Chalfont history-revised

Pollards Wood

Pollards Wood is currently the location of a number of substantial properties but is an area with an interesting history. It was part of the Vache Estate until the late 18th century. It was then owned by a series of non-local people for its timber and game before the wood was divided up for housing development at the beginning of the 20th century. The story given on this page covers the period up to 1904. The subsequent history is the subject of a separate page.

Updated on 4 February 2015

The earliest documentary reference to Pollards Wood that I have found is a brief mention in 1650 within the marriage settlement of George Fleetwood of the Vache and Hester Smith. (D RA/1/155). As is described in the history of the Vache, George Fleetwood forfeited the Vache to the Crown who then sold it to Sir Thomas Clayton. His son, James Clayton, inherited the Vache from his father but ran into considerable financial problems and had to sell about half of the estate in 1697. However he retained the use of the Vache Manor House, Warren Farm, and the land immediately surrounding them which included Pollards Wood. It is interesting to note that at this time it was called "Pawletts or Pollards Wood" (D RA2/5).

This begs the question of the derivation of the name. The most likely source is as a possessive name after someone called Pawlett or Pollard. There are examples of both names but they are uncommon in this area. The alternative is a descriptive name deriving from pollarding of the trees within the wood which could have been one of the means of managing the timber. Pawlett could I suppose be Pollard pronounced in a local accent but I have not checked this with any expert. There is one other interesting document relating to the name and this is an inventory of the lands of "Lady Clayton" made in November 1720 (D234 Uncatalogued. Box 3 bundle 5). This includes Pollards Wood as the first item where it is listed as "Pollerds Wood 120 acres by statute measure".

The size is significant because in the 1697 Deed Pollards Wood is given as 75 acres. However there are a number of other areas of woodland listed and it seems probable that these were consolidated in 1720 into one measured area totalling 120 acres. As we will see later, the size given in subsequent documents is much larger and so further consolidation must have happened.

When Mary Clayton, the widow of James Clayton, died in 1728 she had no children so the Vache Estate was inherited by her niece who was married (also in 1728) to Francis Hare, Bishop of Chichester. He therefore became the legal owner through marriage. In about 1735 he had a map made of his estate.(London Metropolitan Archives ACC/538/2/4766.) This map is in poor condition but shown in Figure 1 is the data it contains, transcribed using the 6 inch OS map as a base.

Note that Pollards Wood is now one block but with a curious triangular open area in the centre named Cockshoot Close. This name is known elsewhere and is said to mean an area where nets were shot to catch woodcock. (Bailey, K. Records of Bucks Vol.46 p.175.)

To put it into better context, Figure 2 shows a map of part of Chalfont St Giles with the 1735 Vache Estate outlined in red superimposed on the field boundaries from the 1840 Tithe Map. The field boundaries in 1735 were essentially the same as those in 1840 except for those within "The Park".

Bishop Hare died in 1740 and his son Rev. Robert Hare inherited the Vache including Pollards Wood. He retained the land until 1777 when he sold all of the Vache Estate to Admiral Palliser except Pollards Wood. Then sometime between 1784 and 1790 the ownership of Pollards Wood changed. The evidence is from the Land Tax Records which show that it came into the ownership first of a John Lefevre, and subsequently, up to 1823, Charles Shaw-Lefevre. We should digress here to look at some family history for all these people.

The Rev. Robert Hare had married a Sarah Selman in 1752. She was the daughter of a Lister Selman who at the time owned Chalfont Park in Chalfont St Peter. He was a wealthy merchant from Old Ford in Stepney, Middlesex. Sarah had one other sister, Helen, who had married a John Lefevre, also of Old Ford. He was of Huguenot descent and inherited from a his uncle, Peter Lefevre, a gin distillery in Old Ford at Abbey Mills (VCH Essex Vol 6. West Ham.). This prospered very well in that age of excessive gin drinking. John Lefevre also owned other lands in Bucks including some at West Wycombe (D D/6/321). John Lefevre and Helen had one child, a daughter Helena. In 1785 John Lefevre bought for this daughter a property in Hook, Berkshire, known today as Heckfield Place, which is now a conference centre. At the time John Lefevre purchased it was a mansion called The Grove with a farm house alongside called Baker's but he immediately set about developing and expanding it into one large house for his daughter and her future husband.

Charles Shaw Lefevre

In 1789 Helena Lefevre married a Charles Shaw (this is his picture c1810). He was the son of a Yorkshire vicar. John Lefevre died in 1790, one year after the marriage of Helena leaving all his possessions, including Pollards Wood, to his daughter. Because of the money brought into the marriage by his wife, Charles Shaw added the Lefevre name to his own becoming Charles Shaw-Lefevre. He prospered and became MP for Reading. He died in 1823.

He and Helena had one son, also called Charles Shaw-Lefevre. This son did even better, becoming an MP and then being elected Speaker of the House of Commons 1839-57. He was subsequently raised to the Peerage as Viscount Eversley.

(Prime source is an extensive memorial to the Lefevre family in Christ Church, Spitalfields.)

Returning to Pollards Wood, the change of ownership from Rev Hare to John Lefevre was one between the husbands of two sisters, rather than an arm's length sale which at first sight it appeared to be. Pollards Wood was therefore owned as an investment by Charles Shaw-Lefevre through his marriage to Helena and he retained it throughout his life. Soon after his death in 1823 it was sold, presumably by his son the future Viscount Eversley, who was not interested in the rural life. This time it was advertised in The Times on the 30 September 1823 when it was described as "Valuable Freehold Estate called Pollards Wood. 183 acres on an eminence commanding extensive richly variegated prospects admirably calculated for the site of a mansion. By auction on October 3. Apply John Hearne Chalfont St Giles."

The purchaser was probably Thomas Witts Walford of Uxbridge although it might have been a relative of his with the name John Walford since that is the name shown on the 1825 Land Tax Returns. The following year in 1826 Thomas Witts Walford is shown as the owner. He is also shown as the owner on the Tithe Apportionment of 1840 when Pollards Wood was described as a wood of 185 acres 3 rood 9 pole with a net rent charge of £3. This is a low value compared to that for other woods such as the 25 acres owned by the Duke of Bedford which was valued at £1 10s.0d. The implication is that the Duke of Bedford's wood was much more valuable per acre, either because it was better managed then Pollards Wood, or because Pollards Wood had been largely cut down.

At this time, 1840, there is no evidence of any permanent habitation within Pollards Wood but by the time of the 1851 Census there were two families of "timber dealers" apparently living in there somewhere. They were two brothers, Richard and James Fountain from Hughenden, and they were with their wives and children. We cannot tell whether they were itinerant or had semi-permanent habitation.

Thomas Walford retained Pollards Wood until he died in 1857 when it was inherited by his son, Robert Crook Walford who also lived in Uxbridge.

Thomas Witts Walford was a solicitor who lived in Uxbridge at 218 The High Street and owned a number of houses and plots of land in the vicinity. He was obviously affluent and a person of some standing in the local community, being a Commissioner for Property and Income Taxes. He was on the Committee of the Literary and Scientific Institute and was the Steward of Upton Manor, and Deputy Steward of Harewood Manor. His name also occurs as advising the Chalfont St Giles Parish Vestry. In 1838 he built a house, The Shrubbery, close to his own home in Uxbridge, for his son Robert Crook Walford to occupy after Robert's marriage to Mary ? of Beaconsfield in 1835. Robert clearly did not need to work for his living. He was included in the 1839 Pigots Directory under "Gentry", whereas his father Thomas was still listed as a solicitor. Robert described himself in the 10 yearly censuses as "Landed Proprietor" and he was involved in various land transactions including the purchase and subsequent lease to William Goodman of Little Pits (10 acres) in Outfield, Chalfont St Giles. Robert joined his father as a supernumerary Commissioner of Property and Income Tax. He became a JP and Deputy Lieutenant of Middlesex.

The next chronological record available is the "1866 valuation" of property in Chalfont St Giles. This is actually dated at the end of the document as being approved on the 13th of September 1864. One would therefore not expect there to be any evidence of habitation within the woods and this is the case.

In 1866 "Game Cottage" was built in the wood (source: date carved in stone on the house). The initials RCW and the date 1866 on Game Cottage show that he was the owner in that year. This house appears on the 25 inch maps from the first full detailed survey carried out by the Ordinance Survey in 1876. The map shown in Figure 3 is the 1882 6in. OS map.

By 1871 the Census shows that a gamekeeper from Norfolk and his family are in residence. By 1881 another gamekeeper is in residence, Mark Medcalf aged 40 from Long Melford in Suffolk. With him are his wife Matilda and their five children. The two youngest children, aged three and one, were born in Chalfont St Giles so the family must have come to Pollards Wood in about 1877. On the 1901 Census the house in Pollards Wood is shown as uninhabited and there are no new houses shown as being in existence in the area at that time.

Gamekeepers had to be registered at the Quarter Sessions and those for Bucks in this general period were written in a volume in chronological order (Q/RSg 4Q). Apparently these always related to manors and the only one of relevance found was that dated 1st November 1858 and it reads "Thomas Newland Allen of the Vache in the Parish of Chalfont St Giles in the County of Bucks Esq Lord of the said Manor by a certain deputation under his hand and seal bearing date the 29th October 1858 deed here by nominate authorise and appoint James Wilks of the Parish of Chalfont St Giles aforesaid gamekeeper to be his lawful gamekeeper to preserve and kill the game within the said Manor during his will and pleasure". Incidentally the 1866 County Valuation Lists all the property with their owners and occupiers in each parish. Although Robert Crook Walford was the owner of the whole of Pollards Wood he leased about half of it to Thomas Newland Allen, presumably for its game.

Judging by the presence of the timber merchants in the woods in 1851, Pollards Wood had been managed as a cropped woodland but it was also clearly used for shooting. The existence of Game Cottage in the middle of the Wood with the initials RCW over the door could possibly mean that the cottage was originally intended as a shooting lodge for Robert Crook Walford even though it normally seemed to be just house for a gamekeeper.

Robert Crook Walford died in 1875 and left all his Hillingdon estates to his widow Mary and Pollards Wood was inherited by his daughter, Emily Mary Walford. Fourteen years later in 1889,Emily died a spinster and left all her estate to her mother Mary, Robert's widow, who was still alive. Mary died in 1894 leaving her property in Trust to her brother Edward Rumsey and his heirs. This brother lived in New South Wales, Australia and he agreed in June 1901 that the Trustees should sell Pollards Wood containing 187 acres.

A sale was made on 24 October 1901 by means of a curious indenture whereby the Trustees sold the whole 187 acres of Pollards Wood to Frank Nash of Chalfont St Giles for £7,591 and by the same indenture Frank Nash sold it on to William John Raffety Vezey and Charles Walter Raffety as tenants in common for £8291.

Frank Nash was a Draper and Grocer and had a shop in Chalfont St Giles village. He must have been acting as an agent to get a clear £700 on the deal.

William John Raffety Vezey and Charles Walter Raffety appear to be brothers. Why William had Vezey added to his name is not known but is possibly because of an inheritance to his wife Selina. William was originally a timber dealer in High Wycome and the 20th century Estate Agent named Raffety is thought to originate from them.

On 29 April 1903 William J Raffety Vezey sold his share of Pollards Wood for £2,950 to his brother C W Raffety who then became the sole owner. The property is still 187 acres in extent so the property was not broken up until after that date.

(All of the information after the death of Thomas Witts Walford is taken from an Abstract of Title to part of the land of Five Diamonds in Pollards Wood. The document is in private possession.)

The development of Pollards Wood for houses starts as a first step in 1904 when Raffety sold off some of the woodland to T N Allan and to Archibald Grove, and who then built Pollards Wood House, Pollards Park and Little Pollards. Tracing the detailed evolution after 1904 is very complex. It should be remembered that at the same time, 1904, the Vache Estate was also being sold piecemeal and a number of lots were interlaced with parts of Pollards Wood. The ownership of the land became broken up and the other big houses were gradually built. Doggetts Wood Lane was also laid out. The information on this later phase in the history of Pollards Wood is still being researched but the current knowledge is given on a separate page.

Finally there is within the wood an unexplained earthwork in the form of a mound surrounded by a ditch (Bucks Sites and Monuments Record 0665400000). It is located at OS ref SU 9934 9556. Officially this is either a round barrow or the remains of a medieval postmill but no archeological investigation has been carried out.

REFERENCES. Unless otherwise specified, all references given above refer to catalogue references at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies at Aylesbury. (County Record Office.)

This print is a section of the Chalfont History website.

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John Dodd ©2012