“Pubs of Chesham” by Ray East, Keith Fletcher & Peter Hawkes states that in 1937, there were 53 recorded public houses and beer houses in Chesham. Today we have six in an area covering the High Street, the Broadway, Market Square, Church Street, Red Lion Street, Germain Street, Blucher Street and Broad Street . Highlighted is one where the building should never have been demolished – The Crown.
The Crown, 1 High Street
The story of The Crown Inn begins in 1576 when a pub survey during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I recorded that the innkeeper was called John West. It had obviously been in existence prior to this date and continued to be called The Crown Inn until the late 19th century, when the name was changed to The Crown Hotel.
The Inn had a galleried courtyard and a meeting hall as well as accommodation for guests and was a major meeting place for both visitors and residents for over 400 years.
During the English Civil War (1642-1651) it was the headquarters of the Parliamentary forces stationed in the area.
It is reported that Major General James Wolfe may have stayed overnight at The Crown prior to embarkation for Canada where he was killed in the Seven Years War. If this is true, it would have been around 1755.
Chesham was visited again by the military in 1844 when a company of the Light Brigade stayed overnight in the town. The troopers were billeted with the townsfolk, whilst the officers stayed at The Crown. The troopers’ mounts were picketed at wooden stakes driven into the road the length of the High Street.
The Inn had a livery service for local people and they could not only stable their own horses there, but could hire horse drawn carriages of various types. The landlord ran a twice weekly stagecoach (or horse omnibus as it came to be known) to High Wycombe.
The Crown survived two fires that we know of, the first in 1833 and the second in 1925.
The fire in 1833 occurred in the early hours of the morning and consumed several outbuildings before the fire engine arrived to put it out. This would have been a private fire brigade provided by the insurance company covering The Crown, as a local public fire brigade did not yet exist.
The fire in 1925 was caused by an oil stove in an upstairs bedroom but the flames were seen by a passer-by who alerted the landlord.
The Crown was first choice for any local organisation or group wishing to hold a celebratory dinner.
One of the more bizarre clubs to meet there annually for a dinner was the Chesham Sparrow Club, a group of local landholders who competed against each other to shoot the most sparrows. In 1844, it was reported that between them, the 24 members had caused 2,130 avian deaths.
The hall was used by many local sporting organisations and was for many years the headquarters of the Cestreham Cycling & Athletics Club. It was also the venue for regular weekly auctions.
The Crown survived both world wars, but in 1958 came the first hint of change with a newspaper article reporting that the owners wished to demolish it. Regrettably, the council allowed them to do so in 1960 and so the finest old building in Chesham High Street was lost forever.
It was replaced by a typical “brutalist” 1960s concrete block and has been a series of shops ever since – Tesco, Bejam, Iceland, Circle 7 and now the Homelife Warehouse.
View more shops on Chesham’s High Street
Thank you to the following authors for their contribution:
A History of Chesham Shops: Gwyneth Bradley, Anne Crabbe, Tony Eustace, Keith Fletcher, Pat Kent, Frank Pearce, Eleanor Phillips and Vanessa Worship
A History of Chesham Shops Volume 2: Anne Crabbe, Tony Eustace, Keith Fletcher, Pat Kent, Eleanor Phillips and Vanessa Worship
Pubs of Chesham & Villages: Ray East, Keith Fletcher and Peter Hawkes
Chesham – the Origin of the Town’s Services: Eleanor Phillips and Keith Fletcher
More Tales of Old Chesham: George Piggin
The Story of John Brazil: Jean Archer
Photographs: courtesy of Chesham Heritage.