From Shanks’ Pony to High-Speed Rail
Lying approximately twenty miles from the heart of London, the village of Denham has been affected both positively and negatively by technological advances in the field of transport. Although the village is an oasis lying in-between major arterial routes, it does benefit from access to the capital city and other major places. Those benefits have not always convinced the village’s population over the years of the need for the upheaval that usually accompanies major environmental change but progress and development planning continues its forward march.
So here we take a look at how Denham residents went to and from Denham from the late 19th to the late 20th century. Once again we are grateful to those villagers with long memories of the type of transport they and others experienced as Denham residents and we have been delighted to add some of their stories alongside our own research.
Carriages, carts and horse drawn trams
In the Denham News edition of May 2000, Madelene Paton submitted an article written by her mother, Madelene Bacon, about life in Denham in 1912 as a young newly-wed. Among other aspects she recalls the means of transport available to her and her husband.
“At that time there was only a lane from the station to the village just wide enough for two carriages to pass.
“The only means of transport besides bicycles was a wagonette hired out by Morgan at the Plough. Its other use was as a fowl house and I remember eggs rolling about our feet when one night driving out to a dance.
The only sewage disposal was by cess-pit occasionally emptied at dead of night by Bronsdon with water-cart and horse. The Rector Mr. Lathbury drove round the parish in a dog-cart and Mrs. Goodlake of the Fisheries drove a Victoria Carriage. My husband rode his cycle to the station and the schoolboys could not resist the temptation of greeting him with “Good morning Mr. Rashers.”
“The road from Denham to Uxbridge was hardly more than a muddy lane arched over with elms. When our cottage was built, my fiancée and I used to come down from London to Uxbridge by horse tram, then walk.”
The Victoria carriage, the type ridden in by Mrs. Goodlake, was very popular with wealthy families. Pulled along by one or two horses, it had a box-seat at the front for the coachman and two forward facing seats for passengers. It was particularly fashionable for ladies riding in a park with a stylish coachman. It was even better if there were two coachmen who matched in height and colouring.
As more befitted his calling, the Reverend Lathbury's means of transport was rather less comfortable and less prestigious as he drove through the village in his Victorian Dog Cart.
As for the wagonette, hired out from "Morgan" at The Plough this was a small horse-drawn carriage with two benches either side of the carriage so that passengers faced each other. The driver had a separate front-facing seat. Though Madelene Bacon placed "Morgan" at the Plough (most recently The King on Cheapside Lane), no doubt this was Joseph Morgan, the dairyman, who clearly had a lucrative sideline in vehicle hire, though as Madelene records, not always well cleaned out for the occasion.
Villagers who wanted to travel to the village from further afield might well have been able to go by horse tram of the kind that Madelene Bacon used to take from London to Uxbridge. Originally used for freight services and started by the Swansea and Mumbles Railway in Wales, they were adapted for passengers in 1807. It was many years before they were acceptable elsewhere as laying tracks damaged the roads. Wikipedia tells us, “ An 1870 Act of Parliament overcame these legal obstacles by defining responsibilities and for the next three decades many local tramway companies were founded, using horse-drawn carriages, until replaced by cable, steam or electric traction. Many companies adopted a design of a partly enclosed double-decker carriage hauled by two horses. The last horse-drawn tram was retired from London in 1915.”
Madelene Bacon's grandson Mac Paton didn't bother with the carriage. For him it was just the horse "We had two horses in a paddock. They were called Whisper and Echo and had been bought from the New Forest. We rode around the grounds and played Cowboys and Indians on them. When we rode out in the lanes, my mother would be on a pedal bike hanging on to the reins. The horses would set off galloping meaning she didn’t have to pedal, just lean in and hang on to the reins. Iris, who helped my mother a lot, was on the other bike with the other horse’s reins. I can recall the wonderful autumnal smell and being covered in mud during those rides in Lea Drive. Even today that smell takes me right back to those rides."
John Hawkins, Guest contributor
John Hawkins has been a great help throughout our work on the social and community history of Denham and particularly on the subject of transport as he wrote a booklet on the topic for his grand-daughters. He has kindly allowed us to use some of the material from his work. He is a guest contributor throughout this post.
“When looking back, I can’t help but think just how fortunate we were to live in Denham with regard to being able to get around. Here at the foot of Red Hill, we had not only easy bus access to practically anywhere, not just locally but to High Wycombe, Watford, Slough and Windsor, Heathrow, West and Central London.
We could cycle to London Airport, which we did. We could catch a steam train from Denham Station to take us to London Marylebone main line, which we did. In Uxbridge we had the Metropolitan and Piccadilly Line electric trains going right through to all the main overground and underground stations in London.
My first memories of the Tube Station would be around 1947. My mum and I would catch a Piccadilly Line electric tube train to Turnpike Lane station to visit relatives.”
“My first memories of transport available to Denham residents go back to around 1949. My mum had booked two theatre tickets for us to go and see a musical in London called ‘The White Horse Inn.’ I can only recall one scene. This was the main character played by the popular Irish tenor, Josef Locke, singing ‘Goodbye, Goodbye’ as he marched around the stage saluting as he went, with a blood stained bandage around his head.
Anyway, we caught a Green Line coach from Denham, Oxford Road, up to Victoria, doing the same in reverse to return home. One other thing I remember of that trip to London, which was among my first, I was feeling quite tired afterwards when we boarded the coach and it was late, for me anyway, we found a seat mid way and it was lovely and warm inside and pretty soon I fell asleep, not knowing much until the coach stop in Denham. Both coach stops, there and back, were a short walk from the house. Green Lines were great and they had their own designated stops, so they weren’t continually stopping and starting as much as the ordinary buses had to, so were much quicker and, by the way, far more comfortable. We had the choice of three to choose from. The 709 to Godstone, the 710 to Crawley and the 711 which terminated at Reigate. All three passed through Denham on their way up to London and then onward to their final destinations.
The electric trolley buses were no surprise to me growing up. There seemed to be too many of them sometimes! They were very quiet and could accelerate quite quickly. I think the problem was that there was no way of them overtaking each other. The overhead power lines were ‘one way up’ and ‘one way down’, so if there was a hold up anywhere they followed each other all the way along to Shepherds Bush or back to Uxbridge.
The local buses into Uxbridge also came into use while we were at school. One morning each week during Spring, if I remember correctly and early Autumn, was the trip to Uxbridge swimming pool. The outdoor, unheated pool was situated about a mile from the Bus Station, where we would get off. It was something we all looked forward to when the weather was warm, and a ‘free’ morning, or most of it, it was an enjoyable non-lesson.”
Traffic Congestion and Motorways
Drive through the village any day of the week and you are likely to be greeted by cars and vans lining one and sometimes both sides of the road as people park to walk to the train station, walk across to the Country Park, visit the pubs and restaurant or simply for inhabitants to have somewhere for their own vehicle. There is rarely a time when driving through doesn’t involve reversing at some point to allow another car through and is a great source of annoyance to residents as well as visitors.
This is not new as it seems that since the arrival of motorised vehicles congestion in and around Denham has been an issue. In October 1936, The Bucks Advertiser and Gazette published an item on "Traffic Congestion".
“A motorist writes: “Now that the work of cable-laying has proceeded over the bridge on the Denham road, the need for more effective traffic control is most marked. On Sunday afternoon thousands of cars passed along the road, and during the afternoon the ‘hold-up’ was most trying and could have been avoided. The line of cars stretched from the Dog and Duck to beyond the AA box, and many were the drivers who were anxious to know the cause of the long delay. We all know that it is necessary to wait but had the traffic been better controlled, the line of cars would not have been nearly so long: there were at least one hundred and fifty to two hundred”
To ease congestion generally but especially on local roads, motorways were built. Denham has had its fair share with the building of both the M40 and then the M25.
The first section of the M40 motorway between London and Oxford was opened in June 1967, from Handy Cross roundabout, High Wycombe to Stokenchurch. In 1969, it was extended back to Denham via Holtspur, Beaconsfield where a temporary junction 2 was opened,. The section bypassing Beaconsfield was built in 1971 and the section past Gerrards Cross to junction 1 at Denham was completed in 1973. Prior to this the complex Denham roundabout was created to alleviate some of the traffic pressure. However, according to the Bucks Advertiser in 1972, there were still frustrating delays for traffic wishing to turn off the A40 onto the North Orbital. Sound familiar ?
The picture shows the first concrete spans being put into position at the Denham Roundabout for the beginnings of the M40. This caused major traffic management issues for the police despite radio warnings to avoid the area. Delays were reported by the Advertiser as averaging 20 minutes on major roads approaching the roundabout.
To make way for the M40, eleven smallholders lost their homes and their livelihoods. They were all tenants of the Greater London Council and were aware for some years that they would have to go, although the Buckinghamshire Advertiser August 19th 1971 describes a flurry at the end with little time to leave. Mr and Mrs Yates of Southlands Road moved to a flat in Denham Green, mourning the loss of their one acre to be replaced by a simple window box.
Not everyone was unhappy about the change. The Mundens family moved to another, larger smallholding in Field Road and Tom Munden was able to accommodate 6,000 chickens on his new site after he had had to slaughter those he kept in Southlands Road. His only regret was there would be no passing trade for eggs at his new place.
Those who were allowed to stay such as pig farmer, Terence Pomeroy, feared they would lose most of their gate trade with the change in their environments and road closures.
Then came the M25. An orbital road around London was first suggested as long ago as 1913 and a serious plan was drawn up as early as 1944 as government began to imagine post war reconstruction. But the suggested routes ran into enormous opposition from the urban and rural communities which they would overrun. That was no less the case in Denham. There were actually five different routes proposed for the stretch of the M25 running through or near to Denham. This came down to two, the blue route and the red route, the latter running through Denham Green and on the outskirts of the village. The Buckinghamshire Advertiser of November 11th 1976, reported on various communities in South Bucks making their feelings known. “The Chairman of Denham Parish Council, Mrs Margaret Tindall said she sympathised with people living near the planned route who will have to wait another year before knowing if they are affected. ‘Until we have a line order and a side road order, we still have no more definite indication where the road is going’ she said. ‘We have a year of these people being without any more adequate information and it is an enormous worry’”
The clear preference of most Denham residents for the blue route set the parish at odds with Gerrards Cross, though this was the Department of Transport's own preferred route. The Gerrards Cross Parish Council spent thousands of pounds fighting for the more easterly red route to take the motorway outside its parish. Denham Parish Council fought hard against this proposal which would have cut Denham Green off from the rest of the Denham parish. In its supplement on the M25, the Buckinghamshire Advertiser, of October 18, 1979, reporting on the planning enquiry into the two routes records -
“The Department of Transport’s route is the ‘least unacceptable’ and ‘the best of a lousy lot’ as far as Denham is concerned. Denham Parish Council wants the M25 to be built quickly to relieve the heavy traffic on the A412 North Orbital Road. It is opposing the Iver Heath diversion because this takes the road nearer Denham and the Gerrards Cross ‘further east’ alternative, saying it will affect more people than the department’s proposed route. The Parish Council has spent a lot of money on noise studies as part of an effort to minimise the environmental effects of the department’s route. Mr Raymond Tetlow is the lawyer speaking for Denham at the inquiry. Council chairman Cllr Margaret Tindall will be called as a witness.”
The "blue route" won, pleasing some of Denham's notable and newsworthy residents. The Advertiser reported, “Among the people who welcomed the announcement of the blue route are celebrities living in Denham. A proposed red route would have gone straight through their properties. Mr Bobby Willis, husband and manager to Cilla Black said, ‘I am very delighted to hear the news, I just don’t know what we would have done next.’ And film star Roger Moore’s wife, Louisa said, ‘I am most delighted about the route, not only for myself but for everybody who lives round here.’ "
Local estate agents such as Trevor Kent and Peter Lomas of A.C. Frost claimed the new motorway would eventually raise property values suggesting it would be close enough to be an asset yet far enough away not to cause noise nuisance. Work began in 1980.
As for the studies on the minimisation of noise, more recent arrivals as residents of the village say they notice noise from both the M40 and M25 motorways, and have sought advice from longer standing residents on how best to ignore it.
Memories from contributors
Ann Collins: “The Great Western Railway first opened in 1907 from Uxbridge to Denham. The line was eventually re-organised as The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and was the second largest of the "Big Four" railway companies created by the 1921 Railways Act in Britain. It operated from 1 January 1923 until nationalisation on January 1, 1948, then British Rail privatised this in the 1960’s. My uncle – Percy Coleman (who also lived in Cheapside Lane) worked the signal box at Denham station until June 1975.”
Here Denham Station is seen under construction in 1906 - still recognisable.
Jessie Simms: “My sister, Jean was a real bookworm, and when she won a scholarship to Wycombe High School for Girls, it opened up a new world for Jim and me. Jean brought home marvellous books and encyclopaedias from the school library and introduced the family to painting and design.
Jean had to go to school by train from Denham Station to High Wycombe and from there, walk half-way up Amersham Hill, so it was quite a long journey. Alexander bought her a bicycle so that she could cycle to the station. She would go down the Lea drive, by the Lambert Arms towards where the Country Park is now situated and turn left just before the river and up the track to Village Road, coming out opposite Ashmead Lane, which in those days was known as Back Lane. She would then go up through the Village and along the Pyghtle, leaving her bicycle at the Davidson’s bungalow, which was just below the railway embankment. They would look after bicycles for a small charge. Mr. Davidson was an A.A. Patrolman, with motorbike and sidecar.”
John Hawkins:“Like most boys back then, between 10-14, we became train and plane spotters. W H Smith, the stationers and other book shops, would stock these train spotters’ books, they were produced in Regions, i.e. Western Region, Southern Region, etc. They would list all the locomotives operating in that region with their numbers, names, shed information and a lot of photos. We would end our spotting day at home, neatly underlining what we had seen that day. Denham was classified in the Great Western Region, all engines had the GWR crest imprinted somewhere on its body, usually the cab. Being able to catch a train from Denham up to Marylebone then walk or catch a short bus ride to Euston, Victoria, Kings Cross, Waterloo, Paddington was a great way to spend our summer holidays. We could also spot a lot of engines at Denham itself as they went through.
The big one to one to try to spot every evening was the Master Cutler express from Sheffield through to Marylebone. This train would have a different engine pulling it most evenings, usually by an A3 Gresley 4-6-2 Pacific. It would come through Denham station at great speed at around 6.15 every evening. On one occasion I was late leaving home on my bike and I heard it’s whistle blow when I was just entering the Pyghtle, a path in the village through the fields, that leads up to the station and I missed it. The noise it made going through with the whistle screaming, even though I was about a quarter of a mile away was unforgettable. Most nights I got it though. My mum would usually remind me, ‘It’s Master Cutler time John’.”
“A train spotters dream come true! This photo shows an LNER 4-6-2 Gresley A4 locomotive (left) about to be hooked up to an LNER 4-6-2 Gresley A3 to form a double-headed ‘Flying Scotsman’”
“We used public transport as children or cycled or walked. When I first started work in Paddington as a shorthand typist for British Railways, as it was then called, I travelled by steam train from Denham. I can remember knitting on the train, imagine that now! It wasn't long before diesel trains were introduced. Our department was responsible for the Royal train. On many occasions I had a very close view of the Queen when she travelled via Paddington and she was simply beautiful.”
If you’re looking for a different place for a coffee, snack, lunch or breakfast and it’s a fine day why not pop up to the Denham Aerodrome and visit the Crew Room Cafe. Sit in the sunshine with your choice of food or drink and watch the small aircraft take off and land. It’s a fairly new operation opening its doors from 10am to 4pm every day except Monday. There is a carpark close by as well as a woodland walk and a monument to the airmen.
The aerodrome itself is not so new and although met with opposition when it was first built, it has been an important part of Denham since a certain Wing Commander John Myles Bickerton, an ophthalmic surgeon, purchased a field from Major Gerald Way to establish an aerodrome. The Bickerton family are still the owners through Bickertons Aerodrome Ltd.
This part of Denham has been engaged in flying aeroplanes since almost the start of powered flight aviation after the Wright Brothers succeeded in controlling a powered aircraft in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. At the start of the First World War, in 1914, members of the Royal Flying Corps No 5 and No 6 Schools of Aeronautics came to what later became the site of the Martin Baker factory in Higher Denham to learn about bombs, how to pack parachutes and to rig aircraft. From 1915 a training school for Flight Cadets was based on the present aerodrome site. The adjoining Marish Farm was where the Commanding Officer Lord Alister Innes-Keer, was billeted. After the war, the land was returned to farming although the occasional plane still used it. On one occasion, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward Vlll, arrived there in a biplane for a round of golf.
In 1926, Myles Bickerton, a keen flyer, moved to Denham and in 1934 bought land close to his home on Slade Oak Lane from Major Way. In an article he later
wrote for the Church Newspaper, Myles describes the early life of the aerodrome:
“I noticed what a wonderful site for flying the present aerodrome site was, dry, hard, gravel surface and fine approaches. When I enquired if I could buy 32 acres for flying, a very important resident told me, ‘Denham would never allow ’air hogs’ to come to Denham.’ Another resident told me, he could not understand how a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons could behave in such as ungentlemanly manner, and yet another resident warned me that I could not survive against the very influential residents and local authorities. I replied that as I believed in Almighty God, I could survive with his help. His answer was, “Good God! Good God!” and said no more.
“I had bought a Gipsy Moth and the first time I landed, another aircraft landed, a Hornet Moth with Cyril Mills of Bertram Mills Circus, as pilot. He asked me to make my proposed hangar large enough to take his aircraft. Soon, the hangar had room for six aircraft with folded wings.”
Myles must have reflected on the words of that resident who believed he could not survive as he faced the challenges ahead of him. Indeed, he wrote:
“At a garden party which my wife and I gave in 1936, some 50 aircraft turned up. The expenses became very great, fencing, land tax, property tax, rates, insurance, accountants, solicitors, maintenance staff, a bungalow, drains, electric cables, water, three one-thousand-gallon petrol tanks with pumps and so on.”
Myles built two hangars, installed fuel tanks and built a bungalow/club house for visiting pilots. Sheep kept the grass short and were managed by a shepherd and his dog.
In 1938, there were talks of limiting the building expansion of London outwards into the countryside and the Green Belt was established. Myles invited the whole of the Green Belt Committee to the aerodrome in September that year. Many were given flights in two-seater training planes to view the surrounding countryside and three RAF fighter planes flew in to greet them. Myles asked if they would support having an aerodrome in this rural area. There were no objections and Denham became the first licensed civil aerodrome in Bucks. It became an important convenient mode of transport for the rich and famous and of the nearby Denham Film Studios.
The aerodrome was closed at the start of World War II but reopened when Dunkirk fell. The RAF moved in, the hangars and bungalow were moved to the top of Green Tiles Lane, five more hangars were built plus a few Nissen huts. Tilehouse Lane was closed, and the sheep moved to a farm near High Wycombe. A flying school was opened. Increased night-flying proved an irritant to local residents.
After the war, Denham Aerodrome was abandoned by the Ministry of Defence, unable to sustain the extra 600 aerodromes built during the war years. As a result, it was open to vandalism with planes smashed and building materials stolen. Hundreds of tons of bomb rubble were dumped there and a lot of wire and fencing were stolen. There were suggestions made to turn the land into an estate for 2,000 houses, a gravel pit, a refuse tip for London, a hospital for the mentally ill and even a prison. None of these happened. The aerodrome company bought an almost derelict house called Bidston which, after many years, became the well-known Biggles restaurant. The Air Training Corps, Squadron 2370 met and trained in a shed in Denham Village but when the land was required for housing, a meeting space was offered at the aerodrome. It was opened by Air Vice Marshall Sir Ivor Broome who then became their president.
Since the 1960s, the aerodrome has been used mainly for flying schools and charter companies. The website has a wealth of information organised into specific years with many photographs of aircraft and of the developing site. Many of the developments took a long time to be approved with the advent of increased housing around the site and related planning laws. Two of the newly built houses were purchased as homes for pilots while flying instructors and engineers lived in caravans.
Today the hangars are mostly used for maintenance which means the aircraft have to contend with all weathers including, on occasions, very strong winds causing some to be wrecked. With the necessity of providing services and shelter for helicopters, a new larger hangar was needed and further planning wranglings ensued before a public enquiry granted permission.
Today, the aerodrome is a thriving concern with several businesses operating from there including flying schools, specialist film and TV companies and those offering charter flights or plane hire.
On yer bike, John
John Hawkins again: “It’s quite difficult to decide which were the most favourite past-times back then. Train spotting could be done most times of the year. Well, travelling up to the mainline stations, by train maybe edged it in the winter, because we were mainly inside all day. Collecting plane numbers was, in the main a late Spring, Summer and early Autumn period, as it required cycling to London Airport or Denham airfield and that was best done when the weather was good. So I guess we enjoyed them equally really. A decision would be made on the morning, if the weather was promising. We would meet up at Smith’s, the local shop at the top of Oxford Gardens and buy what we needed for the day, although our mums usually made us up some sandwiches. But we needed the ‘in between’ items. Mine would usually be a couple of packets of crisps and a bottle of R Whites Cream Soda. We were all armed with our spotters’ books, notebooks and pencils.
This was brilliant, I loved cycling to Heathrow and staying for the day to get the big airliner numbers. We would set off after breakfast and ride along the A40 then onto the A412 into Uxbridge, then pick up the Cowley, Yiewsley and West Drayton roads and keep going until the A4 Bath Road came up, then cross over and onto the service road which would lead into Percival Way, it was named after the aircraft manufacturer Edgar Percival. At this point you could see the tunnel, which would take us down and underneath the taxying area and into the airport itself.
We could see, hear and smell the planes above the tunnel, the turbo-prop engines whining, the jet engines whistling whilst taxying across as we approached and cycled underneath and into the dimly lit tunnel. In those days, the security at Heathrow was not as it is now, so it was possible to ride straight into the lower part of the Queen’s Building, round to the back, chain up the bike and climb the stairs up into the Spectators Viewing Area, and there you were. A whole day ahead of watching these aircraft taxying around to park, unload their passengers, refuel and get everything ready to take off again to wherever”
And Even Boats
Denham’s wood yard’s contribution to shipping Despite being a long way from the sea, Denham has made its contribution to sea travel. Hilary Richens: “I remember the time too when Alan was supplying bungs for the Cutty Sark, the 1869 tea-clipper that had been built in Scotland and was moved to the East India Dock in London in December 1954. When it was damaged by fire in 2007, a £50 million restoration project was begun, and Alan’s company was one of many involved in saving the iconic ship.”
Victoria Carriage by Thomas Quine, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Dog Cart by G. H. A. White, Royal Artillery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Horse drawn tram: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Trolley bus: P L Chadwick / London Trolleybus 1201 at Black Country Living Museum
John Myles Bickerton: Denham Aerodrome website - www.egld.com/1917.html
Cutty Sark: Sandpiper, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Interviews and conversations with Denham residents
Denham News May 2000
John Hawkins booklet on Buses, Trains and Planes Typesetting, design, origination and printed by John Hawkins. Completed: June, 2021.
Terry Skelton for research gathered on roads and the Denham Aerodrome
Denham Aerodrome website www.egld.com
British Newspaper Archive