History of Holmer Green
The following text, supplied by local historian Stuart King, will be available as a small YouTube video shortly. View Stuart's Holmer Green pictures on Flickr (some examples are below) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/8106654@N06/sets/72157603434917989/
We are so fortunate in Holmer Green high up in the Chiltern Hills, to live in an area of ever changing richness of landscape. The ancient woodlands and the fields with their glorious hedgerows, traditional farms, brick and flint cottages in hidden valleys all compliment our village. This landscape has not always been thus, it has been manipulated and managed over thousands of years, ever since the first Stone Age hunter gathers started to settle down, keeping live stock and growing crops. Our village was once part of a true wilderness of forest and scrub, a heath-land for heathens, of wild boar and red dear. It was not so much a place to live but a hunting ground to provide food before returning to shelter close to the river in the Misbourne valley.
As yet no archaeological evidence has been discovered of Stone Age dwellings, and as they would almost certainly have been simple wooden constructions that is no surprise. Our very earliest evidence of mankind roaming in and around our neighbourhood is in the tools that they have left behind, and because these tools are made from local flint many of them are as good as the day they were made. A recently discovered worked flint core, a by-product of tool making has been identified as Mesolithic and could date from as early as 8-7,000 years BC, it was found close to where it was discarded in the local landscape.
Anyone who has dug into our Holmer Green soil will be aware of the abundance of flint and of its extreme hardness. Roy Mason is aware of this fact. Many years ago he was digging in his Beech Tree Road allotment and clearing a clod of clay from his fork something sharp stuck into his hand, it was a Neolithic/Early Bronze age arrow head. Roy had become a late victim of an early hunter who fired and lost an arrow some 4,500 years or so ago. Flint axes for felling trees, scrapers for cleaning animal skins and shaping the wooden shafts of arrows, also made of flint, and many other specialist tools were created from a readily available raw material by those who knew how to live with nature. It was probably around this time that a certain amount of land clearance started, this was the beginning of early agriculture. Forest and scrub was cleared in the fertile Misbourne valley for growing grain, live stock was controlled by fencing and hedgerows and track ways were established between one settled area and another.
The Neolithic stone tool using agriculturists were the first inhabitants to start making a difference to our natural landscape. It was all very different some 45 – 60 million years ago. What we now know of as Holmer Green was then 150 – 200 metres beneath the sea, indeed our chalk hills are made up of microscopic sea life. Volcanic action and the movement of the tectonic plates forced the sea bed up to form mountains and hills. This was not the end but only the beginning of the shaping of our Chiltern Hills. About 450,000 years ago the great Anglian ice age, with ice a mile high, with it’s slowly grinding glaciers and fast flowing melt water left us with the smoothed out hills and valleys that we see today. Fossils of this early life beneath the sea can often be found as we dig our gardens or on our countryside walks.
The Bronze Age emerged about 3500 years ago. These well established farming folk continued living in the Misbourne Valley; they were using metal technology for the first time and lived in small groups in wooden round houses By 450 BC iron had replaced the much softer bronze for tools and weapons and it appears that these Iron Age inhabitants were the first to establish themselves on the hill sides of the Misbourne Valley. We can still see evidence of the bank and ditched enclosures they created locally. By 150 AD it appears that these Celtic locals were being integrated with the recent arrival of the Romans who were to dominate the locality for nearly 400 years. Evidence of both the Iron Age and Roman communities have been found in woodland on the edge of Holmer Green
After the Romans left in about 410 AD the historic and archaeological record is scant, we know very little about the early Anglo Saxons during the so called dark ages in Buckinghamshire. They built mostly in wood and much of their every day utensils were of wood, and so little survives. Later Saxons have left their place in local history in the form of Little Missenden Church built in 975 AD, indicating a substantial village close by. Holmer Green still lies within the civil parish of Little Missenden. The Saxon population would be living and farming along the Misbourne Valley but would be making economic used of the Holmer Green uplands with its woodland and Heath-land for animal grazing.
Holmer Green was still an isolated place when William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066. He swiftly subdued the general Saxon population and imposed the more regulated regime we know as Medieval. The medieval period was a time of expansion; manor houses with large country estates and monastic estates such Missenden Abbey influenced much of daily life. Times would have remained quiet for those who roamed, worked, or even lived on our isolated heath-land but as the centuries passed their influence upon our landscape became more permanent. Track ways, field systems and woodland boundaries were well established with much of this medieval landscape existing still today. Featherbed Lane and Kings Street Lane are prime examples of this heritage.
Apart from agriculture much use was made of the woodlands to supply fuel, building material and charcoal. It may surprise you to learn that iron has been smelted in Holmer Green at least since Roman times and there is much evidence that during the 12 – 13th centuries it was done on quite a large scale. The only mystery is from where did the iron ore come from? It was about this time that the Manor of Holmer was established and it is first recorded as Holeme in 1208. Holmer Green is named after the manor of Holmer that covered a significant part of the parish of Little Missenden in the medieval period.
So the early history of the village is essentially one of people moving out of Little Missenden over the centuries and settling on a large area of heath known as Wycombe Heath or Holmer Heath. The location of the original medieval manor house of Holmer remains obscure, although local historians McLain-Smith and Riches have suggested its location at a moated site in nearby Colemans Wood, further work is required to confirm this.
The first real glimpse of our village as a whole is through the 1742 map of the Manor of Holmer where we see a very open landscape with ancient woodland on the outskirts. We also see an established but scattered settled population. Most of these inhabitants would be involved in farming and general rural pursuits. We see the first evidence of fruit growing and in some of the place names much evidence of sheep rearing and droving. We can also identify some of the buildings that survive to this day. This 1742 layout of the village remained almost unaltered until Holmer Green was enclosed by act of parliament in 1854 when the road lay-out we know today was introduced. Although scattered, the inhabitants formed a cohesive community as evidenced by the early establishment of a Baptist and Methodist Chapel plus a school.
During the early 19th century, Christina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti visited their grandfather Gaetano Polidori's house in the village. It is said that Londoner Christina received some of her poetic inspiration from her rural experiences during these summer holidays. Holmer Green was still a quite and isolated community being 4 miles from the nearest market towns with only horse transport to take them to High Wycombe or Amersham.
After the First World War rapid expansion took place with many of the men working in the local furniture trade plus some casual cherry picking in the summer, many of the women were engaged in tambour beading to supplement the family’s income. In the early 1920s travel became easier with the introduction of the first motor busses to High Wycombe. After World War 2 Holmer Green again began to expand with many housing estates being built on farm land and derelict cherry orchards, much of this occurred from the mid 1960s, through the1970s and 80s.
It could be said that our hill top village has two main centres with the first being around the cross roads with our ancient pond and shops. The attractive and busy area of the Common provides the second focal point. Around its three sides one can find the Middle School and Baptist Chapel while the Bat and Ball stands proud on one corner overlooking the children’s playground. The Church community hall lies adjacent to Christ Church which modestly dominates the skyline with its high perched golden cockerel weathervane. The main village hall known as the Village Centre evolved from the Victorian school. Continuing around the Common is the original Baptist Chapel now converted to a dwelling. To complete this perambulation we pass the Clementi estate that in the 1970s replaced the country house known as Holmer Court and home to Sir Cecil and Lady Clementi. We have a thriving village community with many social organisations, we have three churches, thee pubs, three community halls, a sport centre, a range of shops and two garages. With a population of just over 4,000 our Chiltern hill-top village of Holmer Green still retains a very strong village identity and community spirit.
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