Slate Meadow separates the villages of Bourne End and Wooburn Green. It is a large green open space , bounded on its northern side by a hill rising to Flackwell Heath, the southern boundary being the river Wye. For centuries it has been a haven for nature, and in the 20th century was protected by its Green Belt status. That changed in 2014 when the old Wycombe District Council controversially released the land for development. The meadow’s status was changed, and after years of protest by local residents, development of a housing estate is now underway.

Slate Meadow will now be lost as a sanctuary for the wonders of nature. Remembered only by a road-sign with the name Slate Meadow!

The article below has been prepared by Geoff Britt and is a condensed version of that which originally appeared in the June issue of Target – the community magazine for Bourne End and Wooburn Green. Copy of the issue, including this article, can be found on the website at and follow the links for Target. Geoff has lived alongside Slate Meadow for 56 years and been involved in public objections to development over decades. Illustrations for the article were provided by Lauren Robinson including the one of wild animals being forced off the meadow by machinery.

Early History

Since the end of the last ice age, there has been a little water meadow nestling alongside a small chalk stream running through a valley between rolling green hills. When the locals could talk instead of grunt, it became known as Slaed* Meadow, later, when the locals learnt how to spell, the name changed to Slate Meadow.

Celts, Saxons, Romans, and Vikings have all availed themselves of the many useful plants found growing there. The chalk stream on the south side of the meadow rises in a field just to the west of West Wycombe and has been a source of clean water, trout, and power for the numerous mills which have sprung up along its length, for centuries.

As the river drops about 220 feet in its eight-mile length to the river Thames, it flows quite fast, eminently suitable for powering the mills which have stood on its banks for more than a thousand years. Starting with corn mills, fulling mills for producing itchy clothing to keep the wind out, then paper mills. At some stage our little meadow fell into the hands of the local paper mill, serving the purpose of storage, a playing field, and somewhere for the mill workers to hang out at lunch-time and tickle the odd trout (fish not wife) for dinner on the way home.

Since 1854 the railway line from Maidenhead to Wycombe has run past our meadow, until Beeching wielded his axe in 1972 to close most branch lines and put more traffic onto the roads. Before this disaster, children on their way to school would wave out of the carriage windows to the mill workers enjoying ‘down time’, before mobile phones led to most children looking down at a screen the whole time rather than at the world around them. In the mid 1970’s the course of the river bordering the southern edge of the meadow was straightened out. According to the authorities his was to avoid the adjacent road flooding. More likely is that, as the new route provided a few yards of grass opposite Grange Drive, the inebriated patrons driving from Wooburn Grange Country Club (used for the outside shots for Fawlty Towers), would not end up in the river. Soon this building was set on fire (allegedly) and a few non-affordable houses were built. And so Fawlty Towers became history (sorry Basil).

Redevelopment is proposed

Then something awful happened. Men on comfy chairs in a sumptuous office, decided to take away our meadow’s Green Belt status and call it a ‘Reserved Site’ for housing. Local uproar ensued, including a threat from the locals to strip off and hold a protest meeting in the meadow. Fortunately for the continued existence of the local paper which printed the picture, only a half monty was attempted. Even so, the expression on the face of a seven-year-old standing behind an aged gentleman who was wearing nothing but a pair of dirty old pants and a tin plate strategically placed, produced many a chuckle at this otherwise sad time. Protest songs were sung by the local wandering minstrel, letters written by the more intelligent section of the local community, all to no avail. Needless to say, that this change of use was passed so our little meadow became a ‘Reserved Site’.

So called ‘travelling communities’ used it as storage for members of the lower end of the horsey spectrum. These bedraggled specimens were designated to go to small children in Gerrards Cross, after de-burring, a shampoo and a haircut (horse not child) where they had the dubious pleasure of becoming models for Thelwell. Real Travelling People leave no trace of their passing (like canoeists and cyclists), not fields full of old fridges in their wake.

By this time, the local villagers had won a small victory over the octopus of development, which was spreading its tentacles and gradually turning the green areas of our country into building sites, by getting the part of Slate Meadow adjacent to the disused railway line declared a Village Green. Thank heaven for small mercies and the caring section of the local community.

After a few quiet years, plans to destroy our little meadow started rolling in. More songs, more letters, and public meetings were held in which sensible objections and comments were raised, then ignored by the local council. All sorts of promises and provisos previously made by those in the comfy chairs were swept aside. The required infrastructure - extra school places and medical facilities, road junction improvements, cycle paths, all to be in place before building can start - gone. Green space separation between Wooburn and Bourne End to be maintained - gone.

There was, however, space for a pond the size of a small puddle and a patch of grass smaller than the average front lawn shown on the plans. Direct line of sight from the main road to the hill behind to be maintained - gone, unless you’re an eight feet six tall basketball player. The Environment Agency and Thames Water, once staunch supporters of common sense, began to lose interest in any potential flooding issues caused by building on this bit of flood plain.

Then the unthinkable happened. Diggers moved in, scattering deer, badgers, foxes, adders and the odd slow worm. The confused deer were forced to munch their way through the begonias, marigolds, and other delicacies of peoples’ gardens instead of unobtrusively feasting on the amazing variety of edible foliage previously available. Badgers in their setts adjacent to the building site started to complain of headaches caused by all the noise and to dig holes in the site itself, and in peoples’ lawns, just to make a point.

A reprieve, albeit temporary

Then everything stopped as finds of archaeologist interest had come to light. Probably the houses will be built, but one day nature will take over, and our little meadow will rise again through the rubble. The seeds of the 29 species of plants and trees, which will have lain dormant for such a long time, will start to grow again. Who knows who will be around to appreciate the usefulness of nature’s bounty growing in this part of the world. One thing is certain; the “I want brigade” on the comfy chairs won’t be.