A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1925.
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The parish of Chesham Bois comprises an area of 910 acres, of which 4 are covered by water. Of these 289 acres are arable, producing crops of wheat, oats and barley, 291 are laid down in permanent grass and about 70 are covered by woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The soil is stiff clay with a subsoil of chalk.
The land is high, rising to over 500 ft. above ordnance datum in the centre, south and west of the parish, and attains a height of 550 ft. near Mayhall Farm in the west. It slopes towards a branch of the River Chess on the north-east and falls to 294 ft. where the stream enters the parish.
The village stands on hilly ground in the centre of the parish with Great Bois, Bois and Hodds Woods stretching away to the north and west. It consists of the school, built in 1893, on one side of the road, while opposite at some distance from the road is St. Leonard's Church with The Warren, a residence belonging to Mr. F. J. Butcher, formerly the Dairy House Farm, and Bois House, each standing in its own grounds. Bois House, the residence of the Misses Carver, occupies part of the site of the old manor-house of the Cheynes, long since destroyed. Some of the foundations are said to have been discovered by digging in the garden, (fn. 2) and the field through which the carriageway to the house passed was known until late in the 19th century as Coach Meadow. (fn. 3) The Rectory House, a red brick gabled house, which was built about 1833, lies some distance south of the church, on the edge of the common, near the Manor Farm, now a private residence called 'The Old Manor,' and opposite a row of cottages. Within a short distance is the old schoolhouse, now a private dwelling known as ' Downash,' belonging to Dr. Mott. Ivy House Farm, rather over half a mile east of the church, is an early 17thcentury half-timber and brick house enlarged and restored in the last century. Bois Farm and its barns, a mile to the west of the church, also retain much work of the first half of the 17th century, but the house was refaced with brick about a hundred years later. Footpaths lead across the common, past Bois Farm among orchards, to Mayhall Farm, whence a chain of woodland stretches north to Chesham Bois Manor and its grounds, the seat of Mr. J. W. GarrettPegge, J.P.
The Chesham branch of the Metropolitan railway passes through the north-east of the parish parallel with the River Chess. By permission of the Duke of Bedford, part of Chesham Bois Moor, which adjoins the stream, has been inclosed and turned into water-cress beds and allotment gardens. Within the last twenty years this district, which lies on the boundary, and is known as Lower Bois, has developed considerably, owing to the erection of cottages for workers in the shoe and woodware factories at Chesham. It is served by an iron mission room built on the Moor in 1890.
In the reign of King Edward the Confessor CHESHAM BOIS MANOR, assessed at 1½ hides, was held by two sokemen, one a man of Earl Leofwin and the other of Earl Harold. (fn. 4) By 1086 the manor had passed to the Bishop of Bayeux, who held it in demesne. (fn. 5) As in Weston Turville, (fn. 6) the manor passed to the Earls of Leicester, who subinfeudated it, and it was held of the honour of Leicester (fn. 7) and afterwards of the duchy of Lancaster, the overlordship being last mentioned in 1645. (fn. 8)
In the 13th and 14th centuries there was an intermediary lordship held by the Goys family, and afterwards by the Bulstrodes of Bulstrodes Manor in Chalfont St. Peter (q.v.), but it seems to have lapsed after 1339. (fn. 9)
The ownership in fee of the manor was obtained by the du Bois family, to whom Chesham Bois owes its distinctive name. William du Bois was holding in 1213 (fn. 10) and Hugh du Bois at a later period, (fn. 11) but by 1281 the manor had passed to Sir Bartholomew Brianzon, (fn. 12) who received a grant of free warren in 1286 (fn. 13) and died in the same year, leaving a son William, aged three, (fn. 14) during whose minority Thomas de Hauville was appointed guardian. (fn. 15) William Brianzon died without issue about 1310, and was succeeded by his brother John, (fn. 16) who died shortly afterwards in 1316, when Chesham Bois descended to his son and heir John, three years old, (fn. 17) his widow Elizabeth, who by 1319 was the wife of John Joyce, receiving dower from lands in Essex. (fn. 18) John Brianzon came of age in 1334 (fn. 19) and died between 1337 (fn. 20) and 1339, in which latter year Chesham was assigned to his widow Margaret in dower, his daughter and heir Joan being a minor. (fn. 21) Joan Brianzon's title to the manor appears to have been ignored to satisfy the demands of Sir John de Moleyns, who obtained such extensive grants of lands in Buckinghamshire at this period, for he was in possession in 1340. (fn. 22) As in Stoke Poges, his tenure underwent many vicissitudes, (fn. 23) but he had recovered seisin by 1346, (fn. 24) and in 1350 conveyed Chesham Bois to William de Hanampstede, grocer and citizen of London. (fn. 25) This was doubtless as a preliminary to its alienation to Peter de Braose, who in 1351 complained that his houses at Chesham Bois had been broken into. (fn. 26) Peter de Braose was still living in 1365, (fn. 27) but some time after this date the manor passed to the family of Winslow. John Winslow, who presented to the church in 1392, (fn. 28) died in 1423, leaving Chesham Bois by will to his wife Philippa with reversion to his son John. (fn. 29) Within the next ten years Chesham Bois had been acquired by the Cheyne family, (fn. 30) who made the manor-house their residence and were settled here for 300 years. Sir Thomas Cheyne, the first of this name to hold the manor, settled it on himself and heirs, (fn. 31) and was succeeded on his death, some time after 1446, (fn. 32) by John his son and heir. (fn. 33) After John's death his widow Peryn married Robert Riley, (fn. 34) and Chesham Bois passed to his son and heir, another John Cheyne, (fn. 35) who died in 1466, leaving a son John, then aged eight weeks, (fn. 36) during whose minority Guy Wolston had the custody of the land. (fn. 37) In 1507 this John Cheyne brought an action against his great-uncle Thomas Cheyne, who claimed £20 rent from Chesham Bois Manor, with power of distraint, granted to him by his mother Eleanor, wife of the Sir Thomas Cheyne who had acquired the manor. (fn. 38) John Cheyne died in 1535, leaving Chesham Bois to his widow Margaret for life. (fn. 39) His son and heir Robert, who already in 1521 had fallen under suspicion as to the orthodoxy of his religious belief, (fn. 40) turned out one of his tenants in 1538 for reading the New Testament and other books, (fn. 41) and had to enter into a recognizance for the appearance of his younger son Thomas Cheyne in 1541. (fn. 42) Robert Cheyne died in 1552, when Chesham Bois descended to his son and heir John, (fn. 43) who was one of the commissioners appointed in 1577 to examine the question of inclosures in Buckinghamshire. (fn. 44) He died in 1585, when the manor, in accordance with a settlement of 1569, passed to his wife Joyce with remainder to his second son Francis. (fn. 45) His son and heir John Cheyne refused to abide by the settlement and brought an action to recover the manor from his brother Francis. (fn. 46) The latter, however, was in possession of Chesham Bois in 1599, (fn. 47) and it passed on his death without issue in 1620 to Francis, the second but first surviving son of his elder brother John. (fn. 48) Francis married about 1622 Anne, the daughter of Sir William Fleetwood, (fn. 49) by whom he had four sons; the two elder, Francis and William, dying without issue in their father's lifetime, the third son Charles inherited the manor on his father's death in 1644. (fn. 50) He was then eighteen, but was exempted by a special Act of Parliament from all wardship and marriage. (fn. 51) In 1655 Charles made a settlement of the manor, doubtless on the occasion of his marriage with Jane daughter of William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle. (fn. 52) He was created Viscount Newhaven in 1681 and died in 1698, leaving a son and heir William, who in 1680 had married Gertrude sister of Evelyn Pierrepont, first Duke of Kingston. (fn. 53) William Viscount Newhaven died without issue in 1728, (fn. 54) and Chesham Bois appears to have passed by arrangement to John Leveson Gower, second Lord Gower, who had married Evelyn Pierrepont, the niece of Gertrude Lady Newhaven. (fn. 55) In 1735 John Lord Gower conveyed the manor to John Russell Duke of Bedford, (fn. 56) in whose family it remained until 1903, (fn. 57) when it was purchased by Mr. J. W. GarrettPegge, J.P., of Chesham Bois Manor, who is the present owner.
At the Domesday Survey there was a mill worth 3s. attached to the manor of Chesham Bois, (fn. 58) to which it has always since been appendant. (fn. 59) It was called a water-mill in 1310, (fn. 60) and was the subject of a dispute in 1585, when Francis Cheyne accused Henry Gorsom, 'a disorderous and contentious person,' of keeping away from the mill a laden horse and its master, whom Gorsom had 'stroken and verie evellie abused.' (fn. 61) In 1592 the mill was used for fulling, (fn. 62) but, though the name of Bois Mill still lingers, the water-power long since ceased to be applied for commercial purposes and the mill-house is now a private residence.
The church of ST. LEONARD consists of a chancel measuring internally 20 ft. by 14 ft. 6 in., north vestry, nave, north aisle and south-west tower. It is built of flint with stone dressings and the roofs are covered with lead.
The nave and chancel date from the 14th century and remained as one rectangular building until 1884, when the church was thoroughly restored and the north aisle added, the tower being built three years later, while in 1911 the nave and north aisle were extended westward and the vestry was added.
In the east wall of the chancel there is a much restored window of three pointed lights, which retains some mediaeval painted glass, including one shield, Or three bends azure a quarter ermine for Fitz Otes, another Argent a bend sable with three roses argent thereon, impaling Or three piles azure, and six shields of the arms of Cheyne. All these probably date from the 15th century, and there are some quarries with floral and other designs which are probably of the 14th century. There are two 14th-century windows in the north wall and two in the south, each of two trefoiled lights with tracery under a pointed head. The north-east window is blocked, and in the east wall of the vestry is a twolight window of the same character and period as the others, which was probably reset from the chancel. The chancel arch is modern, the original arch having been removed in 1881 and rebuilt at the south entrance to the churchyard.
The nave is lighted on the south by five windows, three similar to those in the chancel and two added in 1911, and on the west by a 15th-century window of three lights, while four 14th-century windows similar to those on the south have been removed from the north wall and reset in the north aisle. The south doorway and the north arcade are modern. The roofs over the chancel and nave, dating from the 15th century, have curved wind-braces and moulded arched trusses supported on stone corbels on which are carved angels with shields, and heads. The boarded ceilings are modern.
In the chancel are three brasses. One has figures of Elizabeth wife of Robert Cheyne, who died in 1516, in gabled head-dress, and Robert Cheyne, who died in 1552, in armour of about the date of his wife's death, and four shields of arms; another to Benedict son of Roger Lee, of the early 16th century, representing a chrisom child; and the third an inscription to Winifred daughter of John Lord Mordaunt and wife of John Cheyne, who died in 1562. In the north-east corner of the chancel is a fine table tomb to John Cheyne (d. 1585), surmounted by a Purbeck marble slab. On the sides are shields with the arms of Cheyne and various quarterings, one of which is within a garter, and above the tomb is a tablet with an inscription and the arms and crest of Cheyne. In the chancel are floor slabs to Mrs. Anne Cheyne, who died in 1630, Francis Cheyne, who died in 1644, Anne Gilmore, who died in 1682, and Lucie wife of —— Tyrrell and formerly wife of William Cheyne, who died in 1691. In the churchyard there is the tomb of Jane, who died in 1698, and Ellen, who died in 1708, daughters of Philip Henslow.
The communion table and the communion rails are probably of the 17th century, and the back of the priest's seat is formed of panelling of the same period. There are also in the chancel two 15thcentury seats with moulded standards, the heads of which are partly cut off and covered with modern caps, and before the communion table are a few old tiles.
There are three bells: the first, undated; the second is inscribed 'Chandler made me 1705'; and the third, by John Kebyll, inscribed 'Sancta Andrea ora pro nobis,' is probably of the early 15th century.
The chapel of St. Leonard, Chesham Bois, was appurtenant to that half of Chesham Church appropriated to the abbey of St. Mary Pré, Leicester, and as such was claimed in 1213 by William Abbot of Leicester against William du Bois, lord of the manor. (fn. 63) The arrangement arrived at deprived the abbot of all real authority, as William and his successors were allowed to nominate the chaplain, who was to be subject to the abbot's approval and to swear to observe the rights of the mother church. (fn. 64) No further trouble arose with Leicester Abbey, and the advowson was always exercised by the lords of Chesham Bois Manor (q.v.) until some time between 1877 and 1888, when it was sold by the Duke of Bedford. (fn. 65) In 1899 the right of presentation to the rectory was vested in the Rev. Alfred Peache, and is now in the gift of his trustees.
The chapel, which was assessed at 106s. 8d. in 1535, (fn. 66) was endowed with tithes by the abbey of Leicester (fn. 67) and always regarded as a donative of peculiar jurisdiction. The incumbents are called indifferently chaplains or rectors in the episcopal registers. (fn. 68) During the 14th and 15th centuries it acquired the right of burial and so became almost independent of the mother church, (fn. 69) though it was as a chapel dependent on Chesham that its members in 1454 were granted the privilege of going in procession round Chesham instead of Amersham Church on Whit Monday. (fn. 70) In 1470 it is referred to as the parish church of Chesham Bois, (fn. 71) and the Cheynes, as patrons, provided for the incumbent and kept the chapel in repair. (fn. 72) Lady Newhaven therefore resisted a proposal of the archdeacon to visit the chapel in 1728, and both she, the incumbent and churchwardens delivered a protest to him. The archdeacon acknowledged the validity of her claim, and said that he came as a mere visitor and not as of right. (fn. 73)
By the beginning of the 19th century the last vestige of dependence on Chesham had vanished and the chapel became the parish church of Chesham Bois. (fn. 74)
Soon after the middle of the 15th century the rector of Chesham Bois was reputed to be a heretic. (fn. 75) As is well known, Lollardy was strong on the Chilterns, and especially in and around Amersham.
John Cheyne's charity, founded by deed 18 April 1581, consists of a yearly rent-charge of 40s. issuing out of land in Chesham, now the property of Mrs. Mary Ann Smith-Dorrien, by whom the annuity is paid. It is applied as to one moiety for the poor of Chesham Bois, and as to the other moiety for the poor of Cholesbury in the hundred of Cottesloe.
The Duke of Bedford's charity consists of rents amounting to upwards of £30 yearly issuing from the allotment gardens on Chesham Bois Moor. One half is paid to the overseers for the relief of the rates and the other half formerly to the rector for the relief of the parish poor, but now to trustees under the Charity Commission.