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History of the Town

Beaconsfield first known documentary reference was in 1185, where it is spelt ‘Bekenesfeld’ developed around a crossroads. The Town as such is thought to be of Saxon origin, with a church of wooden construction on the site of the present parish church dating from about 900 A.D.  There is also evidence of two Roman roads from St. Albans to Silchester near Reading, both Roman garrison towns, and a road from London north-westwards passing through this area.  The site was probably chosen because it had a good water supply and it was halfway between London and Oxford, important reasons in those days for a journey which then would have taken about two days.

The Council Gardens Copyright The Francis Frith Collection

The Council Gardens Copyright The Francis Frith Collection

The Old Town is now centred around this junction which is situated on the present main road, the A40, which runs from east to west, London to Oxford and beyond to Bristol; the other runs north to south; Windsor to Stokenchurch or St Albans.  St Mary and All Saints Church is a prominent feature at this junction.

Beaconsfield came under the feudal authority of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who persuaded his brother King Henry III in 1255 to grant him the right to hold a market in the Manor of Beaconsfield on Tuesday of every week.  The market closed early in the nineteenth century but was revived in 1982.  The covered market hall in Aylesbury End stood for nearly seven centuries, being demolished only in 1952.  In 1266 the Town then became part of the endowment of Burnham Abbey, and in 1269 a further grant was made to hold a fair, which is still held annually on the 10th May.  The Abbey derived substantial fees from these markets and fairs, and the space at the centre of the town where they were held was jealously protected from any encroachment.  That is why the four ‘Ends’ (an old Buckinghamshire term) which form the crossroads are so broad and spacious.

Twenty three miles from London, Beaconsfield has always been a resting place for travellers.  It was an ideal place where people would rest themselves and their horses.  This is why there are many references to inns and beer houses in the Town – about 19 have been recorded – an ideal place for a first coaching stop from London.  Highwaymen were notorious in the areas around Beaconsfield.  Many travellers were robbed of their money and possessions.  It is on record that at least two highwaymen were caught and hanged at Tyburn, London for their deeds.  There are names of places which identify these robbers were in existence, e.g. Cut Throat Wood and Highwayman’s Farm.

Beaconsfield’s Parish Church was rebuilt in stone around 1470, and survived until it was again rebuilt and enlarged on the same site in 1869.  Linked with the dissolution of the monasteries was the building in 1534 of the impressive house which is now called The Old Rectory.  It incorporates a small section of the nunnery building that it replaced, and a number of emblems from the coat of arms of Richard Rawson, the rector.  It remained in use as the rectory until 1868.  After the dissolution of Burnham Abbey the town and surrounding lands became divided into three great estates – Halbarne (later Hall Barn), Gregories, and Whiltones (now Wilton Park) – all forming part of the Manor of Beaconsfield.

Gregories (Butlers Court) was owned, along with Wilton Park, by another branch of the Waller family. In 1768 Gregories passed into the ownership of Edmund Burke. Burke renamed the house ‘Butler’s Court’ following a dispute over manorial rights. Butler’s Court was burned down in 1813. The present house of that name was built by Arthur Grenfell on a different site dates from 1891. Lord Grenfell, his brother lived in the house from 1895 – 1912. Edmund Burke lies buried in St. Mary’s Church at his own request, and the bicentenary of his death occurred in 1997.

Wilton Park, was acquired, in about 1779, by Josias Du Pre, a former Governor of Madras, The Du Pre family lived in the house for some 170 years until it was taken over by the War Office at the beginning of the 1939-1945 war. It was used as a centre for the interrogation of the most senior prisoners of war, including Rudolph Hess and Field Marshal von Rundstedt. This fine Palladian mansion with its Adam interior was demolished in 1967 to make way for the present assembly of buildings now used by the Defence School of Languages.

Hall Barn became home to Edmund Waller, a leading poet of his day, when the Waller family purchased the Manor of Beaconsfield in 1624. Edmund Waller played a prominent part in the Civil War, which led to him being tried for treason and condemned to death, but his sentence was commuted to exile abroad and a heavy fine. He was later allowed to return to Beaconsfield where he was responsible for building the present house probably between 1675 and 1680. It was later extended and in 1972 restored to its original size.

More historical information about Beaconsfield can be found in The History of Beaconsfield. A book written by The Beaconsfield & District Historical Society and published by Robin Pedler Ltd., Beaconsfield.