From Bronsdon to Bellringer
This month's guest contributor is well known in Denham Village. Ann Collins belongs to a family that has been part of the village's history for nigh on a century and a half and Ann herself continues to be a major contributor to village life. We’re very indebted to Ann for a huge amount of help she has given us since we started telling Denham history tales in 2019. Now it’s Ann’s turn to tell some of her own story.
Daniel Bronsdon moved to Denham in the 1800s from Kintbury Wiltshire – to the now renowned murder cottage at the top of Cheapside Lane known formerly as Marshalls Cottage, but latterly as Orchard Farm. He had four sons who sadly did not produce any male heirs so the Bronsdon name died out, but in later years, Bronsdon Way flats were built where the farm stood.
The only fact recorded about Daniel was that he taught carpentry and woodwork to the two sons of Lord and Lady Harewood and the wonderful pieces of furniture inside the cottage certainly reflected this talent. He was farm manager for the Mortens at Savoy Farm (note the correct spelling – the house was once connected to the hospital of the Savoy Hotel in London and I was told that lazy pronunciation over the years by the locals the name now is Savay). Later on Daniel became landlord of the Green Man public house in the village before taking over Orchard Farm in Cheapside Lane. His eldest son (christened Augustus Eugene but always known affectionately as Gus) was my Grandfather and he took over the running of the farmland which extended both to orchards on the Oxford Road and Cheapside Lane.
It was mainly a dairy farm and during the day the cows were kept in the field belonging to the White House at the opening of Ashmead Lane. Morning and evening they were brought up for milking. Eventually the Bronsdons were able to purchase the estate but between the wars paying for it was an uphill struggle as agriculture was hard and competition fierce.
Gus was churchwarden at St. Mary’s Church and Captain of the Bell ringers for 46 years and this Illuminated Address and Grandfather Clock were presented to him by the congregation in recognition of his service when he retired. (pictures!) He was a well respected man with a strong Christian faith, and from all the frivolous rhymes (none now remembered) written by friends and family in my autograph book as a child, I recall that he wrote “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth”.
I was so very proud (and still have the church magazine) to read the tribute that was paid to him at the end of his life by Major Way, his fellow church warden at that time, who wrote: “The qualities of a good man never die but live on in his children – here in Denham we can say this is indeed so”. His one daughter Mary (my mother) sang in the choir for most of her life; rang the church bells, was the leader of the Mothers Union in Denham and for many years organised the village fayre. She was loved by all.
Marshalls Cottage and the small village of Denham made national history when a travelling blacksmith John Jones descended on the building in May 1870 and cruelly murdered Emanuel Marshall, his wife Charlotte, his mother, sister and three children with a hammer . One child Francis, who was not living there on the day was the only survivor.
My mother Mary (like me) was probably not told of the terrible history of the cottage for she always claimed that she had a most happy childhood and teenage years there, but sadly due to disrepair the land was eventually sold and the cottage pulled down.
The church bells
The bells (originally five) were brought to Denham by Sir Robert Peckham from Biddlesden Abbey Bucks following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. In 1683 they were recast into a ring of eight. They were originally hung on wooden timbers, but in 1947 dry rot was found on the timbers and the No.4 bell was seriously cracked. The entire set had to be retuned and hung on a steel frame. Major Way paid for the work as a thanksgiving for the return of his two sons from the world war. No.4 bell had to be re-cast and is inscribed: - “James Bartlett made me in 1683; Recast 1947. Rector C.E.M.Roderick. Churchwardens R.H.Way and A.E. Bronsdon.
The bells are said to be the finest in Bucks and the eight gentlemen ringers once again returned to their craft every Sunday for morning and evening services. Each person had their own bell – they never appeared to be absent due to illness, holidays etc., but eventually age took its toll and it was clear that in order to keep the bells ringing a campaign to teach others would be needed. Both my mother Mary, brother Derek, his fiancé Marie Sheldrake and myself were among those recruited. The bells were rung on the ground floor inside the main church door and this area also is where the choir kept their robes and prepared for the services. In 1984 the organ was replaced and my husband Bernard, along with a group of helpers built a flight of stairs, a new floor and a balcony. Here the ringers could have their own space but still be part of the church.
Bell ringing is a great form of exercise and the various methods of change ringing can lead to a lifetime of learning. New ringers and learners are always needed and made very welcome at St. Mary’s.
Photos by Ann Collins and John Hawkins