HOW much do you know about High Wycombe?
If it is just that the town was once big on furniture and used to be the home of nineteenth century prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, then read on.
Here are a selection of ten facts, about the town – it’s history, sporting record and connection to famous names – that may have previously passed you by.
- The Romans built a Villa on the Rye, where the swimming pool is now.
In about AD 150 the Romans came to this valley and built a villa on the Rye. This was first discovered in 1724 when workmen uncovered a mosaic pavement, and subsequent digs revealed a large villa with a complex bathhouse. It stood close to the Holy Well spring whose waters may have supplied the baths and it is thought that the villa was the centre of a large estate with several outlying farms. Roman bricks from the villa can still be seen in the tower of the church and in the ruins of St John’s Hospital in Easton Street.
- In the early 18th century there were at least 26 mills on the river Wye between West Wycombe and Bourne End, where the river flows into the Thames.
The all-important river was vital to power the mills that grew up along the valley in the 11th century. There are twenty corn mills mentioned in the Doomsday Book along the nine miles between West Wycombe and the Thames. In medieval times some of the corn mills were adapted to the cloth trade. These were called fulling mills and their function was to beat newly woven cloth, under hammers driven by water power, to thicken and shrink it. This trade had largely died out by 1600.
Following on from the fulling mills came the paper mills. We know that Hedge Mill in Loudwater was operating in 1627 and the industry flourished in Wycombe until the end of the 20th century.
- In 1830 workers in the paper-making mills went on a riot, smashing up the machines. Many of the rioters were transported to Tasmania, then called Van Diemen’s Land, making a substantial contribution to the development of that part of Australia.
In 1830 some of the paper manufacturers introduced mechanisation to speed up the process. This would have meant job losses and the paper workers were not happy about it. They grouped together and rampaged through the town destroying as many of the machines as possible. Most of them were caught and brought to trial. Many were then transported to Tasmania.
- The first Royal Military College was founded in the High Street, in what was the Antelope Inn.
In 1799 Lieutenant Colonel Gaspard Le Marchant opened a school for army officers in the High Street. This establishment, known as the Royal Military College, tutored the students in a wide range of skills including trigonometry, geometry and French as well as siege warfare. They were not happy about the accommodation in the ancient Antelope Inn, built in 1480, but the school remained there for the next fourteen years before moving to Farnham in Surrey.
- Wycombe Wanderers is the only lower league football club to have reached the semi-finals of both the League Cup and FA Cup when in the lower two Leagues.
- In the 1950s there were four cinemas in the town centre of High Wycombe – The Palace, Rex, Odeon and Grand.
- The whole of the Chiltern Arcade was originally occupied by a Woolworths store.
- During WWII, when many goods were rationed, you could take your sugar ration into Taylors in Easton Street to be turned into sweets.
- Among the famous pupils of the town's grammar schools have been stars of music, comedy, sport, cooking and literature.
Ian Dury, founder member of The Blockheads, attended the Royal Grammar School in the 1960s, while comedy star Jimmy Carr was there alongside rugby player and Question of Sport team captain Matt Dawson. Lauded poet TS Eliot taught at the school in the early 20th century, while we're on the subject.
Not to be outdone, John Hampden Grammar School boasts inventive chef Heston Blumenthal and legendary fantasy author Terry Pratchett (who would later work as a reporter for the BFP) among its roster.
- The town has a history of marking special occasions by building archways made of chairs, to honour its furniture-making heritage.
The first of these was constructed in 1877 to mark a visit from Queen Victoria to Disraeli at his Hughenden Manor home. Another – the biggest, with about 400 chairs – ws built a few years later in 1884 to mark the visit of the Prince of Wales.
In 1889 The return of Sir Edwin Dashwood from New Zealand was celebrated by an arch of chairs outside The George and Dragon in West Wycombe.
The next major chair arch came almost 80 years later, using more modern chairs, to mark a visit to the town by the Queen in 1962.
Then the last one so far was built in 2000 to commemorate the new millennium.
In the 1950s there were four cinemas in the town centre of High Wycombe – The Palace, Rex, Odeon and Grand.