Famous in fact and fiction
Updated: Jul 24
We're taking a break
First let's tell you how we're taking a break. For almost three years we have been filling these pages with stories about our village and its community. We describe our project as a community project because we want to tell the history of Denham Village and the people who lived their lives here working, playing, sometimes suffering always together forming a community. We normally concentrate on the village simply because to stray beyond it into Denham's other five settlements, Denham Green, Higher Denham, New Denham, Tatling End and Willowbank would be an overwhelming task. However we know that each of these has its own rich community history as our own researches have frequently proved. That is for others to explore but we'll be happy to offer any advice requested.
Now after completing this post, we are taking a break from regular posting of articles on these pages so as to concentrate on assembling what we have written and published so far into a book. This however comes with an invitation. We average around 350 readers for each article and our readership is still growing. Our most popular story was that of the old Methodist Church on Cheapside Lane in February 2021, which attracted over 500 visits, followed closely by the tale of schooldays in the village which we published in August 2020 and the short piece on legends and myths.
So now to our readers old and new we are sending an invitation to contribute your stories of life in the village, personal experiences or family tales passed down. Email them please to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll consider them all for publication on a special section of this website.
Unique, charming and historic
For over 950 years, Denham Village has been recognised as a unique, charming and historic place. The village itself occupies a secluded corner bordered by the River Colne, the railway line and the major roads which by-pass the village, the A412 and A40. The absence of “through” traffic on Village Road enhances the village's rural tranquillity. The setting and the antiquity of the buildings make Denham a picturesque village attractive to residents and visitors alike.
The village community has had a special feature throughout its known long history over close to 1000 years. It's a place where grand manor houses have stood alongside farmworkers' cottages, where the wealthy, powerful and famous have rubbed shoulders with labourers and shopkeepers. The establishment of the film studios at Denham in the 1930s and with Pinewood studios just three miles down the road, the village has attracted people from the film industry, producers, directors, technicians and movie and TV stars. So many of them came together as members of the village community, as friends and neighbours.
So this month we take a look at village homes and indulge in a little historical name dropping - omitting some of the village's more recent celebrity residents to protect their privacy and that of their homes or former homes. In addition to the stars of stage and screen, they include lords, knights, abbots, high sheriffs, members of Parliament, senior figures in government and at least two monarchs - though the residence of one was extremely short and the monarchy of the other of dubious validity.
The immense damage to historic buildings during the second world war caused attention to be given to the need to protect the nation's building heritage. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 then introduced a system of listing of buildings and other structures to be protected. Several subsequent pieces of legislation have extended that system. There are now three types of listed status for buildings in England and Wales:
Grade I: buildings of exceptional interest.
Grade II*: particularly important buildings of more than special interest.
Grade II: buildings that are of special interest.
Denham Village, taking in Village Road, Cheapside Lane, and Old Mill Road has two Grade I listed buildings, St Mary's Church and the Denham Place manor house. Savay Farm is also Grade I listed. All the buildings from Wrango to Misbourne Cottage including the bridge over the Misbourne are Grade II listed. Denham as a whole has at least 86 listed constructions including gates, walls, mile stones, barns and a stable. The earliest construction date of two buildings is officially said to be in the 1400s though at least some part of the Old Bakery is believed to have been of much earlier construction. Two other buildings date from around 1500 and there are 28 constructions dating back to the 1600s, a further 28 structures dating back to the 1700s and 12 properties from the 1800s. Denham's Grade I listed church was originally known the Church of our Lady. It acquired its current name of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin following the Reformation instituted by King Henry VIII in the 1530s. The original part of the construction, most probably the tower, is believed to have been built between 1110 and 1120.
The Abbot's hunting ground
The other Grade 1 listed property in the Village, Denham Place has had a long and fascinating history. Its owners and occupants have made lasting contributions to the community since the 1530s.
At the time of the construction of St. Mary's and for four centuries following practically the whole of the village was owned by the Abbey of Westminster providing a lucrative source of income for the then Catholic church. The Great Park of Denham is known to have been a particularly favourite hunting ground for Nicholas Litlyngton who was Abbot of Westminster from 1362-1386.
King Henry VIII acceded to the throne in 1509 at the age of 17 after the death of his older brother, and Henry VII's intended heir, Arthur. He was required then to marry his brother's widow Catherine of Aragon to cement an international alliance. It was not a happy marriage, failing to deliver to Henry VIII a male heir. Henry's row with the Pope over his wish to secure an annulment of his marriage to Catherine coincided with the Protestant movement sweeping through Europe and led ultimately to the establishment of the Church of England. Henry also had a keen eye on the wealth of the Catholic church in England which he was eager to appropriate to refill his Treasury's coffers.
The coming of the Peckhams to Denham Place
By 1531, the writing was appearing as they say "on the wall" for the Catholic church, and it was in that year that the Abbot of Westminster leased the Great Park (made up of half woodland and half pasture) of Denham to Member of Parliament and Henry's good friend, Edmund Peckham. The Peckhams, an old Buckinghamshire family were already owners of extensive lands acquired by Edmund's father Peter Peckham, and his stepfather John Micklowe. As the Abbot's lessees they came into possession of well-nigh the whole of Denham parish.
Knighted in 1537, Sir Edmund Peckham became absolute lord of Denham. In 1538 he extended his holdings by acquiring a 50 year lease of the moated Denham Durdent Manor from 1538 and in 1541 he built a new mansion known as Denham Place Manor, located "at the top of the village street".
Sir Edmund Peckham died in 1564. Despite the Reformation, he had remained a staunch Catholic and had no falling out with Henry VIII as a result. Indeed in 1544 Henry made him high treasurer of all the mints in England and Ireland and appointed him an assistant executor to his royal Will, a will incidentally which set out Henry's rules for the succession of Tudor succession and caused religious turmoil bordering on civil war for more than half a century.
Sir Edmund did fall out of favour under the kingship of Henry's only surviving male heir Edward VI but recovered his status in the court of Edward's half-sister, the Catholic Mary I, when Edward died aged just 15 in 1553.
Mary appointed both Sir Edmund and his eldest son Robert to her Privy Council, but it was not to last. Mary died childless in 1558 and the crown passed to her half-sister Elizabeth, daughter of Henry's second wife Anne Boleyn and a Protestant. Respected for his financial acumen Sir Edmund retained his position at the mint but lost his Privy Council seat.
Edmund died in 1564 leaving his Denham estate to his wife for her life and then to his two sons Robert and George. He is buried in St. Mary's Church
Both Robert and another of Edmund's sons, Henry Peckham were Members of Parliament and significant members of government but their lives became very complicated on the death of Edward VI in 1553. Henry VIII had dictated by his will that he should be succeeded first by Edward and then if he should die without children, by Mary and then if she should die childless by Elizabeth. But Mary was Catholic and Edward and his Protectors were definitely of the Protestant faith. Guided by his adviser Edward tried to change the succession to allow Lady Jane Grey to succeed him. On Edward's death, Jane did become queen - but only for nine days. The nobles who had at first supported Jane quickly switched their allegiance when they realised the strength of Mary's claim to the throne under her father's Will and more particularly the strength of the forces behind her.
Both Henry and Robert Peckham pinned their colours to Mary's standard.
Henry the convinced Protestant had supported a determined Catholic queen. He came to regret it. Two years later in 1555 he joined a group of conspirators seeking her removal. The conspiracy failed. In 1556 Henry was hanged for his part in it.
Robert continued faithfully in the Court of Queen Mary I but following her death in 1558 and the succession of Elizabeth in 1558, he was left without a role. He set off in travels around Europe. He died in Rome in 1569. His will included this direction:
"Before my body is buried I wish my heart to be taken out and sent to England enclosed in a leaden case, to my brother who is my heir, if it can be conveniently and lawfully done, that it may be placed in the tomb of my ancestors, and I wish my heirs to erect some decent monument to me in that same place."
That same place was St. Mary's Church in Denham. There rests Sir Robert's heart.
The Queen drops in
That left George Peckham to be his father's heir of the estate at Denham Place. George followed his father's Catholic religion. He seems to have been a man with no taste for conflict living fairly quietly at Denham Place undisturbed by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth who herself was, at least in the early years of her reign, disposed to be tolerant of her subjects of the Catholic persuasion in the interests of National healing and unity. Indeed as she progressed from Oatlands in Surrey to Chenies Manor, the Queen paused for bed and breakfast with George Peckham at Denham Place on 27th September 1570, and then promptly had him knighted for his hospitality. It was an accommodation obviously approved by George even though the Pope as head of his religion had excommunicated the heretic queen some eight months earlier.
In 1572 Sir George Peckham was appointed to the office of High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. Two years later in 1574 he was one of a group of adventurer financiers who persuaded Elizabeth to fund an expedition to the Americas where George reportedly hoped would provide a safe haven for England's persecuted Catholics. The expedition was however a disastrous failure.
A hotbed of a violent Catholic revival
Quite what happened between Elizabeth and George in the few years following is not readily understood, but it is certain that Elizabeth did not like losing money. In some way or other George became seriously indebted to the Crown.
George was also reputed to have come "under the influence of the Jesuits, so that his house was a recognised centre of Popery” and Denham gained a reputation as a “hotbed of a violent Catholic revival”.
Elizabeth for her part was having increasing difficulties with Catholic rebels and extremists. Her early appeasement of Catholics and the efficiency of her spymasters had ensured her survival but there were several assassination plots by Catholics determined to replaced her with Mary Stuart Queen of Scots who technically had a rather better legal claim to the English throne than Elizabeth herself. Most serious amongst them was the Babington Plot of 1586 led by one Anthony Babington, a Catholic rebel who today would be considered a terrorist. Babington incidentally appears in the ancestry of one of the authors of this article - though sufficiently distant to ensure the absence of renewed regicidal tendencies.
Who then should be found amongst the closest associates of Anthony Babington but one Edmund Peckham, hot-headed son of George named for his more loyal grandfather. It was no doubt young Edmund who invited Babington to Denham Place in 1586 and made sure that the house and estate were made available to host a series of fake exorcisms of devils designed to terrify the local population to abandon their Protestant tendencies and return to the true Catholic religion.
Elizabeth's spymasters and enforcers would have none of this nonsense. The exorcism conspirators were discovered and broken up. Edmund Peckham disappeared from the historical record to an unknown fate. The Queen foreclosed on Denham Place to recover the debts owed to her by Sir George and forced him to withdraw to his lesser estate at Southlands manor. It was reported that he had been "plunged into poverty", though this word was no doubt defined by the labourers of Denham rather differently from the definition it may have had amongst the minor nobility of England to which the Peckhams belonged
Mary Queen of Scots was executed by Elizabeth's much delayed and evidently reluctant order. Babington, the failed assassin, of course suffered the worst of all fates along with his co-conspirators.
All passes to the Bowyers
In 1596, Elizabeth leased Denham Place to Sir William Bowyer who had since 1690 already been the owner of the Denham Court estate to the east of the village. His acquisition of Denham Place effectively bookended the village with Bowyer lands. This Sir William was described as one "whose conduct was more discreet, and whose descendants turned out to be staunch loyalists”. The Bowyer family then held the Denham Place estate for over 70 years until 1670. Sir William was a Member of Parliament in the first Parliament of James I, after he became king following the death of Elizabeth in 1603.
The first Sir William Bowyer died in 1616. His wish ‘to be interred in Denham church in decent manner, without any great pomp, yet seemly for my calling’ was fulfilled. He left bequests to the poor of Denham, Uxbridge, and Westminster, and to the prisoners in Newgate and Aylesbury gaols.
The first Sir William's grandson also called William inherited his grandfather's estates and like him became a Member of Parliament. Throughout the English Civil Wars of the 1640s he kept a low profile and was then identified a supporter of the restoration of the monarchy in the form of Charles II in 1660 for which he was rewarded with a Baronetcy. The family then fell on hard times for members of their class, their expenses of maintaining their estate outstripping their income. Sir William was actually outlawed for debt in 1668 but he was protected from arrest by his status as a royal servant. He was nonetheless then forced to give up Denham Place. It seems that again the estate was subject to a royal foreclosure as it was "the Crown" which was the vendor when Denham Place had a new owner in 1670
Sir Roger unforgotten
Sir Roger Hill's purchase of Denham Place began an era which lasted until 1920. This was a time when no-one was troubled by "cash for honours" Roger Hill acquired his knighthood from King Charles II "after paying his whole fee due unto his Majesty’s servants for his dignity of Knighthood, amounting to the sum of Sixty Nine pounds.”
And so it was, that Roger Hill was “enabled to purchase from the Crown the western portion of the famous Manor of Denham”. The official records recall the earlier history of the property. “It is believed that his [Sir Roger's] first act was to raze to the ground that ancient relic of Popery”.
It was then with meticulous care and accounting that Roger Hill proceeded to design (perhaps with architect William Stanton) and have built – over thirteen years, from 1688 to 1701 – his new home the house that we in Denham know now as Denham Place.
Whilst the new house was under construction Sir Roger Hill occupied a picturesque red-brick dwelling in the village, adjacent to the church. He has not been forgotten. The house still of course bears the name Hills House. This Jacobean residence with its four picturesque Dutch gables stands high, originally enjoying views over meadow land to the River Misbourne.
As originally designed by Sir Roger, the wide doorway of Denham Place Manor was on the west side of the house, opposite to the position it now occupies. From a plan still in existence, it is evident that he intended the house to be approached through a handsome gateway, flanked by columns with statuary, opening on a straight, formal drive through parterres. This scheme, which was in keeping with other designs of the late seventeenth century, was probably carried out - judging from the fragments of masonry, broken capitals, moulding and balustrades found buried in a mound by the lake; - but possibly when this was altered, what the house lost in artificiality, it gained in distinction.
The main body is H-shaped, with the principal wings on the north and south. In the north wing is a spacious drawing-room decorated with elaborate scenes that may have been created by Dutch artists who came over with William of Orange in 1688. There is also an exquisite little chapel, with its antechapel. The south wing includes the library with recessed shelves and carved wainscot in varnished oak. A grand staircase included the arms of the Hills in bold relief.
The outside walls are of red brick with chamfered plinths and rusticated quoins of rubbed brick; the steep-pitched roofs are tiled and have flat tops covered with lead. A wrought-iron balustrade formerly crowned the mansard roof, with alternately semi-circular and pointed pediments to the dormer windows, while the windows themselves were of greater height. Yet although certain structural alterations are to be regretted, to-day the whole conveys an effect of spaciousness and solidity, combined with a great dignity.
Denham Place survives still much as it was built. Around the house were laid out elaborate formal gardens as can be seen in a detailed painting from 1705.
In 1690, when Sir Roger Hill had Denham Avenue constructed, he also had built the brick walls of Denham Place which still enclose the property. The grounds of Denham Place form a private space which has value as a nationally important historic planned landscape. It also acts as a buffer, both visual and aural, against the busy Denham Avenue, contributing to the seclusion and intimacy of the village conservation area.
The laying out of the park and gardens would have removed a section of the medieval tenement plots on the north side of the road and diverted the course of Rectory Lane, which ended abruptly at the western wall of Denham Place. So to facilitate the rector's continued easy access to his church by the shortest route, Sir Roger gave him a personal right-of-way across Denham Place grounds, with a key to the door just south of the old iron bridge.
Sir Roger Hill had actually acquired Denham Place from a friend. Both he and Sir William Bowyer were graduates of Jesus College Cambridge. Sir Roger was also a Member of Parliament though his Parliamentary career did not lead him into high office. On the contrary he was described by a contemporary as ‘a late untoward commoner, who has at all times vented himself most bitterly against the Government’. A firm Protestant he supported the exclusion of Catholics from the throne during the row about the potential accession of James II which ran from 1679 to 1681. He was also suspected of harbouring arms and traitors, though nothing was ever found to substantiate the accusation. He served nonetheless as a Justice of the Peace.
Sir Roger and his wife Abigail spent many peaceful years in their fine Denham Place home. It is recorded that “their union had proved a singularly happy one”. Sir Roger Hill died in Denham at the age of 87. Dame Abigail continued to reside at Denham until her death on August 18, 1737, at the age of 92.
Welcome the Ways, patrons to this day
Next in line of succession to the property was Mrs. Hester Probert, Sir Roger’s eldest daughter, and she being childless, the next heir was her sister, Mrs. Edwin Lockey. She in turn was the mother of Abigail Lockey (nee Abigail Hill) who upon her marriage became the wife of Lewis Way, Esquire of Richmond, a director of the ill-fated and infamous South Seas Company. Abigail had five children, one of whom – Benjamin, born September 18, 1740, was a grand-nephew and devisee of Hester Probert of Denham Place. It was this Benjamin Way who was the first Way to own Denham Place and all that went with it.
The estate remained in the ownership of the Way family from 1757 until 1920. The family's descendant to the present day Mr. John Way is still the Patron of St. Mary's Parish Church
The first Benjamin Way made alterations to the house internally and in 1770 replaced the formal gardens with much more informal landscaping; the canalised river was replaced by a lake and new carriage drives instigated. A chapel was also added to the manor house during the Way family's ownership.The landscaping has been attributed to the most famous of 18th century landscape architects, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown on the basis of a bill dated 1773. The so-called Way Map (not named for the Way family) of 1783 also depicts what appears to be a large farm or manorial complex to the south of the current Denham Place House. The complex contains fishponds, formal gardens and a number of outbuildings including what looks like an octagonal dovecote and a possible mill.
That same map from 1783 shows that Benjamin Way was by far the largest single landowner with over 1,500 acres in the parish. By comparison, the holdings of all the other landowners in the parish put together totalled only 2,149 acres, and of these 646 acres belonged to Sir William Bowyer of Denham Court. Benjamin Way served as Member of Parliament for Bridport for 3 years from 1765 to 1768, though his Parliamentary career was anything but spectacular, indeed close to dormant. Benjamin and his male descendants, military men, rectors of St. Mary's and sheriffs of the County remained as lords of the manor of Denham for a century and a half.
The Way family’s connection with Denham Place was finally severed when the house was sold in 1920.
King of Naples and of Spain
But the Ways' occupancy of Denham Place was not continuous throughout that period. There is another story of a famous occupant.
The first Benjamin Way's son, also called Benjamin died in 1834. His son a third Benjamin was not in residence and this Benjamin's brother Henry was serving as the rector at St. Mary's and living in The Rectory. Denham Place was let to a tenant, none other than the self styled Comte de Survilliers, otherwise known as Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Napoleon and at one time his brother's puppet King of Naples and of Spain.
Joseph Bonaparte vacated the tenancy in 1838 but the Ways did not then return. The name of Denham Place was temporarily changed to Denham Park and it became an "asylum", a refuge for mentally ill members of gentry families and by repute a little more enlightened establishment than was common in the early Victorian age. However after a tragic suicide the asylum was closed and the Ways returned to their ancestral home.
By 1845 an estate sale catalogue shows that the Ways had built up a considerable landholding in Denham parish with other properties in Uxbridge and Greenford. They owned several cottages and shops, Hills House, the Falcon, Wrango, the Old Cottage and the water-meadows. It may also have been the owners of Denham Place who were responsible for the development of larger houses, which probably replaced earlier cottages.
Baron Van the diplomat
Denham Place estate was sold by auction to Basil Fothergill of the family of ironmasters in 1920 and then to Sir Robert Vansittart in 1930 following Basil's death in 1929. For the previous two years Robert had been Principal Private Secretary first to Prime Minster Stanley Baldwin and then to his successor Ramsey Macdonald. Shortly before his arrival in Denham he was appointed Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, where he supervised the work of Britain's diplomatic service. He is recognised as one of the earliest to recognise the threat posed by Hitler to peace in Europe. On 3rd July 1941 Sir Robert became the first Baron Vansittart, of Denham in the County of Buckingham. His wife Sarita, daughter of the explorer and sculptor Herbert Ward is still fondly remembered by Kate Ashbrook who, when she lived at Wrango as a child, knew her as Lady Van.
007 Denham Place
In 1969 the co-producer of nine of the early James Bond pictures, Harry Saltzman bought Denham Place. Some say he never lived there and that the house fell into decay. Others say that he spent most of his time in Denham. A third version is that Saltzman had the intention of turning the mansion into a residence for film stars, producers and directors whilst they were working at Pinewood. What is clear is that Saltzman overreached himself financially and he sold Denham Place in 1977 and it was converted to offices to house the international operations centre of the tobacco company Rothmans. It has since been returned to private ownership.
Although the Bowyers sold the Denham Place manor in 1670, their continued ownership of the Denham Court estate until 1813 influenced the development of Denham. The village was, in effect, ‘book-ended’ by the estates of Denham Place to the west and Denham Court to the east with the Bowyer family also owning the home farm (on the site of Court Farm) and the corn mill opposite The Priory. The second Sir William Bowyer in residence at Denham Court in the 1690s was a good friend and patron of the poet John Dryden who was frequently entertained at the Court. Dryden described it as "one of the most delicious spots of ground in England".
The patronage of the Bowyer family also led to the building and endowment of the Bowyer Charity School in 1721 (marked by a plaque on the building, now Bowyer House) and the erection of the Priory in 1789 as the village poor house.
Denham Court too reputedly had a royal visitor, though in far less settled circumstances than those of Elizabeth I or Joseph Bonaparte. It is claimed that the firmly Royalist Bowyers briefly provided refuge to the young Prince Charles (later King Charles II) at some time during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. The claim is not sustained by the facts known about the young prince's flight from his Parliamentary pursuers in 1651, but the legend subsists. It may refer to an incident early in the 1640s.
The Bowyer connection to Denham ceased when the Denham Court estate was sold in 1813. Nonetheless as shown by a 1843 "Tithe Award" the estate remained largely intact under a single ownership - that of London merchant and banker Thomas Hamlet. He was identified as one of the two major landowners in the village and still in ownership of the mill. Hamlet went bankrupt in !840 and was succeeded by another Member of Parliament, the Liberal Party politician, Nathaniel Grace Lambert.
In the 20th century Denham Court was eventually broken up, but the house itself and much of the surrounding parkland remained in the ownership of significant figures. In the early 20th century its owner was Commander Harold William Swithinbank a British veterinarian, Governor of the Royal Agricultural Society and Vice President of the Royal Veterinary College. His wife, born Amy Eno was the daughter of James Crossley Eno, famed for Eno's Liver Salts.
Commander Swithinbank was a staunch Tory who hosted several social and political events for the Conservative Party at Denham Court, but after his death in 1928 and until the Court was acquired by the Middlesex County Council in 1936, many visitors to Denham Court were of a different persuasion. Harold and Amy's daughter Isobel married Sir Stafford Cripps (shown here), socialist and leading Labour Party politician who was later to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in the post World War II Labour Government.
In the ownership of the Middlesex County Council, the Court served as a children's home and a remand home. The park has of course now been converted into Buckinghamshire Golf Course and the Denham Country Park, thereby preserving the open spaces which give the conservation area its rural setting. The house has become the golf clubhouse.
The Lea and Savay Farm
Out to the east of the Denham Country Park across the land which has recently revealed later prehistoric and Roman-British agricultural workings is The Lea, which also served as a children's home in the early 1950s. Its previous owner was William Crosbie Gilbey, brother of Sir Walter and Alfred Gilbey founders of the wine and spirits business who gave their name to the famous range of Gilbey gins.
Across Denham is Savay or Savoy Farm, the 1930s home of Sir Oswald Mosley. Mosley was first elected in 1918 as a Conservative MP. Two years later he was sitting as an Independent and succeeded in retaining his seat in Parliament in both the 1922 and 1923 elections. However by 1924 he had joined the Labour Party.
He then lost his seat in Birmingham Ladywood to the later Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain but regained a seat in Smethwick for Labour in 1926 and was elevated to a ministerial role as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Labour Government elected in 1929.
Whilst in this role Mosley wrote an economic policy document which came to be called the Mosley Memorandum. It was described as "brilliant" in the years after his death but was flatly rejected by his colleagues when first published. Disillusioned, Mosley quit the Labour Party and on 29th February 1931, standing in the garden of Savay Farm, Mosley announced the establishment of The New Party with policies based on his Memorandum.
This was when Mosley began to drift towards fascism. He toured Europe learning about this new political creed and on returning to Britain in 1932 founded the British Union of Fascists.
In 1920, Mosley had married Lady Cynthia "Cimmie" Curzon, second daughter of the 1st Earl Curzon of Kedleston, former Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary at the time of his daughter's marriage . Tragically Cimmie died in 1933. She is buried in Denham churchyard. The inscription on her headstone reveals Sir Oswald as bereft - though he had quite a reputation as a philanderer and he was not without a mistress, or several including Diana, one of the notorious Mitford sisters. He and Diana were married on 6th October 1936 in the Berlin home of Germany's Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Their guest of honour was Adolf Hitler.
It was obviously not the Mosleys first meeting with Hitler. Diana's sister Unity was obsessed with the German dictator and had become quite close to him. As for Sir Oswald's relationship with Hitler, the Denham Village newsagent Valerie Evans always maintained that as a little girl she had seen Mosley with Hitler strolling down Village Road on their way to The Swan. The current owner of Savay Farm is in no doubt that the story is true.
The oldest still existing construction in the village is that part of The Old Bakery which was retained through the reconstruction in the 1950s. The oldest house house still visible from the outside is believed to be Old Cottage. This cottage was part of the Denham Place Estate, occupied by tenants until 2006 when the present owners purchased the property.
Where timber-frames remain exposed they have an immediate visual impact in the street scene and make a significant contribution to the picturesque quality and aura of antiquity present in the village. Buildings in this same category include also Misbourne Cottage, Blacksmiths, and Fayrstede. Of course, if renovations and alterations have been sympathetic, the visual impact remains largely intact.
Misbourne Cottage has a special place in fiction as well as fact. It was the first home in Denham of Sir John and Lady Mills and their daughters Hayley and Juliet, Regular visitors there included David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Richard Attenborough and many other of Sir John and Lady Mills' friends from stage and screen. In film fiction it was the home of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple as played by Margaret Rutherford in four films three of which were only loosely based on Agatha Christie's crime novels. The village itself became Milchester for the purpose of the films.
Wrango (or sometimes Wrango Hall) is often referred to in early maps as “a gentleman’s residence set back on a slight bend in the road and in a spacious plot”. It is thought to be an early 18th century re-development following the demolition of smaller cottages on a small estate which even in the time of King Henry VIII had the name of Wrango or Rango. For a while in the 1860s and '70s Wrango served as a home for St. Mary's curate, Charles Joyce. By 1911 it was the home of Neville Leckonby Phipps, leading engineer for the Great West Railway.
To the east of Wrango the tighter rhythm of dwellings re-asserts itself with White Cottage and Fayrstede set up against the road and close together. The plaque on the wall of The White Cottage identifies it as the home in the 1890s of the artists Sir William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde and the birthplace of their artist son Ben Nicholson.
Opposite the church is the White House, another gentleman’s residence with 18th century origins, now much extended. Set in spacious landscaped grounds next to the River Misbourne, it is highly picturesque. The property was originally known as Denham Cottage, then later as "Brook" then later again after extensions, as The Cedars in a meadow called Four-Acre Mead. Though the name of the main house has changed, the reference to cedars continues in the names of Cedar Cottage and Cedar Tree Cottage across Village Road. Once, together with The Cedars, these cottages formed part of the Way family estate. A Grade II listed high brick wall still surrounds the outer edge of the White House.
Hills House is set at an angle to the north leaving a space in front of the churchyard gate. This was the house occupied by Sir Roger Hill whilst Denham Place mansion was being built between 1688 and 1701. Hence its name. It has had many well-known residents since including movie mogul Alexander Korda and his wife the actress Merle Oberon. Hills House was also the second home in Denham of Sir John and Lady Mills, both of whom were very much part of the village community. Each year for example they turned out to sell tickets on the bottle stall at the Village Fayre. In his 90s Sir John's sight was failing and he appeared quite frail ... until someone switched on a camera and then he was once again a performer, the mark of a great actor.
Early postcards describe the junction of the former Church Road as the eastern entrance to the village, leaving the road past the former mill and farm buildings to provide a very rural approach. Historically there was denser development around the church with buildings next to Cedar Tree Cottage and in the churchyard itself on a road with the name Church Road. These dwellings on Church Road were demolished at some time in the 1890s and seem to have taken the name of the road with them.
Summerfield, on Village Road next to The White House is a 20th century building in a Georgian style but appropriate to a village setting. Summerfield has a particularly interesting roofscape seen from the churchyard.
The Priory on Old Mill Road, is another property of distinction from the 18th Century. With its eastern property boundary near the River Misbourne, the Priory was actually first built in 1789 as the village poor house and accommodation for the Overseer of the Poor. The origin of its name is far from clear. Likewise the names Priory Covert, the field with the magnificent oak tree next to The Priory itself, and Priory Close further up Old Mill Road. The implication is that at some time long ago, presumably when the Abbey of Westminster owned the village lands, there was a small monastery or nunnery in the area. Perhaps it fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries in the time of Henry VIII.
Sir William Bowyer had agreed to build the house to accommodate the village’s deserving poor and their warden. There is a story, perhaps a myth, that the deal was agreed following a vestry meeting at the Swan Inn, during which Sir William was plied with copious quantities of wine. However, when he later tried to withdraw his gift to placate his outraged wife worrying about the family's finances, he was told in no uncertain manner that the residents of the parish would take a dim of view of any such action. Sir William ignored his lady wife and gave in to the parish.
Some 125 years after its initial construction, the Priory reverted to the owners of Denham Court. For a while then it passed into the ownership of the Great Western Railway Company and subsequently became the home of the rector of St. Mary's from 1945 until 1960 when a new rectory was built on Ashmead Lane. Then in 1989, with its Dutch gabling (added in the 1930s) and its immaculate gardens on the banks of the River Misbourne, the property was bought by the film producer and director Norman Gerard. He transformed it into an enchanting family home. It is still in private ownership; an annexe has been added and the gardens expanded.
The Bacon influence
Francis Bacon was born in Hampshire on 18th November 1882. It is thought that he could trace his ancestry back to the Elizabethan philosopher and statesman, also Francis Bacon. But it was not in Hampshire that Francis exerted his greatest influence in the 20th century. He was an architect and much of what we see every day in and around the village is of his design. He was the architect of the Village Hall and of the war memorial in St. Mary's churchyard. Houses on Ashmead lane where he lived owe their design to Francis Bacon. Swandane on the eastern corner of Ashmead Lane built in a Georgian style is believed to have been designed by him as are the reconstructed Dutch Gable ends of Wellers Mead, the Mill House and The Priory
He even gave his name to Baconsmead with its eight houses in laid out pairs fronting other houses including Cherry Tree Cottage most of which past into the ownership of Francis Bacon's descendants until sold on to their present owners.
Opposite Baconsmead, at the boundary of the village conservation area are the Blackbarn Cottages built in 1894 with their arts and crafts styling to rehouse farmworkers from Andrews Farm. These cottages exhibit some of the characteristics of the older village cottages, such as dormers and gauged brickwork, but with late 19th century detailing such as applied timbering, ridge crests and gabled porches.
Denham's association with great national events and the people who participated in them is perhaps not limited to the houses of the wealthy and famous. Opposite Priory Covert and to the north of Swandane is a field thought to be linked to England's brief interlude of republicanism in the mid-17th century.
In 1645 as the first of the English Civil Wars between the Royalist army of Charles I and the Parliamentary army raged, an attempt was made to negotiate a settlement. The venue for the negotiations was the Crown and Treaty pub on Oxford Road in Uxbridge. The two armies stood apart from each other eyeing their opponents suspiciously and ready to join battle at the first hint of any breach of a temporary truce. The Royalist army stood to the south of the town, the Parliamentary army to the north, reputedly on that field opposite Priory Covert. A few metal detector expeditions have given a little support to the legend.
The man who became Sir Alexander Korda was born Sándor László Kellner in Hungary on 16th September 1893. As Alexander Korda he became a film director, producer and screenwriter. He was based in Hollywood from 1926 to 1930 but then came to Britain where he developed his ambition to create a British Hollywood. He chose as the site for his studios a 165-acre site known as 'The Fisheries' in Denham.
By 1936 his dream had been realised - though sadly it was not to last. The early successes of Denham Film Studios home of Korda's London Films were tarnished by the outbreak of war in 1939 and in the post war years by competition from J. Arthur Rank's Pinewood Studios. Denham Film Studios ceased to operate as a major film production centre in 1954. Most of the studio buildings were demolished in 1981.
The housing complex which has been built on the site retains the name of the Denham Film Studios and its streets pay homage to the leading stars, directors and producers who were in some way connected to the studios.
They were many and they were joined by others involved in the film TV and entertainment industries. A few of them have been mentioned already. Korda himself owned and lived with his wife Merle Oberon at Hills House. Sir John and Lady Mills lived there too with their daughters, Hayley and Juliet. The co-producer of the James Bond films, Harry Saltzman owned Denham Place and producer Norman Gerard was at The Priory
Less well known residents of Hills House included theatre and film producer Ethel Linder Reiner and her film director husband Peter Bezencenet. David Lean, perhaps the greatest of Britain's film directors of the mid 20th century, relaxed by tending his garden at Melgan Cottage where he lived with his wife the actress Kay Walsh. Producer Stanley Long was at the 17th century cottage Fayrstede until his death in 2012. Fayrstede also provided a temporary home for stars working at Pinewood, often in secret to keep them away from the prying eyes and intrusive cameras of the press.
Though the official record says otherwise, Marilyn Monroe is reported to have had such confidential accommodation at Fayrstede whilst making The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier in 1956. Singer Dusty Springfield is understood to have hidden from unwanted publicity at Yew Tree Cottage in the 1970s. Even Fayrstede's garage has a claim to fame as it has provided the setting for Terry Johnson's play about film cameraman Jack Cardiff, Prism.
Denham of course has its celebrities of more recent and indeed current residence. Respect for their privacy and that of their homes and former homes denies them a mention by name so that they and their their successors may enjoy life in our community away from the glare of publicity to which they exposed in their working lives.
Stafford Cripps - Yousuf Karsh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Other photos in public domain from Wikimedia Commons Images
House and Heritage 2018
Denham Place Estate Sale Catalogue 10th July, 1968 John D. Wood & Co. and Taylor and Tester
Copies of legal papers from Old Cottage, Denham Village, shared by current owners
Hazel M. Harries (1998), One Thousand Years in a Village Church: The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Denham, The Pentland Press Limited, Durham..
Pevsner, N. & Williamson, E. (1994), The Buildings of England, London.
The Tatler “Diplomat/Dramatist at Home”, Wednesday 14 February 1940.
South Bucks District Council, Denham Conservation Area Character Appraisal, Denham Character Appraisal, 2008) https://www.southbucks.gov.uk/media/10624/Denham-Character -Appraisal/pdf/Denham_Character_Appraisal.pdf?m=6363475591406700
“Denham Before Doomsday” Colin Le Mesurier (Denham News February, 1974)
A.M.W.Stirling (1930), The Ways of Yesterday: Being Chronicles of the Way Family 1307-1885 - G007443.pdf (seekingmyroots.com)
Rev. R.H.Lathbury, M.A., Rector (1904), The History of Denham, Bucks (In Diocese of Oxford since A.D. 1845, prior to that in Diocese of Lincoln), Lucy & Birch, 45 High Street, Uxbridge
Knight Frank sale brochure of The Priory, Old Mill Road, Denham Village, Buckinghamshire.
Correspondence from and interview with Gerard Norman Gerard, 25 July 2019.
Wikimedia Commons Images