Women from Chesham who have made a difference locally

Chesham Museum decided to look back and tell you about just a few of the local women whom they think have made a significant contribution locally, nationally and even internationally, and who have also made a difference to the standing of women.

Margaret Mee (nee Brown)

Margaret Mee
Margaret Mee

Margaret Mee was born Margaret Ursula Brown in Chesham in 1909. Margaret became deeply involved politically in the Spanish Civil War. Her risky travels to Berlin and France both before and during the Second World War testify to her adventurous free spirit.

After the war she went to the Camberwell School of Art where she met Greville Mee. In 1952, Margaret and Greville went to live in Sao Paulo.  


By 1960 exhibitions in Sao Paulo, Rio and London had established her as a brilliant new botanical artist. She and Greville developed a deep concern for the Amerindian peoples, the Amazon Forest and its wildlife. She lived among the tribal peoples of the forest and endured tremendous hardships. She was awarded Brazil’s Order of The Southern Cross.

In November 1988, Mee’s Amazon Exhibition premiered at Kew and a collection of her diaries was published. She returned to England and was killed in a car accident in Leicester in 1989.

Caroline Franklin

Caroline Jacob was born in London in 1863; in 1883 she married Arthur Franklin. Caroline’s Jewish parents had seen to it that she had the best possible education and she studied at Bedford College for three years.

She embarked upon a philanthropic life as soon as she left college. Amongst other good works, she was a prominent member of the Jewish Religious Education Board continuously from 1890 to 1926.

In 1899, Arthur Franklin bought Chartridge Lodge near Chesham and the family divided their time between their London and country lives. In 1902, Buckinghamshire Council formed their first Education Committee and despite opposition, the constitution decreed that two of the 35 committee members should be women. 

Caroline Franklin sitting on a chair holding a book

Caroline was co-opted onto this committee along with Lady Verney, and she served on it until her death in 1935.  She became a member of the school management committee of Chesham and a governor of Amersham Grammar School. She took a special interest in domestic training in schools for girls and was Chairman for many years of the Bucks Association of Girl Guides.  

Her special care and concern was for the wellbeing of the children of Chesham and for all the residents of Chartridge. Thanks to the Franklin’s generosity, Chartridge came to possess a reading room and village library; it ran sports teams and flower shows. Chartridge formed a Nursing Association in partnership with The Lee and Caroline encouraged the setting up of the Women’s Institute.

Caroline worked quietly to give an equal chance to women in education and social life although she took no part in the women’s suffrage movement.  During her last years she gave a home to a number of Jewish refugees from Germany.  Caroline Franklin died in 1935.

Mildred Wheeler, B.E.M.

Mildred Wheeler being presented with a framed document by another woman

Mildred Frances Wheeler was born in 1897 and went to Townsend Road School and White Hill Girls School. She trained as a teacher and was teaching at Townsend Road School by 1918.  

By 1924, she had joined the St. John Ambulance Brigade and from 1932 onwards she was on the Chesham Hospital Workers’ Committee. In 1944, she and Nancy Haslehurst obtained a grant for £10 from the Brigade and started the Chesham Medical Comforts Depot, designed to offer people the necessary equipment to nurse the severely ill in their own homes.

This service was entirely funded from voluntary donations and operated for at least 60 years.

In 1969 she was awarded the British Empire Medal “for service to the community, particularly with regard to the St. John Ambulance Brigade in Chesham”. Mildred ran the Medical Comforts Depot until 1971 and died in 1986.

Bessie Bangay

Bessie (Elizabeth) Bangay and her twin sister Evelyn were born in 1889. Bessie became a Sunday school teacher at St. George’s Church in Tylers Hill. In 1917, the Church of England found itself with a serious shortage of ministers due to WW1 and turned to women to take up the shortfall. These women could not be ordained but were given special status as “Bishops Messengers” and licensed to preach and conduct services.

Thus Bessie was licensed by the Bishop of Oxford to take over and run St. George’s Church, and she carried out these duties for nearly 70 years. Most Bishops Messengers gave up their duties when WW1 ended, and all those remaining had done so by the 1960s. But Bessie continued as a Bishops Messenger until 1985. She died at the age of 97 in 1987.

Image of Bessie Bangay
Bessie Bangay

Lady Susan Trueman, O.B.E. (nee Byng)

Lady Susan Trueman
Lady Susan Trueman

Lady Susan Byng was born in 1854 and married Colonel Thomas Trueman in 1905. She lived at White Hill House. During WW1, she worked for the Queen Alexandra Field Force which provided comforts for soldiers on the battlefields.

Whilst living in Chesham, she was connected with the Girl Guides, the Scouts, the Order of St. John, the Red Cross, Chesham Hospital and the Chesham Motor Ambulance Service, the Mothers Union, the British Legion and the Women’s Institute.

In 1920 she became the first President of the Bucks Federation of Women’s Institutes and she was the founder of both the Women’s Institute and the Women’s Fellowship in Ley Hill.

Lady Susan campaigned to get women into the police force and was Chairman of the Bucks Nursing Federation. She was awarded the OBE in 1920 and in May 1921 became the first woman JP in Buckinghamshire.  

Reverend Margaret Hall (nee Phillips)

Margaret Phillips went to Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in Amersham and then to the University of London. She married Brian Hall in 1961 and they had three children.

She decided to train for the Ministry and started by training as a Lay Worker in the Parish of Great Chesham in 1972 and became a Deaconess in 1980.

In 1987 the Church of England voted to allow women to become Deacons and Margaret was ordained as a Deacon by the Bishop of Buckingham. 

Reverend Margaret Hall
Reverend Margaret Hall. Image courtesy of Anne Crabbe.

By 1992 Margaret was Deacon of St. John the Evangelist in Ashley Green. The Church of England voted to allow women to be fully ordained as ministers in 1992 and Margaret was finally ordained in April 1994 at All Saints, High Wycombe. She retired at 60 and joined St. Michael’s Church, Amersham-on-the-Hill. She died in February 2008.

Avis Joan Parsons (nee Hearn), M.M.

Only six Military Medals were awarded to women in WW2. Avis Joan Hearn was born 1916 in Waterside. She worked as an upholsterer at Brandons department store in Chesham Broadway.

She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1939 and after training to be a radar operator, was posted to the radar station at Poling, West Sussex.

On August 18th 1940 Leading Aircraftwoman Hearn was operating the telephone system passing radar plot information from the operators to Fighter Command HQ at RAF Bentley Priory, Stanmore. 

Avis Joan Parsons
Avis Joan Parsons

Around 2pm the air raid sirens sounded and the staff were told to take cover. Hearn refused and carried on passing information from the plotters onto the control room. For the next 20 minutes Poling was bombed by Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers. Hearn remained at her post even though the telephone lines were cut. 

The officer commanding Poling, Flight Lieutenant Bayley recommended Hearn for the immediate award of the Military Medal. The recommendation was endorsed by Air Chief Marshal Dowding (AOC-in-Chief Fighter Command) and Hearn was invested with her medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace in March 1941. Avis died on March 27th 2008. 

This article is a modified form of an article published in the Bucks Free Press, Amersham and Chesham edition.

Images are courtesy of Eleanor Phillips unless otherwise stated

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