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A gift to the Abbott - origins to 1066

To the Saxons who occupied the south of England in the sixth century, less than six hundred years after the time of Jesus Christ, the word “bucken” meant beech trees of which there were a lot to the north and west of Denham. We still of course know Burnham Beeches. It’s believed that is how Buckinghamshire got its name, Bucken Ham Shire, the county which is the home of beech trees. An old historian once wrote of it

“The County is generally rich, plentiful, and fruitefull soyle, the people numerous and of a noble, valiant and generous disposition.”

England, as we know it now, was in the sixth century made up of eight separate kingdoms. The kingdoms of the south east and middle England were the territories of the closely associated Germanic tribes of the Saxons and Angles, together the Anglo-Saxons. They gave England, the land of the Angles, its name.

Buckinghamshire was a part of the kingdom of Mercia which took in what we know as Gloucestershire and Hertfordshire in the west and stretching as far as Staffordshire and Lincolnshire to the north. In the south east corner of the kingdom, in the sub-division of South Mercia were the beech woods of what we call Denham.

The origin of the name Denham is not entirely clear, but it’s a pretty good assumption that it began as Dene Ham, meaning “the village homestead”. There are some suggestions of settlement in the area going back to the earliest centuries of the Christian Era when the Romans ruled and beyond into pre-history. Quarrying at The Lea revealed evidence of Roman use of the land and a Roman well dated from around the year 300 and resited from The Lea quarries can be seen just outside the Denham Country Park Visitors Centre. The permanent settlement of Denham is however surely Anglo-Saxon and probably did not come into existence until some time after the year 653 when efforts began to re-establish Christianity in Mercia after it had drifted back into paganism.

By 1066 the several kingdoms had been unified into the kingdom of England ruled over by “Edward, son of King Ethelred, by the Grace of God, king of the Angles”. Tradition knows him as “Saint Edward the Confessor” though his religious piety doesn’t have much credibility with modern historians. He certainly made something of a mess of his own succession. When he died in 1066 three possible successors squabbled like modern politicians over who should get the throne. Things got very nasty until Duke William of Normandy defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings to become King William the Conqueror.

It’s from this time that we have the first documented reference to the Parish of Denham. It was owned, or at least occupied with royal authority by a minor nobleman, a so called “thane” known as Ulstan or Wolstan. Perhaps genuinely to thank God for allowing him to become king during very troubled times or perhaps more cynically to ingratiate himself with the church authorities on whom his security depended, Edward rebuilt the magnificent Westminster abbey, dedicated to St. Peter and gave vast areas of land and the income from them to the abbey. Several nobles had already made similar gifts. They included Ulstan who gave Denham. By his charter of 1066, Edward approved the gift.

King William then set about a great survey of the lands and peoples of his new kingdom recording all the findings in the Domesday Book completed in 1086. The Book confirms Ulstan’s gift referring to Denham manor as containing 10 “hides”, around 1200 acres. Farming the 7 areas of land that could be ploughed by a single plough in a year and a day were 15 peasant farmers (feudal “villeins”) paying the abbot of Westminster for the privilege. The manor also had 12 pastures, two mills and three fisheries. Nearly a thousand years later there are still traces to be found in the names Ashmead (Ash Meadow), Baconsmead, Old Mill Road and the Denham Fisheries.

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