A brief history
of Cholesbury-&-St Leonards Parish
The Parish of Cholesbury-&-St Leonards has been in existence
only for some 67 years. It owes its origin to the Local Government
reorganisation of 1934 when it became part of Amersham Rural
District. The 1973 reorganisation of Local Government brought
Cholesbury-&-St Leonards within Chiltern District Council.
Immediately prior to April 1934, the four villages that comprise
the present day Parish (i.e. Buckland Common, Cholesbury, Hawridge,
and St Leonards) had separate and in some cases autonomous
existences, either as parishes in their own right, or as villages
in turn part of other parish constituencies.
Buckland Common (OE Bocland meaning 'a land held
by charter') was previously part of the Parish of Buckland.
Cholesbury - (OE Ceolweald's Burg from the plateau
camp known as the Bury) was a separate parish prior to 1934.
Historically it is connected with Drayton Beauchamp (pronounced
'Beecham'). The manorial rights at Cholesbury giving it some
autonomy probably go back to at least the late 1600s.
Hawridge - (OE Haurege meaning 'Hawk ridge') also
had its own parish meetings. The village had been part of the
parish of Marsworth prior to the 1600s. (Note that a part of
Hertfordshire separates these two parts of the old parish.)
St Leonards - (from the church in the village of that
name) had prior to 1934 been part of Aston Clinton.
Together with the historic villages, areas of woodland and
pasture have over the years been added. For example, a parcel of
land including a part still known today as Drayton Wood was
transferred from the then parish of Drayton Beauchamp creating a
boundary demarcated by Grim's Ditch. More recently a part of
Chesham was annexed at the Hawridge end extending the Vale by
almost a mile.
Early origins of the Parish
The connections between surrounding parishes are long-standing.
Their common origin is interwoven with the mediaeval traditions of
land ownership and exchange of properties between the manors and
abbeys for over the past 1000 years. The Buckinghamshire Hundreds
had their own system of laws and tax collection. Additionally, in
this part of the Chilterns the shape of the parishes has been
determined by geography and geology and hence how the land was
farmed. Each parish was a slice both of the fertile lowland, downs,
woodland and the less fertile but valuable upland summer pasture.
They sat astride the northern scarp of the Chiltern landscape and
the lowland plateau, which we know to day as the Vale of Aylesbury.
Over the last 700 years or so settlements sprang up around the
seasonal pastures. At times these were abandoned but eventually
these communities became more autonomous. Management of the land
and particularly the woodland enabled the inhabitants to establish
[This profile of Chiltern scarp has been taken from The
Chilterns by Leslie Hepple and Alison Doggett and illustrates
The villages in the late mediaeval period onwards
During the period between the 14th and 19th Centuries the
initial dependence of the 'hill top' communities on their
corresponding valley settlements lessened as they established
themselves as self sufficient, if still very rugged and remote
villages. The respective manors of Cholesbury and Hawridge became
more and more autonomous and able to assert local jurisdiction
against the incumbent peasantry and yeomen. Running alongside the
manorial courts the associated churches began to influence as well
as administer to the needy of the parish. The inhabitants of the
parishes were by no means well off. Over this period there was
considerable hardship due in main to the poor return from the land.
Right up until the end of the 19th century earning a living was a
struggle. So much so that in 1832 the parish of Cholesbury became bankrupt and was unable to
support the poor. The highlighting of this sad state of affairs did
not go unnoticed in Westminster. It eventually led to the
establishment of new Poor Laws, transferring responsibility from
the Church to the State to support the needy, and also sowed the
seeds of State intervention in the form of local government taking
over from the Church from around 1880 onwards.
Writing in the booklet produced by the Cholesbury-&-St
Leonards Villagers Association in 1967, Teresa Matthews
"The remoteness of the Chiltern Hills
cannot be overstated, at least from early times until something
like 50 years ago. It is hard to imagine in these days of intense
agriculture, urban development and easy travel, how very
inaccessible our villages would have been. Only in the last ten
years has it been possible to grow large acreages of arable crops,
prior to this cattle and sheep were the only products profitable on
the farms, with tiny fields of wheat and this of the poorest
quality and yield. Within living memory the road from Chesham to St
Leonards was 'so rough and stoney it cut the bicycle tyres and
trees overhung the roads for many hundreds of yards'."
What are Hundreds?
Within Buckinghamshire, in mediaeval times the administrative
units of land were known as Hundreds. Hundreds were first mentioned
in the Laws of Edgar in 970, and by the time of Aethelred the term
referred to an area of one hundred hides for the purpose of
taxation. One hide being that portion of land for which a load of
grain was due. For many centuries after this the Hundreds were used
as a fiscal, judicial and sometimes a military district. These
units were thus used for the collection of Danegeld, and for the
holding of courts for both civil and criminal matters. Originally
these were held every month, then every fortnight and after 1234
every three weeks. Manorial courts were still a feature of village
life in the early part of the 19th Century.
Meetings to hear complaints were conducted by the Sheriff. They
were usually held in the 'open' and at a well-known local landmark,
such as an earthwork, a tree or tumulus, possible as in Aylesbury.
In the Cottesloe Hundred it was at a barrow, or, 'low' from which
it takes its name, and for the Risborough Hundred it was at the
ancient earthwork of that name. Later hundreds usually met in a
town or village.
Prior to 1086 and until the time of the Domesday Survey there
were 18 hundreds in Buckinghamshire. Between this time and 1290,
when the divisions of land were fixed by statute, through
amalgamation of hundreds this had reduced to a total of eight.
Of relevance to our villages, the Aylesbury Hundred included the
parishes of Buckland (inc. Buckland Common) and Aston Clinton (inc.
St Leonards). The Yardley Hundred, which had contained the parishes
of Marsworth (Hawridge) and Drayton Beauchamp (Cholesbury) became
part of the Cottesloe Hundred.