CHESHAM - A town in Buckinghamshire, one of the Home Counties in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Chesham is a town in the Chiltern Hills, Buckinghamshire, England, the fourth largest in the county, and is situated in the Chess Valley. It has a tube station, which is the last station on the spur off the Metropolitan Line of the London Underground. It is three miles north of Amersham and is a small manufacturing town and is thirty miles from London. Coming under the same government are four surrounding spurs from the hills, comprising the four parishes of "Hawridge", "Asheridge" (Not to be confused with Ashridge in Hertfordshire), "Charteridge" and "Hundridge" all joined together under the same ecclesiastical government.
These four names are descriptive of the locality where each lay. Hawridge, whose original village name Aucrug is Anglo Saxon in origin, and means 'ridge frequented by hawks', which have now made a stunning come-back and can be seen all over Chesham and the Chiltern Hills; Asheridge, being the ridge with ash trees, and Hundridge being Hound Ridge. The name 'Chartridge' or 'Charteridge' is thought to have its origins in a Saxon personal name 'Caerda' - Caerda's ridge.
The first recorded reference to Chesham, or Cestreham, was in the will of Lady Elgiva, an Anglo-Saxon Queen, who created the first record of Chesham in bequeathing her estate of Caesteleshamm to the abbey at Abingdon in 970 AD. Elgiva was the wife of King Edwy of England. Not much is known about her but we do know she was already Edwy's 3rd cousin once removed before they got married. This is because Elgiva was the great-great-granddaughter of Ethelred I of England. There is archaeological evidence of a Roman villa downstream at Latimer and the planting of grapevines near the Balks.
Chesham is mentioned in 1012 AD as Cæstæleshamm (Caestaelesham), which is Anglo-Saxon for "the river-meadow at the pile of stones". The town of Chesham is located on the river Chess, a tributary of the Thames and in October of 1915 had a population of about 9000 people. The town today has a population of approximately 23,000 people.
Chesham has a long history of religious diversity, such as the persecuted Lollards of the 15th century and Thomas Harding, martyred on White Hill, near Dungrove Farm, in 1532 because of non-conformist practices (heresy). The 18th and 19th centuries saw the rapid growth of non-conformists especially Baptists, and the later 20th century saw the establishment of a sizable Muslim community. The first proper mosque in the town was completed in 2005. Chesham still has 3 Baptist Churches: Broadway Baptist, Trinity Baptist and Newtown Baptist.
In the 19th century Chesham was known for its "four B's"; boots, brushes, beer and Baptists. All these industries declined and the many people now commute to London for work.
Although recently many people have started to pronounce the town as "Chesh-um", people from different parts of Buckinghamshire, the Chilterns and those who have been in the area for a long time pronounce the town as "Chess-am" or "Chess-um". This traditional pronunciation has started to die out with the town's inclusion, over the past few decades, within the commuter belt that feeds into London and the influx of new people from various parts of the UK and abroad. Its traditional pronunciation reflects the idea that the town's name is derived from ham on the River Chess, although the use of earlier names such as Caestaelesham and Cestreham (derived from early Saxon words meaning a town with defences, or a fortified village) suggests otherwise. "Ham" is derived from a similar word of the early Saxons meaning a hamlet or small village.
The Bovingdon stack lies above the town. The Bovingdon Stack is a section of airspace to the north west of London where inbound planes to London Heathrow Airport, which is 20 miles (30 km) to the south, are held. It is a busy example of a hold. It extends above the village of Bovingdon and the town of Chesham, and requires the navigational beacon which is situated on the former RAF airfield at Bovingdon. At busy times on a clear day or evening a half-a-dozen planes may be seen circling overhead.
One "district" of the town is Pond Park. This an area built on the hills to the north of the town in late 20th century, which tends to be more peaceful than the urban parts of the town which are in the valley. Pond Park is notable for having a large number of housing association properties; some of these are slated for demolition and redevelopment.
Other districts are Waterside, which is built around the banks of the River Chess to the south, and Newtown, which was built with the coming of the railway.