... and further back, an Old Bakery tale
Updated: Jul 21, 2020
The oldest documented non-ecclesiastical property in the village is the Old Bakery. One survey suggests a very precise date of the building to be 1367 – 68 but no dendrochronology (tree ring dating) has been undertaken and the building’s official listing has it as a 15th or 16th century construction.
Once three cottages and a shop, the Old Bakery is located at the western end of a row what would have been medieval burgage plots, each of these being a strip of land available for cultivation with a length of between 10 and 18 “perches” and a width of 3 perches i.e. 49 feet 6 inches or 15.09 metres. If indeed the date of the first construction of a building on the property was 1367, the manor of Denham was then still in the ownership of the Abbey of Westminster, the Abbot at the time being one Nicholas de Littlington. It is likely that it was ordered by Nicholas for his “reeve”. Originally a term which defined the local magistrate, the “reeve” had become by the late 14th century one of the most significant members of the community described by one source as “the overseer”.
Pausing for a side story on Nicholas de Littlington, he seems to have been in an illegitimate line of the Despenser family. He certainly used a version of the family crest. Elevated as favourites of King Edward II in the early 14th century, the family dropped their Norman names to become the Spencers, ancestors of the Dukes of Marlborough, Winston Spencer Churchill and Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.
Similar to several other buildings in Denham, the character of the Old Bakery’s early construction is largely vernacular, in other words, constructed with a mixture of brick and timber in the framework. The building has undergone many changes over the centuries including a substantial rebuild in 1957. The building phases and the outlay of the property are quite complex, but a structural survey has revealed that it has a medieval “base cruck” construction. This is a timber framing used in houses and barns in England for over 400 years, though more commonly in the midlands and in the north and west of the country than in the south east. Wikipedia provides a very helpful photo of a cruck construction. This type of timber framing consists of long naturally curved, timber members that lean inwards and form the ridge of the roof. The posts are then generally secured by a horizontal beam which then forms an “A” shape. Several of these are constructed on the ground and then lifted into position. They are then joined together by either solid walls or cross beams which help to keep the frames squared in relation to each other so as to minimise the risk of collapse.
Like many old timber framed buildings, the Old Bakery was re-fronted in the 18th century. Prior to the 1950s demolition of the former east wing, the building formed three cottages/shops as shown in this early photograph.
There are other historic buildings also of vernacular character along Village Road. The 16th or 17th century MIsbourne Cottage acquired more recent fame doubling as the cottage of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple at Old Pasture Lane, Milchester in the 1960s films starring Margaret Rutherford. The 16th Century timber framed Old Cottage retains its Elizabethan charm and beauty. There are, here in Denham, 43 other Grade II listed properties with fascinating histories dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. We will explore more of them as time and interests allow.
A note on “listing”
Buildings with listed status are recorded on an official register called The List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. Buildings listed on the register are legally protected from being demolished, extended or significantly altered without special permission from the local planning authority.
Listing doesn’t only apply to homes, commercial or ecclesiastical buildings. Other structures, including bridges, monuments, walls, windmills or parks and gardens, may also be listed and are counted among the notable heritage assets in the UK property market.
Listed buildings account for about 2% of English building stock. Of the approximately 500,000 listed buildings, only 2.5% are Grade 1 and are often ecclesiastical. Grade II starred buildings (Grade II*) buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. 5.8% of listed buildings are Grade II*.
Other Grade II buildings are of special interest. 91.7% of all listed buildings are in this class. It is the most likely grade of listing for an occupied home.
Cathy Soughton of Benchmark House Histories http://www.benchmarkhousehistories.com © Cathy Soughton Benchmark House Histories.
South Bucks District Council, Denham Conservation Area Character Appraisal, September 2008