Online exhibition

From the river to the railway

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The supply and flow of water from the River Chess has attracted people to the valley since pre-history. The water has enabled people to wash, clean, keep animals, and power mills.

The town we call Chesham today emerged in Saxon times. In 1257 the town obtained its charter for a market and a fair, stimulating the development of a busy market town. 600 years later, the town’s reach was extended, with the arrival of the Metropolitan Railway

This exhibition explores the importance of the river and the railway in Chesham’s history and in our lives today.

The River Chess

The River Chess is a rare chalk stream rising from three springs which surface just north of Chesham. Today the streams run under street level before emerging at Waterside, flowing through the Chess Valley to Latimer, Chenies, and to Rickmansworth to join the River Colne.

Water-powered mills were a central feature of the town for centuries. In the Victorian era the mineral-rich chalk stream provided an ideal habitat for the watercress industry. Today the riverside is valued as a place to walk, relax and as a home to wildlife. Its future depends on combatting threats from overuse, pollution, invasive species, and habitat loss.

The Metropolitan Railway

Although Chesham was a thriving town in the 19th century, it was the arrival of the Metropolitan Railway in 1889 that accelerated the town’s growth. The railway provided a direct link to London, enabling locally produced boots, brushes, bottles, watercress and woodenware to be sold in the capital.

In the 20th century the railway boosted the town’s tourism, with people using the line to make day trips to the Chilterns. Popular Metro-land campaigns were partially responsible for fuelling an ongoing migration to Chesham, from the capital, which continues today.

Chesham railway station, c.1910-14

Next: hydropower