Construction is one of the industries returning to work this week as we try and navigate our way out of total lockdown. Consequently, I thought I would look at a local story which combines the building industry and our area after WWII.

Stanley Comben, a director, and later chairman of Comben and Wakeling, the nationwide building firm, came to Chesham Bois in 1940.

He moved with his wife and daughter to Capesthorne, Bois Lane, where they lived until 1954 before moving to The Dial House, Sycamore Road in Amersham. Stanley’s wife, Stella, was expecting a baby when they moved from Eastcote into the village and their son, David John Chesham, was born later that year.

At that time Amersham was a haven for many London families who were searching for a safer environment out of the reach of the German bombers.

Comben and Wakeling was founded by Stanley’s father, James Comben, and his uncle, William Wakeling (James was married to William’s sister, Mary) in 1904.

They were pioneers in suburban housing, building houses for working class people that were affordable on an average wage, and introducing bathrooms into ordinary dwellings.

The company were also part of the Garden City Movement, the method of urban planning to create new communities surrounded by “greenbelts”, Welwyn Garden City being one of the earliest examples.

In total they built over 6000 homes in Wembley, having made their first large purchase of land at Wembley Park in 1914, where they also planted over half a million shrubs and 10,000 trees.

Over the years the company’s activities extended into Ealing, Finchley, Pinner, Harrow, Ruislip and Bushey, expanding with the Underground.

From 1942 to 1945 Stanley served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers.

All house building had stopped at the outbreak of the war. The company itself went on active service, building airfields (12 were built in East Anglia) and repairing war damage in London. Air raid shelters were built in school playgrounds, down residential roads and in shopping areas.

After the war Comben and Wakeling’s expertise was called for in new areas.

They were awarded the contract to build the running track for the Olympic Games at Wembley in 1948. Within a few years activities included building banks, churches, a garage, a bus station, blocks of flats and new houses further out of London into the Chilterns and beyond.

In the mid-1950s Comben and Wakeling bought part of the former WWII soldiers’ camp at the Beacon School.

Here they built The Leys, a cul-de-sac of new houses. Other detached houses were built in Clifton Road, Green Lanes, The Grove and The Ridings.

The 1960s saw a rapid expansion of Comben and Wakeling homes in our area, particularly in Chesham.

The company name was associated with quality building and attention to detail such as “three hinges to each door”. Estate agents continued to promote properties as a “Comben and Wakeling house” well into the 1990s.

Highover Park in Old Amersham is probably the company’s best-known development in our area. It was controversial at the time because of the proximity to High and Over and the Sun Houses in Amersham, modernist houses designed by the influential architect Amyas Connell.

Work started on the 16-acre Highover Park site in 1965. The mid-twentieth century design, landscaping and lovely views still mean that houses on the estate are highly sought after.

In 1964 they built the car showroom in London Road, Old Amersham which was most recently Lookers Jaguar before it closed in 2019.

In 1958 Stanley was first elected to Bucks County Council as a councillor representing the Amersham-on-the-Hill, Amersham Common and Little Chalfont Wards. He served on the council until his retirement in 1970, becoming chairman of its planning committee in 1967. Perhaps surprisingly for a nationwide housebuilder, he was a champion of the countryside and campaigned in 1964 for the designation of the Chilterns as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty.

Like most members of his family, Stanley was a keen Methodist.

Comben and Wakeling were responsible for building several local Methodist churches, including churches in Chesham, Gerrard’s Cross, Little Chalfont, and St John’s Church in Woodside Road Amersham.

The distinctive modernist design was by architect Alister Macdonald, the son of James Ramsay Macdonald. The Combens held garden parties at The Dial House to fundraise for the new building and on 2 April 1960 St. John’s Methodist Church was opened by Stella Comben.

When the company, now called Comben Homes, celebrated its 75th year Anniversary in 1979, it was one of the largest housebuilding firms in the country.

There were eight operating regions in the UK and two overseas offices.

Sadly, Stanley had died 5 years earlier at the age of 65. In 1984 the company was acquired by Trafalgar House and integrated into its Ideal Homes housebuilding business.