of the distance, I was told that it was possible to see the Crystal Palace in South London on a clear day. At the point on which I was standing, one worthy told me that I was 560 feet above sea level.
Haunt of Artists
For many years Coleshill has been the haunt of artists, and many fine landscapes can be seen all over the country which were painted in Coleshill. My first call was on Mr. F. Stubbing!, the "well-known Bucks artist.
Mr. Stubbings is always painting or or sketching, and 1 spent a pleasant hour looking over many of the views of the district that he had executed. A farm by the roadside at Booker, a view of Amersham from the hills, thickly wooded country, Amersham High Street—with the fair and the Town Hall, the gardens of many of the houses in the district, and a hundred-and-one other views were among them. Mr. Stubbings has done every variety of painting, and he informed me that he had just completed his eightieth painting this year. We strolled out into the fields and an hour on a sketch of Amersham from the hillside taught me more about art than did my art -master at school in four years.
Nightingales are rare in Bucks, but they are heard at Coleshill during the months of April and May, all night, and Mr. Stubbings informed me that he had often played (Coleshill Church organ, where he is the organist, and so induced them to sing. His method is to open the church door in the evening and play quietly for a short time. Presently, the birds in the trees leave off their bed-time song, and the nightingales take up the strain.
Whilst on the subject of art, it is worth mentioning that our well-known cartoonist, Tom Webster, of Daily Mail fame, stayed in the village for some months, and Mr. H. Hodgson, the keeper of the Royal Academy, lived at "The Larches" some four years ago.
It is said that art and poetry go hand-in-hand. It is so of Coleshill. for Edmund Waller, the poet of Bucks fame, was born on March 3rd, 1605, at Stocks Place, one of several of the half-timbered cottages of the Tudor style in the village. To-day there still stands the oak true under which, it is said, the poet wrote several of his lyrics. Waller came of a Buckinghamshire family, his mother being of the Hampdens and related to Oliver Cromwell. After entering Parliament and having a long career with both the Royalists and the Roundheads, he settled down in Coleshill, saying, "He would be glad to die like a stag where he was roused." However his wish was not fulfilled, and he died at Beaconsfield in 1687 and is buried in the churchyard.
There is another literary association at Coleshill and that is with the writer Thomas Ellwood. Ellwood, who was Milton's private secretary, lived in a small cottage at Larkin's Green, a part of the village. It is interesting to note that in 1665, he was instrumental in securing Milton's cottage, Chalfont St. Giles, for the home of Milton during the time that the "pestilence" was in London.
Easy! (if Sober)
In a lyric written by Ellwood, which he called “Directions to my friend, inquiring the way to my house.” he says:
To Amersham, just where the way grows broad,
A little spot there is, called Larkins Green,
Where on a bank, some fruit trees may be seen,
In the midst of which, on the sinister hand,
A little cottage covertly doth stand.
“So ho,” the people out and then inquire--
For Hunger Hill—it lies a little higher.
But if the people should from home be gone
Rise up the bank some twenty paces on
And, at the orchard's end thou mayst perceive
Two gates together hung. The nearest leave.
The furthest take, and straight the hill
The path leads to the house where dwells thy friend.
Up to the present day Larkin's Green is the name given to that part of the village of Coleshill near the Magpies Inn, while the cottage in which Ellwood lived, still stands. Hunger Hill is now known as Ongar Hill, and in a house near by Oliver Cromwell is said to have stayed two nights.
There is still another mystery about Coleshill, and that is its church. The present structure has only been built for the past seventy years but an old map of the village, dated 1620, I saw that a church was in existence. Where the original one has gone nobody knows, and no records can be found to trace it. However there is one clue, and that is the field. called Chapel Field, and some years ago, while digging operations were being carried out in it, the foundations of an ancient church were found.
School in a Cottage
Before leaving the village I had a talk with Mr. F. Shrimpton, who is 88 years of age, and the oldest inhabitant in Coleshill. Mr. Shrimpton told me that he was born in the village, and in those days there was no village school. "We had to go to a small cottage down the road, where we were taught to read and write," he said.
Mr. Shrimpton told me that at one time there were five or six public-houses in the village to serve about 300 people. Mr. Shrimpton can remember when the church was built at Coleshill, while his memory takes him back to the time when the famous Coleshill windmill was erected, about eighty rears ago. It is now used as a Girl Guides' headquarters.
"We had to walk in those days," said Mr. Shrimpton and I have often walked into Wycombe and Rickmansworth." He can remember the days when fighting was common in the village, and Sundays were rough days, there being little regard to the Sabbath. It was not until tho coming of the church that order was restored.
"Yes. Coleshill has changed for the good." he said.
Reprinted from "The Bucks Free Press" Friday, September 29. 1953.