By Eleanor Phillips and Patricia Kent

The year 1982 was a momentous one for the United Kingdom – Prince William (now the Prince of Wales) was born; and Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, leading to the Falklands War.

In Chesham, what seemed at first to be a fairly minor event had far-reaching consequences in that it ultimately led to the formation of the town’s museum.

The Francis Trust

This event was the formation of the Francis Trust.

Around 1760, an artist believed to be John Harris painted a panoramic view of Chesham, oil on canvas, originally owned by the Fuller family.

Bucks Free Press: The oil painting of Chesham, believed to have been painted by John Harris in c1760.The oil painting of Chesham, believed to have been painted by John Harris in c1760. (Image: Chesham Museum)

When they died out, the Chesham Picture came into the possession of a local solicitor, John Francis of Botley House.

When Mr Francis died in 1981, he gave the picture for the benefit of the people of Chesham.

The Francis Trust was set up for that purpose by the Chesham Society and the Chess Valley Archaeological and Historical Society.

READ MORE: Chesham: The Griffin pub to reopen soon

The picture (which is still in its original pearwood frame) is currently housed at the town hall.

The idea of a local museum in Chesham was originally mooted in the local press in 1965, when a photographic exhibition of the town’s past, organised by the Chesham Society, was so successful that the question was asked – why didn’t Chesham have a museum.

The Chesham Town Museum Project was launched by the Chesham Society in 1981, but by the late 1980s the project began to lose momentum.


The museum project was reenergised in the early 1990s by Anne Hooker, the Chesham Town Mayor 1990-91.

After discussions with the County Library, a display case was installed in Chesham Library and over the next t10 years, no fewer than 38 themed displays were put on.

Meanwhile, Mrs Hooker arranged a public meeting with the aim of creating a Friends Group and setting up a committee to help raise money and encourage support for the project.

Throughout the last five years of the 20th century, Chesham underwent some massive changes. The demolition of the old Sainsbury’s store and the original Elgiva Theatre, and the building of a new theatre, a new Sainsbury’s store, an extension to the library and the building of a new town hall meant that development plans for a museum were receiving less and less attention.

After being in limbo for some two years, a comprehensive review by Adrian Kerwood and Charles Armour led to a public meeting at which the decision was made not to consider anything more elaborate than the regular exhibitions in the Library showcase.

By 2000, many of the people who had been the guiding force behind the museum project had either left the district or given up for various reasons, and in 2002 the decision was reluctantly taken that the project would officially close down on December 31st of that year.


The project was rescued by the then landlord of the Gamekeeper’s Lodge pub in Bellingdon Road (now known as the Griffin).

Shay Comaskey offered the use of the stables at the rear of the pub. Thanks to the generosity of the staff, customers and numerous local businesses, together with hardworking volunteers, The Stables was opened in 2004 by a committee which had been formed by another former mayor – Mora Walker.

Bucks Free Press: The museum when at The Stables, from 2004 to 2009.The museum when at The Stables, from 2004 to 2009. (Image: Chesham Museum)

Mrs Walker had already been active for many years fund-raising on the museum’s behalf and the museum became a registered charity later that year.

The collection grew quickly but over time, the increasing lack of space and location away from the town centre made the trustees realise that new premises would soon be needed.


In 2008 the museum was offered the lease of 15 Market Square, formerly Chapter One Bookshop.

Successful fundraising, and again the support of local people, made this possible and the museum opened there in 2009.

The Town Picture was installed there and became a focal point. During this time, the volunteers running the museum were able to mount numerous large and detailed exhibitions relating to the town’s past.

They also ran a very successful museum shop selling items manufactured in Chesham and a number of publications about the town and surrounding villages.

The museum remained here until 2017, when a massive increase in rental prices meant that they were forced to give up the premises. Another home could not immediately be found, so everything had to be put into store.


For these five years, the museum was maintained as a “virtual” museum via its website and the basic exhibition facilities offered by such supportive venues as Chesham Library and the Elgiva Theatre.

It continued to take in donations and the Education Group provided a series of “memorabilia boxes” for use by schools and care homes, whilst the Walks & Talks Group also carried on.

Meanwhile, the trustees were actively searching for new affordable premises which could cater for the museum’s requirements.

The future

In 2023, Chesham Town Council agreed to lease part of the town hall to house the museum.

The current situation is that these premises are in the process of being upgraded for the museum’s use.

The display cabinets from 15 Market Square are coming out of storage and being spruced up and will be installed shortly and it is hoped that the museum will be able to reopen shortly.

The museum has been heartened by the interest shown by the public in this reopening and we have a group of dedicated volunteers who are all working extremely hard to get things up and running.

We are always looking to sign up more volunteers, however, and if you are interested in any aspect of museum work please visit our website ( uk) where you will find contact information and details of how to make a donation should you wish to do so.