I HAD a phone call the other day from a lady in Bisham, obviously a listener to Marlow FM 97.5, who jokingly told me that there are still a couple of presenters unaware of the correct name of her village which is just about 500 yards across the field from the current radio studios – of course it is Biss and not Bish, a pronunciation that has been causing controversy for a long time, but the only occasion I have seen it mentioned in print is in a 1902 book “Thames Valley Villages” by Charles G. Harper, and I have copied the relevant paragraph above.

It gives me a nice excuse to devote this week’s page to Bisham and to show you an ancient etching in very poor condition that tells us that past names were Bustleham and Bysham, and I am sure that anyone reading the latter name would almost certainly include the “h” in their pronunciation or even call it By-Sham. I just put it down to one of hundreds of vagaries in the English language, and also I have learnt a couple of new words from Mr Harper’s text – elision and shibboleth!

I asked my caller if she had ever visited the little hamlet a few miles north of Henley. In this case the “h” is usually pronounced, or else you might offend your elderly auntie (picture of the signpost above). I have not been up that way for a few years but I hope that the historic Brakspears pub in that location is still in business and has not suffered the fate of so many other locals. Brakspears beers seem to be getting back to their former quality, so I will try and pay a visit, but I am not a big drinker so no chance of getting ‘pished’.

I have a large collection of Bisham pictures and postcards but most were obtained many years ago. One of the few new additions in the last decade was given to me by the late town councillor and mayor Maurice Oram, whose family had Bisham connections, especially with Stoneyware House.

“It’s a Bisham School group” said Maurice, “but the only name I know is back row, third from right - Rose Searle”. I stared in surprise – I was not looking at Rose, I was recognising the figure on the left. “That’s my mum” I told him, “I’ve never seen that picture before”. My mother joined the school aged 18, teaching music and especially piano. For a time she was organist at the URC church in Quoiting Square (back then the Congregational Church) who have a rare organ built by the legendary Father Willis. However she was never able to teach me piano – I found it almost impossible to get fingers on my left hand not to follow those on the right. It is a known problem, but I later invented my own name for it - ‘Digit Dyslexia’. I learnt to play trumpet instead, although not especially well. Your left hand just has to hold the thing – the right one does all the work!

Contact Michael at michael@jazzfans.co or 01628 486571.