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What's in Name ? - Part 2

In Part 2 of our reflection on street and house names in Denham Village we start with the story of Bowyer House and work our way around the village to Misbourne Cottage, with a previously untold story of Denham Place and how Denham came to be called Milchester.

Bowyer House. The original patriarch of the Bowyer family who has a prominent place in Denham's history was the 14th century Thomas Bowyer of Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire. His father was bailiff and twice mayor of the Staffordshire town and young Thomas himself became the town's member of Parliament. He married well to the local heiress Katherine de Knypersley and, according to the patriarchial rules of his time acquired, through her, ownership of the manor of Knypersley. It was a marriage which eventually launched the Bowyer family into the lesser nobility as no less than five baronetcies were bestowed on Thomas' descendants four of them between 1627 and 1794 and the fifth in 1933. The family has supplied Members of Parliament for various constituencies since the 14th century.

The Bowyer baronetcy of Denham Court was created by King Charles II in 1660 as a reward for the support given by William Bowyer for the royalist cause in the English Civil Wars. It was William's son the second Baronet, also William, who ordered the construction of the building we know now as the clubhouse of the Buckinghamshire Golf Club.

This was a family of both wealth and generosity of spirit. In 1721, upon his death, the second Baronet gave an endowment of Thirty Pounds per year (£3,500 today) for the establishment of a charity school on his estates. It remained as a school for over 150 years. Even as the home of house decorator James Thomas in 1901 it was still known as The Old School House. We know it as Bowyer House.

The 17th century Hills House has had its share of well-known occupants in the 20th century, three Oscar winners, the man described as Britain's only film mogul, a celebrated actress and author and a New York theatre producer. Tracing the origins of its name has been rather more elusive than identifying its past occupants. However, if a little speculation can be permitted, the answer may be found in one of Denham's much earlier well-known names.

Sir Roger Hill was a landowner, courtier, Whig politician and Member of Parliament. Like his contemporary and neighbour Sir William Bowyer and coincidentally the author of this story, he was also a law graduate of Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1670 he purchased property in Denham from Sir William and in 1688 he set about the reconstruction of the house on his estate, Denham Place. The property later passed into the ownership of Sir Roger's grandson Benjamin Way and it remained in the hands of the Way family until the early 20th century.

But the estate was not limited to the property behind the walls of what we know now as Denham Place. There are several properties in the village, the freehold of which was included in the ownerships of Sir Roger Hill and the Way family.

In 1871 there were two families who resided in Hills House, the Batsons and the Greens. James Batson was a groom and Maria Green was registered in the census as a butler's wife.

But the butler himself was not at home on the night of 2 April 1871, the census day for that decade. George Green, the butler was to be found at Denham Place attending to the duties of his employment. It is not hard then to conclude that Hills House was part of the Denham Place estate and was maintained by Benjamin Way for the benefit of his groom and butler. Not a great leap then to suggest that Hills House takes its name from Sir Roger himself.

Houses named for flowers. In past centuries the village had an extraordinarily large population of professional gardeners. Obviously with two large manorial properties and several other large houses and gardens around the village there was no shortage of work for them. It is a village tradition which has survived in the flourishing Garden Club and in the gardens annually opened to public view (epidemics permitting). The gardening legacy is reflected too in the many houses named after the flowers that adorn their gardens - two Rose Cottages, Fuschia and Jasmine, Wisteria, Myrtle and Crocus.

The Swan is Britain's ninth most popular name for an inn. Denham's Swan Inn has had many roles - as a coaching inn after a day's journey on the way from London to Oxford, as a hostelry to many a weary traveller, as a court house, a public house and today, alongside its neighbour The Green Man a fine restaurant.

The "Green Man" of course is very much part of English folklore and assumed to be a significant figure in old pagan religion representing as he does the fertility which delivers the harvest. However, as a beerhouse name, the Green Man more likely has its origins in the 17th century. By that time the Green Man had become something of a figure of fun, the mischief maker in agricultural celebrations in villages around the country. One tradition has it that his antics resembled those of someone lightly intoxicated, so providing a good name for a pub where the fruits of a hard day's work in the field could be "enthusiastically" celebrated. Another tradition recalls the 17th century English version of the snake oil salesman known as the green man who toured the country with his distilling equipment providing concoctions to cure all manner of ills circulating in the population. Both traditions of course allowed the purveyors of alcoholic beverages to present their establishments as places of good health, good company and well-being.

The Falcon as we see it now dates from the 18th century but it stands on the site of a beerhouse of much earlier date. William Bowyer, a family name repeated in several subsequent generations, acquired the manor of Denham in the late 16th century after Queen Elizabeth I foreclosed on the debt owed to her by the previous owner, Sir Edmund Peckham. The Falcon owes its present name to the crest, a falcon rising, on the coat of arms of the Bowyer family. However, when the first William Bowyer's brother, Robert was in charge of what appears to have been a very substantial hostelry in 1623, it was still known by its old English name Emotts Deye - and that takes us back beyond the date of Henry VIII's accession to the throne in 1509 when the word "deye" referred to a bakery. It seems that whilst The Old Bakery, which now faces The Falcon, was still the Sheriff's house in medieval times, the Emott family were supplying villagers with their daily bread.

But we advance too far along the road and must pull back a little to Ashbys. As a village of farm labourers it is perhaps unsurprising that its residents worked up quite a thirst. There was no lack of opportunities for refreshment. Ashbys was once another beerhouse known as The Black Donkey. Unsurprisingly that is not a common name for a pub since the phrase "riding the black donkey" used to mean giving short measures - not the kind of reputation a drinking establishment should enjoy.

There is little evidence to suggest for how long the Black Donkey sustained the villagers. There is no record of the pub in the census reports from 1841 onwards and the property was occupied as a home for most of the 19th century. By 1891 it was the substantial home of greengrocer/coal merchant Charles Hoffman whose son Stanley later became the rector of St. Mary's Church. The Hoffmans knew it as The Homestead. By 1939 it had acquired its present name Ashbys. The word means the meadow where the ash trees grow but this is not how it acquired its name. Rather it took its name from Cicely Mabel Ashby Kilby who it seems moved there from Wellers Mead in 1929. She was the daughter of Staines stockbroker Bernard Mancha Kilby and his wife, born Ethel Ashby. Clearly the name Ashby meant a lot to Cicely.

The Old Store was, as its name indicates, the village general store, seen in many 20th century photos with the name of its owner Sidney Williams across its bow fronted windows. Before Da Remo gave the village the delights of Italian cuisine, it was the Tudor Lounge Restaurant. Before that, before it acquired its attractive bow front windows, it was the nothing but descriptive "Post Office" where 19th century postmasters, postmistresses and letter carriers ensured that the villagers could maintain contact with the outside world - and purchase a few groceries too. Amongst these shops and houses could also be found a tailor, a dressmaker, a sweet shop and Mrs. Gurney's laundry service, and into the 20th century Sidney Stevens butcher's shop in what we now see as "Antiquities".

The name The Old Cottage needs no explanation. Technically it is the second oldest remaining cottage in the village. The Old Bakery predates it by about a century, but since The Old Bakery has undergone some necessary 20th century renovation, its true age, dating back to the 15th century, is perhaps limited to its core construction. The 16th century Old Cottage could perhaps lay claim to the oldest visible complete structure - though there is no evident rivalry. As for The Old Bakery itself, it has been, as its name suggests, a bakery, and the master baker's home and shop but it was not always that. It was probably first built back when the village lands were owned by the Abbey of Westminster to house the Abbot's sheriff and overseer serving also the purpose of the late medieval equivalent of the local courtroom.

The Abbot at the time when the Old Bakery was built around 1370 was Nicholas de Littlington. He had a predecessor from the previous century, Walter de Wenlack or Wenlok. No doubt Walter the Abbot would be flattered to be recalled, seven centuries later, in the name given to a Denham residence.

Not so long ago in 1939, Walter the Abbott was two separate properties, Tarka and Shilla. Both names are obscure. Shilla is a mountain peak of the Western Himalayas in the state of Himachal Pradesh in the northern part of India. It is the highest mountain in the region and can no doubt be seen from the community of Rango which lies around 70 miles to the south. Tarka Sastra is a Sanskrit term for the philosophy of dialectics, logic and reasoning, and art of debate that analyses the nature and source of knowledge and its validity. Tarka means "debate" or an argument. Take a look back at Part 1 of "What's in a name ?" and wonder if all this is just co-incidence.

In 2021 the customers at The Falcon enjoy the view across the village green to The Old Bakery and onto The Pyghtle. It has not been so for very long. Until the early 1950s five cottages stood where we now enjoy a summer evening drink with friends on the green. Bordered on two sides by Village Road, and backed by the wall of Denham Place, they were appropriately called The Island Cottages. Across the road, right next to The Falcon was squeezed the also appropriately named Roadside Cottage now part of Blacksmiths. Again, the names Blacksmiths, Forge Cottage and The Old Forge need no explanation, but it has not been so long since a petrol pump stood outside the garage workshop of the Old Forge by the side of the bridge over the Misbourne.

A lot of people ask about The Pyghtle. It’s an old Anglo-Saxon word which means a small field or enclosure. In Denham it has of course come to mean a path. Yew Tree Cottage evidently has the same reason for its name as did The Cedars before it became The White House.

Back by the village green is the house we see now as Winton House, but Peter Morgan remembers it from the early 20th century as The White House, whilst what we know now as The White House was still The Cedars.

Of course, it was common for people to name their houses after places they had visited and found especially attractive. Even if the naming of Wrango, Tarka and Shilla remain in doubt, it seems reasonable to suppose that Mull Cottage takes its name from the Hebridean Isle. The same may be true of Melgan Cottage home in the 1940s to the legendary film director, David Lean and described by Lean's biographer Kevin Brownlow as "picturesque". Perhaps whoever named that cottage wished to recall the picturesque beauty of Porth Melgan on the Pembrokeshire coast.

There is one house on Cheapside that is certainly named for a memory of another well remembered place. Ann recalls "In 1962/4 my husband built our chalet bungalow home brick by brick on his own. It took him two years in his spare time. He also dug the swimming pool by hand. The house name is “Mandeville” so named because my husband came from Stoke Mandeville near Aylesbury."

Denham Place has a history all of its own, home to Elizabethan courtiers, a refuge for followers of the Catholic faith in tumultuous times of religious conflict in England, residence of Members of Parliament and Lords of the Manor, a prewar diplomat and friend to Winston Churchill and one of the two producers of the first major films in the James Bond series.

The accessible histories of Denham Place tell of its continuous occupation by the Hill and Way families from 1701 when it was completed at the behest of Sir Roger Hill through to 1920. But that is not quite right. In fact, there was a period when the Ways were not in occupation and the property was not even called Denham Place but "Denham Park". As Denham Park for a few years after 1838 it was in fact an asylum providing quiet refuge and treatment for mentally disturbed and distressed members of gentry families. It seems that for a few years prior to 1838, the Way family rented out the property. Their tenants included one Joseph Bonaparte, Comte de Survilliers, older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, King of Naples from 1806 to 1808 and King of Spain from 1808 to 1813. That perhaps is one Denham residency that tops even Harry Salzman.

And what finally of Denham itself. It is the village, or homestead, in a valley. It's a name recorded in William the Conqueror's Domesday Book of 1086. It is also the fictional village which was home to Miss Marple in the early films derived from Agatha Christie's tales of murder most foul. Like others, the name Misbourne Cottage in Denham village needs no explanation, but in fiction it can be seen as Margaret Rutherford strides from its front door across the bridge over the Misbourne making her way into her village home of Milchester.

Click here for Part 1 of this story

We have covered many streets and houses in this two-part story for May 2021, but the demands of time and space mean that we have missed out many more, homes on Old Mill Road, Cheapside Lane and beyond Misbourne Cottage to Denham Avenue. We invite our readers to add their stories and indeed to correct any mistakes and question our speculations. Over to you !


Roses by from Pexels


History of Parliament


Autobiography of Peter John Morgan compiled by Chris Jonas and illustrated by Dorothy Morgan, printed by Michael Morgan and privately published.

Interview with Ann Collins September 2019

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