HIGH Wycombe has certain inestimable boons, and one of these is The Rye, about thirty-five acres of meadow land which belongs to the town.

It stretches by the river Wye with the road running by its side and the woods behind it, forming a lovely piece of green land.

Here the common cattle were pastured in old days, and here the “law days” were held. Every settled inhabitant [in fact, this should mean Burgesses only] of the borough had the right of common-grazing in the day-time for two cows and a bullock.

All the inhabitants of the borough have liberty to walk, and use sports and pastimes, running, leaping, wrestling, riding, backswordes and other playes at their pleasures without being trespassers.

Now it is the recreation ground for the townspeople. It is unspoiled and perfect, a priceless possession for all time. It does not get that worn and jaded look of ordinary recreation grounds, it remains a broad meadow, green and sparkling.

These words were written in 1950 by Alison Uttley in her book “Buckinghamshire”. Already an established author she moved to Beaconsfield in 1938 and died in 1976.

Her prolific output included many books for children, such as A Traveller in Time, The Country Child and the Little Grey Rabbit series. She would still recognise the “priceless possession for all time” were she alive today.

As many of us are confined close to home for the foreseeable future I thought it would be a good time to remind ourselves how lucky we are to live in proximity to the “broad meadow, green and sparkling”, but it was not always as treasured as it is today.

One of the earliest records about the Rye was in the First Ledger book of High Wycombe, which in 1518 under a title “Defense de la Rye” states that the “Burgesses and Comyners” were to “maintain and kepe there comyn pasture called the Rye in Lyke maner and forme as it hathe be accustomed for to be kepte in tyme paste or better.”

But by the 20th century the Rye had fallen into a sorry state. In 1923 control of the Rye had been handed over to the Borough, subject to the continuance of all existing rights and liabilities.

The Borough Council wasted no time in seeking to change these rights and in 1927 a local Bill was introduced into Parliament seeking various powers relating to the Rye, amongst other provisions. These included the extinction of the right to pasture livestock on the Rye.

The Bill was passed into law. This led to an immediate improvement to the Rye. A letter to the Bucks Free Press in February 1934 lamented ‘When I was a girl [this would have been the 1850s], the Rye was an unsightly spot; it always had a morque atmosphere, so much so that people referred to parts of it as ‘’Dead Dyke, Dead Wall etc’’.

Its usefulness was curtailed to about two football pitches, these were always in bad condition, whilst the winter months saw two-thirds of it inundated with mud and the Rye entrance was a mass of sludge and sewerage. Cricketers went to a game carrying brooms and shovels to clean the pitch before a match.

Footballers very often waited up to midnight on a Friday to claim a certain pitch [ie a pitch relatively free from ‘muck’] and even then would sometimes find their goal posts in the Dyke [that is, another team had claimed the pitch]. In those days, the liberty and privileges of the Rye went to the bullies.’’

The letter did finish on a much more positive note ‘’Today [that is 1934] we find the Rye used more than ever before..…. Why? Because it now receives the necessary attention to keep up its present excellent standard, which was not forthcoming before.”

What may have prompted this letter in February 1934 may well have been the construction of a children’s playground on the northern side of the Rye, near the river Wye.

This was officially opened with a ceremony at 6.00pm on April 13 1933. It was a gift from the prominent Wycombe resident Mr H J Cox, who ran a tobacconist’s and hairdressing business in Church St.

He was a generous benefactor to the town, and had been Mayor in 1910 and a member of the Volunteer Fire Brigade. Apparently the choice of location for the playground by the Borough council caused them a great deal of soul-searching before making a decision.

Even then there was considerable controversy. Quite a few people thought it completely spoilt the view of The Rye and would create a real eyesore !! Once again letters flooded into the Bucks Free Press after the ‘apparatus’ was installed and before the official opening of the playground.

Under the large heading Vandalism on the Rye the paper reported ‘Now that the apparatus is on view, and the effect on the appearance of the Rye is apparent, there is an outcry against the Wycombe Corporation’s choice of the site of the children’s playground so generously given by Mr H J Cox”.

Another letter, under the heading Margate-on-the-Rye, read “Sir – it is with the utmost dismay that I see the most beautiful spot in High Wycombe disfigured by the apparatus now going up on the Rye and the pandemonium of sound which will accompany the use of it.

Is it not rather hard on High Wycombe that so generous and appropriate gift as a children’s playground should, by an error of judgement, be placed in the forefront of the main approach to the town, thus destroying the beauty and dignity of the ancient Borough ? May I suggest a public meeting of protest, and if it is possible, to obtain an injunction to delay further proceedings until the Burgesses of the London Road and the town have been consulted.”

In the event the Corporation did respond to these concerns and held a special meeting to consider the letters to the paper.

They concluded that their decision regarding the site had been the correct one, but then released further information that the playground was part of ’a scheme for the extended use of the Rye for recreation’. Perhaps surprisingly, this seems to have settled the debate, but only after what had been a public relations disaster for the town Corporation.

What did the Corporation have in mind with their scheme for greater recreational use of the Rye ? The Wycombe Show seems to have first started in the mid-1930’s.

These early shows featured such attractions as a procession of local tradesmen, and displays by bird-fanciers. General use of the Rye ceased during WWII when the area was dotted with white posts, the purpose of which was to stop the landing of enemy aircraft. The Wycombe Show was revived after the second world war and became a much-loved annual attraction

One final assault on the sanctity of the Rye was made in the 1950’s – a proposed inner relief road for High Wycombe, which would have seriously encroached on the Rye, instead of skirting it as it does today, leading to the part known today as the flyover.

This led to the formation of the Rye Protection Society (RPS), who successfully headed-off this proposal. The RPS then became the High Wycombe Society. This Society has a formal structure in place which ensures that it is able to provide input to decisions on any local planning-related issues.