Nostalgia by Alison Bailey

THE arrival of the railway to Amersham in the late 19th Century heralded widespread social change and brought to the area new people, new ideas and new fashions.

The railway meant fresh opportunities, particularly for landowners, builders and architects as farmland was parceled off for development.

A new town, with new homes, shops and facilities was planned around Amersham station as the existing town was a mile distant at the bottom of the valley. Amersham Common, where the station was built, was predominately farmland with a scattering of farmhouses and labourers cottages.

Just under a mile away to the north was the Boot and Slipper pub and then the small, rural village of Chesham Bois.

One young, ambitious architect from London was (John) Harold Kennard who recognised the opportunities and went on to design, build and develop a great deal of the new town and the nearby village of Chesham Bois.

He used the distinctive Arts and Crafts style which was very fashionable at the time.

Kennard deserves to be better known and is credited by Julian Hunt in his book A History of Amersham (available from the museum shop) with building one quarter of all the local Arts and Crafts buildings, although I suspect the true figure is even higher.

Julian Hunt goes on to say that whilst “not a famous architect” Kennard “made a far greater contribution to the local landscape than any other builder or architect.”

The influential Arts and Crafts Movement was one of the most important and far-reaching design movements of modern times.

It began in Britain around 1880 but quickly spread across Europe and America.

The Movement attempted to re-establish the skills of craftsmanship threatened by mass production and industrialisation.

The architect-designer William Morris, inspired by the writings of the art critic John Ruskin, was its central figure.

As the Arts and Crafts movement developed, the most prestigious company in the design and marketing of Arts and Crafts furniture and decorative arts was Liberty & Co.

This company had been founded by Chesham born, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, who lived locally at The Lee, and had invested a lot of money in land in Chesham Bois. Liberty primarily used London Architects, Kemp and How, to build several grand Arts and Crafts houses around Great Missenden and The Lee, including Pipers for his nephew and heir, Ivor Stewart-Liberty.

He also built a number of estate cottages at The Lee and Lee Common.

High Bois House in Chesham Bois is a fine Kemp and How house which is believed to have been built for the Liberty family.

In 1911, Kemp and How extended St Leonard’s Church from 105 seats to 250 as the existing Chesham Bois church was no longer adequate for the growing congregation. They also designed further Arts and Crafts buildings for Dr Challoner’s Grammar School.

In 1905 the school had moved from the High Street to a new site in Amersham-on-the-Hill, built in Arts and Crafts style, to the designs of H Belch.

Charles Voysey was one of the most famous architect-designers associated with the movement.

In 1899, when he built his family home The Orchard in Shires Lane, Chorleywood, Voysey designed every detail, the furniture, the wallpaper, light fittings, door furniture, window latches, doorbells and even the clocks.

With its sparse decoration, plain and simple furnishings, The Orchard was very different from the usual dark and cluttered Victorian interior. Several houses on Bois Lane, Chesham Bois were built to a Voysey design.

On the 18th September Amersham Museum is opening an exhibition on the Arts and Crafts buildings in Amersham with a particular emphasis on the designs and drawings of J H Kennard. Please see the website for the full Arts and Crafts Programme.

To be continued