BAS Guided Walk Around Piddington

Sunday, 12th June 2022

Simon Cains led the first of a pair of walks near Piddington in Buckinghamshire, to give BAS members ideas for topics to show local people, perhaps as an add-on to a walk to see a BAS archaeological dig or geophysical survey. Historic England is funding projects which involve local people and give them a sense of place, so BAS should provide a narrative to their finds.  The BAS Outreach Group is working on this.

Piddington has nothing pre-1903, unlike the nearby ancient villages with flint walls, thatched roofs and a pond.  So, this is an unusual hamlet which started on a greenfield site 1 ½ miles from the nearest village.  A photograph database for the Wycombe area shows North’s furniture factory in 1904 on the site, before any houses.  Newspaper archives show that North’s business was in West Wycombe until 1902 but had to find a new location when they lost land at the railway station for use as a timber store.  Almost all the surrounding countryside except the Piddington field was owned by Sir Robert Dashwood who set unacceptable terms for any sale.  Some of the original factory buildings are extant but many were destroyed in fires.  Simon pointed out the earliest terrace houses for the workers, and the large villas for the owner and managers.  The owner Mr North set conditions for the plots, e.g., no alcohol to be sold.  The factory supplied water and electricity to the village, and paid for a Methodist church, so Piddington has some aspects of a “model village” like Port Sunlight and Bournville.  

The rest of the walk largely covered historical routes across this part of the Chilterns.  The public are generally interested in changes in their local area shown on a sequence of old maps.  The main road west from the village has taken 3 routes up the steep hill.  Until 1810 the route followed a curve to reduce the gradient.  This became a holloway probably due to cattle droving.  Simon showed a photo taken after a severe storm which had washed out a mass of stones down another nearby holloway.  This route was then adopted as a turnpike, so it was possible to add some narrative such as a list of tolls and exemptions from local history museums and libraries.  At the top of the hill, in 1968, an antiquarian identified a possible trace of Roman road and made a small trench finding some flints.   This section of road from Piddington was replaced by the turnpike trust in 1810 by a straight section, but this made the route steeper.  Further on there is a milestone from 1744.  Milestones are shown on the old large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, so it would be worth searching for any which have been overgrown.  Finally in 1927 another route was made with large embankments and cuttings to reduce the gradient.

The medieval settlement in Fillington Wood dates from 13th century and was excavated from 1967, see full details in linked reports.  The trenches have been partly left open.  There is still a circular ditch and embankment, with several buildings found inside.  (This was unknown to any of the inhabitants of Piddington and the current landowner).   The archaeologists dug into what they described as a well with 4 human skeletons at the base, but a BAS member suggested it was a mineshaft for mining flint.  The water table here would be far too deep to reach with medieval technology. The archaeological report includes a discussion of the people who may have lived at this site and paid taxes.

For further information:

The history of Piddington village, aimed at children but highlights the houses mentioned above: https://piddingtonandwheelerend.org.uk/archive/Documents/A-history-trail-around-Piddington.pdf   

Piddington furniture factory details:  https://www.chilternsaonb.org/news/484/19/A-tale-of-two-furniture-factories-Part-2-West-Wycombe-By-Simon-Cains.html

The routes up the hill (hollow way/drove road and turnpikes)

https://piddingtonandwheelerend.org.uk/archive/Documents/History-of-routes-through-Piddington.pdf

The medieval settlement, final report http://www.bucksas.org.uk/rob/rob_33_0_128.pdf

Simon has written a book, 100 pages for everything about the history of the North furniture business and Piddington.  Many high-quality early photographs inside the factory.  Only £12, + £2.70 postage. Just email simon.cains@gmail.com

report by Simon Cains

Exploring the archaeology, history and heritage of Berkshire