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In 1257, Hugh de Vere, 4th Earl of Oxford and Lord of the Manor of Chesham Higham, obtained a Royal Charter for a weekly market in what we now know as the Market Square. He would have charged traders to use the market and in time, these traders changed to selling goods on a more permanent basis by moving from market stalls into buildings.
The first shops were opened in the front rooms of people’s houses with the family living at the rear and in the upstairs of the premises. This arrangement actually continued with some small shops into the 1960s. The original town centre was in the area around the Market Square and along Church Street, where nearly every building contained a shop or public house.
The factor which saw a major change was the coming of the railway to Chesham in 1889. The station was some distance away from the old town centre and gradually, shops started opening (again in the front rooms of houses) nearer and nearer to the station, until the town centre had gravitated from the Market Square to what we now know as the Broadway (originally called Pillory Green).
The 1920s/1930s saw the arrival of the chain store – Woolworths (where Costa Coffee is today) – offering virtually everything and Freeman, Hardy & Willis (Evenflow Studios) a chain of shops specialising in footwear. In the 1960s, the first self-service stores arrived in the town (Stitchers – now a tanning studio next door to Chapter Two) followed by Tesco (Circle 7). The numerous small independent grocers, butchers and greengrocers shops gradually died out until we are left with today’s town.