Bucks Nostalgia: Wycombe icons on the Monopoly board
Pann Mill is on the site of one of six mills mentioned in the Domesday Book as being in High Wycombe. It is now the last working mill, of which there were once over 30 on the River Wye. The last commercial flour mill on the site was partially demolished in 1971 to make way for a road which fortunately was never built.
However, a small group of enthusiasts restored the mill to working order and it ground wheat back into flour in 2000, powered only by the Victorian waterwheel. The group, now part of the High Wycombe Society, continues to keep the mill in top working order. It opens to the public a few times a year to demonstrate old-fashioned milling and bring the site’s heritage to life a little longer.
Wycombe Railway Station
The original Wycombe station was the terminus of the line from High Wycombe to Maidenhead. There were intermediate stations at Cookham, Marlow Road (later renamed Bourne End), Wooburn Green and Loudwater. The line was built by the Wycombe Railway and opened on 1 August 1854. It was leased to the Great Western Railway when it opened, before being taken over by them in 1867.
Opened in 1854, the station consisted of a shed spanning a single platform and two broad gauge tracks. The shed was flanked on one side by a locomotive shed and on the other by the booking office. Other station structures included a freight shed and a water tank with a coal floor and possibly a coal wharf.
In 1862 the line was extended to Thame, necessitating the opening of a new passenger station on the site of the present station. It was a copy of the original station building, albeit without a hangar, and constructed of flat brick. The west elevation was slightly longer to accommodate a larger waiting room for the ladies. When the new station opens, the old terminus station is transformed into a goods shed.
In 1870, the railway tracks were converted to standard gauge.
The High Wycombe station has continued to grow over the years. Most dramatically was at the turn of the 20th century with the opening of the Great Western & Great Central Joint mainline to Marylebone and Paddington via Beaconsfield & Gerrards Cross. At this time the station itself was completely rebuilt, although the original terminus station / train shed and locomotive shed were extended to become a very large freight shed. This building still exists today and as Brunel was engineer of the original Wycombe Railway (Maidenhead to Wycombe) it is known as the Brunel Building. It is Grade II listed.
WycombeStation_trainplatform Wycombe station as it would have looked shortly after it opened in 1854. A train bound for Maidenhead is about to leave the single platform, courtesy David Lane.
WycombeStation_booking office The booking office as it would have looked shortly after Wycombe Station opened in 1854, seen from the front yard courtesy of David Lane.
The Golden Ball
St Lawrence, the parish church of West Wycombe, is of medieval origin but in 1763 was rebuilt by Sir Francis Dashwood in the classical manner then popular. Always eccentric, Dashwood decided not only to increase the height of the church steeple to make it more visible from afar, but also to crown it with a wooden golden ball. The bullet is hollow and modeled after a bullet similar to the Custom House in Venice.
The ball could accommodate six to ten people and was known to be a meeting place for the famous Hell Fire Club. It has hosted club visitors such as Benjamin Franklin and has been declared by author John Wilkes to be “the world’s best tavern I have ever been to”!
A locally famous incident occurred in 1930 during the renovation and re-gilding of the balloon. This work was done by three local craftsmen and during a lunch break one of the men accepted a bet from his colleagues. Twenty-six-year-old Alfie Coker agreed to stand upside down on a block mounted above the Golden Ball.
Murrays department store
When the Bucks Free Press asked readers which stores they missed the most, Murrays department store ranked among their all-time favourites. The concept of a department store was new to the city in the 1940s when James ‘Jim’ Rivett converted one of his haberdashery shops on White Hart St into what he initially called a “walking shop”.
The store was an immediate success and the Rivett family gradually expanded the store. They first remodeled the nearby Methodist Church, then acquired the National Boys’ School next door, demolished the building and built another store extension.
Downtown redevelopment, including the inner two-lane escape route, in the late 1960s had a negative impact on sales. The works meant the store was surrounded on three sides, causing a large amount of noise and dust which deterred customers. Additionally, the Rivetts were persuaded to rent a large store in what was then the Octagon, now Eden, which overstretched the business. As a result, trading was difficult in the 1970s and substantial losses were incurred in the early 1980s. The store unfortunately closed on March 30, 1985.
Over its 40-year history, Murrays has been remembered for many reasons. The ‘wavy canopy’ over the main entrance was a distinctive feature on the exterior, while inside the store the clock showing ‘Murray time’ moved up and down with the elevators. – did you enjoy standing on the stairs looking at the clock?
Murrays was also famous locally for what was at the time his innovative business techniques. There was the pick-and-mix display of sweets in a horizontal carousel-type machine that constantly displayed a varied selection of sweets – a great marketing technique. For a year or two, the same principle was applied to the display of fireworks before November 5, until the practice was stopped as presenting too great a fire hazard.
The Rivett family would take every opportunity to invite radio and TV stars of the day to appear in Murrays, such as DJ Tony Blackburn, comedian Ted Ray, TV cook Philip Harben and ventriloquist Peter Brough with Archie Andrews.
For the ladies, there were regular fashion shows at City Hall or the Red Lion Hotel, when Murrays staff volunteered to model for new clothing lines.
All in all, the closure of Murrays meant a very sad loss for the city of an innovative and independent department store. He was a real icon.
The account of the original Wycombe station was kindly provided by David Lane, who is giving a lecture on the station’s history for the High Wycombe Society at The Riverside at 7.30am on 11 November.