A tour of the three Chalfont villages
PUBLISHED: 11:29 15 November 2016
Maureen McLean. All Rights Reserved
Jan Raycroft and Maureen McLean enjoy a tour of the Chalfonts on a sunny autumn day out
The truth is that with just over five miles between them, the three villages of Chalfont St Peter, Chalfont St Giles and Little Chalfont could easily be accomplished in a walk by those so minded – no doubt many hardy readers have done just that. Indeed, it’s probably the likes of a pop to the shops for those such as our walks expert Steve Davison and fellow keen ramblers.
But we took the car for our tour – it gives us more time to enjoy the places and meeting people, and then there’s the matter of Maureen lugging ten tons of camera equipment, and me being inclined to hobble and moan after a few hundred yards.
By foot or by car though, it soon becomes apparent how very different these three villages are. They may be on each other’s doorsteps in the Chiltern district, but each has its own identity. There’s also the history, much of it connected to the coming of the railway as what were previously hamlets grew into sizeable communities.
Chalfont St Peter, where we started, has a bustling centre and is one of those villages you mustn’t call a town. With a population of over 12,000 it looks the part, but call into any of the shops or very welcoming St Peter’s Parish Church and that special ‘village feel’ is apparent.
Chalfont St Giles simply oozes history. There’s the duck pond, 18th century cottages and little shops in period buildings, Milton’s Cottage where the poet worked on Paradise Lost, and parish church which has survived everything from Civil War cannon balls to death watch beetle.
North of both is Little Chalfont, yet another community in its own right, where the history is somewhat different. It’s very indicative of ‘Metroland’, really growing up in the 1920s and served by both mainline and Metropolitan underground services to the capital. Next year Little Chalfont can celebrate a decade as a parish in its own right, having only become a separate parish, following a local vote, in 2007.
We won’t be hushed
There will be some who aren’t so happy that we’re sharing their favourite secret, but in Chalfont St Peter is one of the best ladies fashion stores we’ve found in our travels. Yes, Hush Boutique is where proprietor Evie Kerr and her able assistants work their magic. There’s even a beauty room at the rear of the premises to help complete the transformation.
Even before we’ve managed to prise Evie away from a stream of customers for a few minutes, one thing’s become apparent just from looking at the price tags on everything from costume jewellery to glitzy bags and fabulous gowns. No one here is adding noughts on the end of prices courtesy of the location and potential clientele. Just slightly above better chain store pricing – and often more than matching it – what we are talking here is exceptional value for well-made and designed garments you are very unlikely to see elsewhere.
And that’s important, because to go off at a short tangent, in smaller communities it’s easily possible for two ladies to turn up at a function wearing identical dresses. Evie knows so many of her clients well and keeps tabs on where they intend to wear a gown, to help avoid this ‘lookalike’ drama that can ruin an evening.
Evie, a former model, has a background in co-ordinating photoshoots, personal shopping and styling for TV. Add in seeing to the whims of Mayfair clients and it’s an impressive CV.
“One day I just decided I’d had enough of all that and wanted to follow my own ideas with my own boutique,” she tells us. “I hunt down fantastic styles for all ages, but specialise in mature glamour.”
Garments come from the likes of Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, and there are stunning ballgowns from Germany and the USA. There’s much excitement right now as the team finalise Evie’s own evening dress label, to be called Evelina Charles. Evie holds little fashion shows with nibbles and has a loyal following of regular customers she texts when a perfect look for them arrives in store. See hushboutique.eu.
The scenic setting of Chalfont St Giles will delight any eye but the judges for the Pushman Cup for the Best Kept Village in Buckinghamshire, awarded to those in a rural area with a population of over 3,000, know what they’re looking for.
So it’s no mean feat that Chalfont St Giles has taken the title four times this century, including this year, as well as being runner-up in five other years. The village also took the Leofwine Shield for 2016 as the town or village in Chiltern district to achieve the highest number of points in the competition. Next year they will face stiff competition again from the likes of Haddenham, Stoke Mandeville, Gerrards Cross and Chalfont St Peter.
Chalfont St Peter on parade
The village is full of interesting independent and family stores, including greengrocers, bakery and Meat at Judds offering poultry, sausages, and tasty homemade pies and dishes at 25 High Street. The Breadhouse in Market Place opens Tuesday to Saturday for filling breakfasts and tasty quick lunches alongside delicious coffee, with a children’s menu available.
Thriving church’s story
Chalfont St Peter’s parish church stands on a site where Christian worship has taken place for at least 1,000 years – and its history reflects that of England and local events. The late medieval version was in such a state by the early 17th century that there were huge holes in the walls and in 1708 when a major storm hit the region the building was unable to withstand the subsequent flooding. Eventually the top of the tower collapsed, falling through the roof and into the nave.
Six years later it had been rebuilt, but it wasn’t until the last century that a period of major fundraising led to replacement seating and roof, tower and floor repairs. In more recent years parishioners have worked hard to refurbish the church and add a new welcoming area and choir vestry.
Welcoming is the right word – pop in and you will find friendly people happy to show you around.
Not to be outdone
Little Chalfont was still enjoying late autumn displays with plenty of baskets brimming with plants in the Nightingales Corner shopping area. Not that this is the only greenery. Little Chalfont Nature Park, owned by Little Chalfont Charitable Trust and looked after by the parish council, opened this summer. At the right time of year a wild flower meadow blossoms and within the trees you’ll find signs of the site’s history, with relics of its past as a farm, cherry orchard and clay pits used to make bricks.
Little Chalfont has a Farmers’ Market on the second Saturday of each month, held in the village hall car park from 9am to 1pm.
On our best behaviour
Now here’s a sight we’re told is guaranteed to still strike fear into people, some now well over 40. Yes, it’s retired local teacher Wendy Stevens, formerly of what was ‘Old Job’s School’. Wendy tells us: “I was in charge of discipline, you see, and even now there are some van drivers who will stop to recall how I dealt with them, not always complimentary! I ‘emigrated’ to Chalfont St Peter for a while but now I’m back in St Giles!”
Wendy is standing outside the former village school that her own grandmother attended.
The historic church
Chalfont St Giles Church contains many medieval features, including some 14th century wall paintings. It’s been rebuilt in part at various times over the centuries but the traditional style remains. Most of the stained glass is from the Victorian period and in the 1950s a great deal of work was needed, courtesy of the dreaded deathwatch beetle. This century the parishioners have overseen the arrival of a welcome new heating system, projection system and, most recently, a lavatory and servery.