Town and country - High Wycombe and West Wycombe


High Wycombe

What was life like in High Wycombe in the Tudor and Stuart periods? At the start of the Tudor period, many religious organisations owned property in High Wycombe. The main manor, named Bassetsbury after the Basset family who owned the manor in the medieval period, was given to St George’s Chapel, Windsor just before the Tudor period began. They leased it to Lord Windsor and Robert Raunce from the late sixteenth century. A smaller manor was in the hands of a religious college in Wallingford until the Dissolution. It also ended up in the hands of Robert Raunce.


The remains of St John the Baptist's HospitalAnother manor was known as Temple Wycombe. The Knight’s Templar had held this until they were closed down in 1324. Afterwards the land was given to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Knights Hospitallers.  They established St John the Baptist’s Hospital on London Road but had their lands taken by the crown in 1512. Mark its location on the map of High Wycombe your teacher gives you. The crown then gave the manor to John Cox in 1552. The Hospital itself, however, was eventually granted to the town council and converted into a grammar school. In 1562 Queen Elizabeth I made it a Royal Grammar School.


What was a medieval hospital used for? Do some research on the Internet and in books to find out in what ways medieval hospitals differ from modern hospitals. Tick which attributes best describe a medieval hospital.



Just cared for the sick


Researched cures for diseases


You had to pay to stay


Places for travellers to stay


Often places to care for lepers


Some had schools


Mainly in the countryside


Looked after the poor


Looked after the elderly


Most people were cured


Staffed by doctors and nurses


Staffed by priests or monks



Before the hospital was closed, inspectors found that it was only giving beds to three poor and sick people at the most. The school that replaced the hospital gave some benefits back to the town. The town had to pay the first schoolmaster £8 a year as well as provide him with a cow and five loads of wood a year. Grammar schools were often free when they were first founded, but by 1701 new rules had to be written. The schoolmaster was not allowed to charge any family more than 1 shilling on entering the school and the same on leaving. By this time he was earning £26 a year.


What do you think people felt about the closure of the hospital? What would they be missing out on? Did the benefits of the school make up for the loss of the hospital? Work in pairs. One of you take the side of the hospital and argue against its closure and the other take the side of the school and argue for its opening.


All Saint's church, High WycombeOther survivals from the medieval period into the early Tudor period include All Saints Church and three chantry chapels. A chantry chapel was where masses were sung for the souls of the dead. They were founded with money and grants of land given by those who wanted to be sung for after they died so they could get into heaven more quickly.


One of the chapels in High Wycombe seems to have been within the churchyard of All Saints. It was above a charnel house. If bones from earlier burials were found when digging graves, they would be stored in a charnel house. If you could afford the cost, you would try to bury your relatives inside the church, which may give them more protection against being dug up sometime in the future!


Chantry chapels were all closed down in the Reformation in the 1540s and 1550s. The one in All Saints churchyard was worth £14 6s 4d when it was shut down. This doens't sound like much now, but at that time servants would earn around £2 a year.


Early seventeenth century Little Market HouseAfter the chantry chapels were closed down people couldn’t give money to them any more and so many people founded almshouses instead. Almshouses were where poor people were housed for free. Seven poor people were housed in Newland Street, two in St Mary’s Street and five on Easton Street. Two cottages, called Lane’s Almshouses, were set up for two widows in Crendon Street on 18th November 1675.


As well as individuals setting up charitable institutions for the poor and needy, the town itself was supposed to look after them. The town was given its first surviving charter in 1558 by Queen Mary I. However, it is thought that the town may have had earlier charters that haven’t survived. The charter gave the town the right to govern itself, raise money from tolls and punish people who caused problems in the town.


One of the ways to raise money was by holding fairs and markets. There were two fairs mentioned in the 1558 charter, one on Easton Street on St Thomas’ Day (7th July) and the other on Holyrood Day on 14th September. By 1663 there were four fairs, one on the Feast of St John the Baptist (24th June), Holyrood Day, one on 28th October and the other on the Saturday before Lent.


Guildhall, on the site of the earlier town hallThe town officials built a new market hall in 1604, on the site where the current Guildhall is. They also built a market hall, which was later used as a shambles. What about other trades? Excavations at the Union Baptist Church and Frogmore Bus Station uncovered lots of horn cores dating to the seventeenth century. These are the insides of horns from cows and bulls. The outer bit of the horn is very useful because it is very hard and almost unbreakable. This outer sheath comes off if it is soaked, then it can be cut, bent into shape and left to dry hard. Horn cores could be left in their natural shape and used as cups or hunting horns or they can be bent into shape to create boxes or even as an alternative to glass for windows. If they are polished they can become almost clear.


Many workers asked the town officials to stop outside merchants and tradesmen from being able to work in the town. The tailors paid 10s a year, the hat makers 6s 8d and the shoemakers paid 20s a year to the bailiff in the late sixteenth century to ensure no outside sellers took their business. One man called Richard Saunders, a tanner, paid £3 in 1646 to be allowed to trade within the town. Maltsters from out of town had to pay a toll of ½ d on every quarter of malt they made in 1577. Try to find out what tanners and maltsters did by looking on the Internet and in books and write it here:


Most of these trades would have been carried out in people’s houses or small shops. However, some work was done in mills. Do a search on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal for all mills in High Wycombe. Write five down here and mark them on the map of High Wycombe below.


Bassetsbury MillSome are paper-mills, some are fulling-mills. Paper mills would make paper from linen rags, rather than from wood. Paper mills were first set up in the High Wycombe area in Loudwater. There is a record in 1638 of a “paper-mill called Loudwater Mille, newe built, let for £50”. A fulling-mill finished off cloth for selling. One fulling-mill was attached to Bassetsbury manor and known as Hochede’s Mill. Many people in the town would probably be employed at these mills.


People had time off as well! What did they do with their time? Well, there were lots of different drinking places to finish off the day. Do a search on  Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal to find all the sixteenth and seventeenth century inns in High Wycombe. Write five here and mark them on your this map of High Wycombe.


There were three different types of pubs in the Tudor and Stuart periods. There were inns, which were places you could stay overnight and get good food. There were taverns, which mainly served drink but you could get some food as well, and there were alehouses, which served beer only. You went to the ones that suited your social standing. A gentleman would not go to an alehouse and a peasant wouldn’t be able to get into an inn.


Do a timeline of High Wycombe in the Tudor and Stuart periods based on the information above and the research you have done. 


West Wycombe

West Wycombe was on the main London to Oxford road. Because of this, it became a good stopping place and there are several sixteenth to seventeenth century inns here. Do a search on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal to find the Tudor and Stuart inns and mark them on this map of West Wycombe:


Sixteenth century house in West WycombeThere are also a lot of sixteenth and seventeenth century houses in West Wycombe, as it seems to have been a period of prosperity for the village. Do a search on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal looking for houses of the Tudor and Stuart periods and mark them on the map of West Wycombe your teacher gives you.


Look on your map. Can you see where the church is? Highlight it with a bright pen. That’s right, it’s to the north of the main village. Not only that, it is high up on a steep hill. Can you think of any reason why the church might be built on top of a hill away from the village? Circle one or more answers below:

  1. The church served other villages too, which were on top of the hill.
  2. The church was very impressive when viewed from below.
  3. There was an earlier pre-Christian site there that they wanted to make Christian.

West Wycombe church and mausoleum as seen from the London Road from High WycombeAll of them are probably true! The church itself probably served a village called Averingdowne amongst others. Averingdowne has been mostly deserted but there is a farm with that name further along the hill. If you have driven from High Wycombe to West Wycombe, you can’t help but be impressed by the church on top of the hill in front of you. Now it is mostly obscured by the later mausoleum but in the Tudor period, you would see the church very clearly (though it didn’t have the golden ball on the tower). The church is also set within an Iron Age hillfort and it is possible that the first builders wanted to make sure any pagan associations were forgotten by building the church there.


Church Loft, West WycombeBut if the church is up at the top of the hill, would you like to climb it every Sunday to go to worship? What about if it was cold and wet? It seems that in the fifteenth century church wardens may not have wanted to walk up the hill to do things like count up the donations given to the church or decide on which of the poor should get some money as alms. The Church Loft on the High Street may have served as a kind of parish office so that people didn’t have to climb to the church for things that weren’t connected with actually worshipping. It may also have been a stopping place for poorer travellers who couldn’t afford the inns. Later, in the seventeenth century, it also seems to have been used as a temporary prison and place of correction. There is a whipping post outside and some people suggested that there used to be a pair of stocks in front.


Some burials were found on the lower part of the hill too. Do a search for burials or inhumations in West Wycombe and mark where they have been found on your map. Some of them are Roman, but it is possible that some of them date to the Tudor and Stuart periods. Some people were buried outside the churchyard if they were criminals, but maybe these ones were buried outside the churchyard because it was so far away.


Another sixteenth to seventeenth century house in West WycombeMost people in West Wycombe would have been farmers. There are traces of ridge-and-furrow around the village. Do a search on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal to find the ridge-and-furrow (it may also be called open field) in the parish and mark it on your map. The fields were not far from the houses. Some of the ridge-and-furrow was probably destroyed when the later park was created to the south of the village.


The lord of the manor in the early sixteenth century was the Bishop of Winchester. The Bishops exchanged their land in 1551 and Sir Henry Seymour became lord of the manor at West Wycombe, with Robert Dormer as his tenant. The Dormer family became the Earls of Carnarvon and kept the manor until 1670. It then eventually passed to the Dashwood family, who still own it, built the current West Wycombe House and created the park. The late sixteenth and seventeenth century manor house belonging to the Earls of Carnarvon is further to the north, closer to the village, than today’s West Wycombe House. Do a search on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal to find out where it was and mark it on your map.


Work in pairs. One of you has to imagine they come from High Wycombe in the Tudor or Stuart periods and the other comes from West Wycombe. Have a conversation about what life is like for both of you.


Go back to the Rich and poor package.