A look back at 1967-1976 in Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 12:49 20 March 2017 | UPDATED: 12:52 20 March 2017
Jan Raycroft takes a look at a time when Cublington nearly became London’s third airport, the Sex Pistols stunned Wycombe and Dorney dug in to stay with Bucks
This was the year when Milton Keynes was designated a New Town and in the House of Commons the existing MPs demanded some facts. Sir Ronald Bell, MP for South Buckinghamshire (the constituency would become Beaconsfield in 1974) wanted to know more about the numbers involved. Tony Greenwood, the Minister for Housing, explained that the density of the three existing town to be morphed into one covered about 21,900 acres. He expected the population of Milton Keynes by the end of the century to be 250,000. Actually, it’s only recently passed that, having reached around 210,000 in 2001.
Both local residents and RAF Halton staff were horrified when Rita Ellis, a young aircraftwoman was found murdered in woods near the base. Some 700 cars were stopped and 5,000 interviews held, but her killer was not found at the time. In 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the murder, Thames Valley Police ‘cold case’ officers re-opened the investigation in the hope that new forensic methods might solve it for her family.
It was possibly linked to another unsolved case where a student nurse had been attacked and left for dead in Little Tring. Her attacker was described as a gaunt man in his thirties, wearing an overcoat and hat. Further appeals were made in 2012 but to date the case remains unsolved.
This was the year that the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women’s Institutes had their first tent displaying aspects of WI activities at Bucks County Show, held at Hartwell House. With Lady Burnham as chairman and Mrs M Argent as president, they supported the Associated Country Women of the World by contributing to the Pennies for Friendship scheme. The WI was growing in the county, with now groups formed at Marlow Common and Great Kingshill.
Nick Clegg, who would later lead the Liberal Democrats, was born in Chalfont St Giles and was first educated at Caldicott School in Farnham Royal before going on to Westminster School in London.
Buckingham Centre of the Caravan Club, www.buckscc.info, was formed and today still enjoy weekend gatherings, mostly in the county but travelling further afield on Bank Holiday weekends.
In Aylesbury Friars Square shopping centre opened, a year after the 12 storey County Hall opened in 1966. Some Regency houses made way for this development.
Thames Valley Police was formed through mergers and it was all change for the region’s smaller forces. Buckinghamshire Constabulary had previously absorbed Buckingham Borough Police and Chepping Wycombe Police. Now they merged with Oxford City Police and Oxford County Constabulary, Reading Borough Police and Berkshire Constabulary.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the musical fantasy built around eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts, played by Dick Van Dyke, and his amazing car was released. It brought a local landmark, Cobstone Windmill at Ibstone, overlooking Turville, to international attention when it was used in the film for the Potts home.
Archaologists moved in prior to building of the Old Manor Close development in Whaddon, finding both early and late Saxon pottery in what had clearly been a substantial stone-built site featuring a hall, barn gatehouse, kitchen, blacksmiths and carpentry workshop around a cobbled yard.
Chesham was deserted on 20 April when 60 coaches headed to Wembley. Somehow the local football side, something of a minnow, had reached the Amateur Cup Final, beating non-league giants such as Dulwich Hamlet, Oxford City, and Wealdstone in a run of 16 knock-out matches.
There was heartbreak when they lost the final 1-0 to Leytonstone, having missed a penalty. But thousands of people gathered in The Broadway to welcome the team home.
The Open University was formed, although the first students would not enrol until 1971. The plan had been championed by sociologist and political Michael Young, the man who coined the word ‘meritocracy’, and taken up by Labour PM Harold Wilson, who envisaged a ‘University of the Air’.
He handed the task to determined Minister of the Arts Jennie Lee, and in 1969 the first vice-chancellor, Professor Walter Perry, was appointed, alongside Foundation Secretary Anastasios Christodoulou. Off they went to Walton Hall in Milton Keynes, with a staff of under 80 people.
Right from the start it was a success, 25,000 people enrolled in 1971, a huge number when you consider the UK student population at the time was around 130,000. With late night TV broadcasts and more courses and subjects offered, it simply grew and grew to become a worldwide model for distance learning.
Some 200,000 students now follow OU courses, using everything on the internet, including iTunes and Youtube, plus high tech tools like the virtual microscope.
In 1969 The London Railway Preservation Society arrived at Quainton to set up the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at what was to become its permanent home. Today it is a splendid museum of railway history as well as provided great days out for young and old. The next big family event on the calendar is the arrival of Thomas the Tank Engine at Easter, see bucksrailcentre.org.
As for the county’s WIs, they were still growing. Latest additions included Magna Carta (Wraysbury), Jordans, Frieth, Chesham Bois, Bourne End (evening), Lane End (evening) and Milton Keynes & Broughton.
We’d love to know who had the final say in closing the rail line between Maidenhead and High Wycombe and beyond in 1970, so that it came to an abrupt halt at Bourne End, after stops at Furze Platt and Cookham, with just the branch line to Marlow from there.
Until then you could catch a train across the two counties, getting off at Bourne End, Wooburn Green or Loudwater along the way – but that’s what British Rail did following The Beeching Report. The passenger line went the way of many others after it had already been closed to freight traffic four years earlier.
No doubt the fact that everyone seemed to have cars in South Bucks led to its usage dropping, but today thoughts have changed, as we will see. It was a pretty, scenic route as well, cutting across fields behind Stratford Drive in Wooburn, skirting Flackwell Heath Golf Course and under what is now the M40 at Wycombe Marsh to High Wycombe railway station. For some commuters and schoolchildren heading to Wycombe or Maidenhead it had been an obvious choice, but from 1970 they had to take to buses or get in cars themselves.
But look at us now! Jammed up roads everywhere and Crossrail at Maidenhead opening within a couple of years. So there’s a lot of support for re-opening the line, with local councils and enterprise partnerships considering the possibility.
This is also the year when Mary Berry and her family first moved to Penn – the house cost them £25,000! The moved to another home in the village in 1988. And Cilla Black, the Liverpudlian songstress who died in 2015, moved to Denham, as did Sir Roger Moore. The Bond star lived at Sherwood House until 1978.
The 1971 National Census showed that the population of the county had passed the 587,000 mark. The post-war social growth was in full swing and now only 1,460 households in the county were without a WC, compared to 13,052 households in 1951. By this year almost 70 per cent of homes had a car and since then two or more car households have become commonplace.
But all this was of little concern to the people of Cublington after it was announced that their ancient village was being proposed as the site for London’s third airport. While Cublington is now safely ‘off the map’, airport expansion has been debated ever since! But in 1971 our Buckinghamshire village was chosen by the Roskill Commission on the grounds of cost, having rejected Stansted as the site. One commission member, Colin Buchanan, opposed the Cublington plan, saying it would be an ‘environmental disaster’.
Across Buckinghamshire church bells pealed as the protests grew and beacons lit on hilltops. We can be like that when we’re riled by government nonsense. The incoming Heath government dismissed the idea and instead opted for Maplin Sands in Essex, another idea to eventually fall by the wayside in favour of expansion at the existing airports. It’s all so familiar…
Meanwhile, in Aylesbury, Friars Shopping Centre was used for scenes in the controversial film, A Clockwork Orange, while the very different Dad’s Army was being filmed in Chalfont St Giles.
The first major housing scheme, Galley Hill at Stony Stratford was developed in Milton Keynes. Down south, work commenced in August on the M40 section, junctions 1A to 5, including the Gerrards Cross by-pass, with a tender sum of £5,387,974.
This is also the year that work began on restoring Lacey Green Windmill. Volunteers would spend the next decade working on the mill’s structure and the cap. Open days in 2017 run on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from 2 April to 24 September, see laceygreenwindmill.org.uk.
Dame Margaret Rutherford died at her home in Chalfont St Peter at the age of 80 after a career as a character actress which had spanned major productions on stage and in film since the Second World War.
She appeared in film adaptations of Coward’s Blithe Spirit, directed by David Lean, and Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, going on to win an Oscar for best supporting actress and a Golden Globe for her role at The Duchess of Brighton in The VIPs. Over the years Dame Margaret worked with all the big stage names as well as on screen with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren.
She was cared for prior to her death by her husband of 27 years, fellow actor Stringer Davis. He would die a year later at their home and they are buried in the graveyard of St James’s Church, Gerrards Cross, with ‘A Blithe Spirit’ engraved on her memorial stone.
Well into the space age, there was a new achievement to mark at what is now Westcott Venture Park in Aylesbury. The site had originally been developed as a training base for Second World War but after that became a government research establishment with the focus on rocket propulsion and rocket motors. In 1972 a Westcott Waxwing rocket motor was used in the UK’s only satellite launch. Today companies based at what is still the home of rocket propulsion research are involved in work aimed at future interplanetary missions including the JUNO Mission and the Rosetta probe.
Sir John Betjeman’s celebrated documentary, Metro-Land, was first broadcast, recording life in the new suburbs that grew up outside London. The Poet Laureate included Chorleywood, which he described as ‘essential Metro-land’, Amersham, Quainton Road and Verney Junction, the latter closed since 1936 and largely reclaimed by nature, of which Betjeman approved.
We move on to one we never seem to get away from: in 1973 Britain joined the EEC and Prime Minister Edward Heath hosted a European Discussion Centre (EDC) session at Wilton Park, Beaconsfield, where discussions with the likes of French President George Pompidou centred on enlargement of the community.
Meanwhile, at Aston Clinton School, established by the Rothchilds a century previously, they were moving into a new building as it became a local education school for children from rising fives through to 11. The school badge includes the Rothschild five arrows.
The year also saw the formation of The Chiltern Academy by High Wycombe’s Elaine Anderson and today students regularly appear in professional pantomime, national ballet and opera tours, West End musicals and local productions.
The year also saw the opening of Buckingham Fire Station in Bourton Road, which currently has an establishment of 14 plus 10 retained firefighters.
Buckinghamshire said ‘goodbye’ to Slough as under local government reorganisation the previous year the town was ‘moved’ into Berkshire, with Britwell and Wexham becoming part of Slough.
South Buck district was formed by the amalgamation of Beaconsfield Urban District with part of Eton Rural District.
Also leaving Buckinghamshire, and not always very happily, were Datchet, Eton, Horton, Wraysbury and parts of Burnham. Later Berkshire expansion would see Colnbrook also hopping across the border. The case of Dorney had seen MP Ronald Bell on his feet again in 1972 when he had spoken in the House of Commons of Dorney being “in danger of being dragged into Berkshire with Slough.”
He went on to say: “Dorney is a beautiful village with a strong sense of community and it would be wrong if it were treated as a mere appurtenance of Slough with which it has little connection and no affinity”. His case won the day, and when everyone else moved county in 1984, Dorney remained in Buckinghamshire.
The year also saw the extension of the M40 with the completion of the Stokenchurch to Waterstock Crossroads section.
This was a landmark year for what is now Buckinghamshire New University as High Wycombe College of Art and Technology merged with the Newland Park College of Education based in Chalfont St Giles. It was renamed the Buckinghamshire College of Higher Education.
In the north of the county members of various Masonic Lodges formed The Manor of Swanburn Lodge No 8647 at the Masonic Hall, High Street, Fenny Stratford. They met weekly at the Swanbourne College (now Horwood House) and later at the Manor Hostel in Great Brickhill.
Making his home in Taplow, and set to enjoy many happy years there was the then radio DJ Terry Wogan, who was to become a ‘national treasure’ prior to his death early last year.
The start of 1975 also saw the inaugural meeting of the Bucks, Oxon & Berks Cat Society, founded by two well-established judges, the late Rosemary Gowdy and Mr Eric Wickham-Ruffle, to make up for a lack of shows in the London area. The first exemption show was held at Bletchley Leisure Centre and it continues today, this year’s annual show will be in Reading in September.
The year saw the formation of Buckinghamshire Family History Society and it now has some 1,700 members, both those who live locally and people with Bucks ancestry. Regular meetings are held in Aylesbury, Bletchley and Bourne End. A charity, it is a member of the Federation of Family History Societies and is affiliated to the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society, Buckinghamshire Record Society and Bourne End (Bucks) Community Association.
For Girlguiding Buckinghamshire this was the year their new badge – still in use today – was introduced. It includes the Guide Trefoil, Bucks ‘chained swan’, a ‘buck’, beech tree and depiction of Whiteleaf Cross.
But we must surely end with the editor’s 1976 memories of seeing the then unknown Sex Pistols appearing on stage at Wycombe Rag Week. I wrote for the Bucks Free Press Midweek: “A four man group by the strange name of Sex Pistols stole the show at The Rag Ball on Friday. It wasn’t that they were musically good – they just refused to stop playing.”
I recorded Johnny Rotten’s ‘stream of language denouncing the college, rag committee and the audience’, the student crowd jeering and slow-handclapping, a scuffle and general mayhem until the Sex Pistols ran out of songs.
Apparently it’s only the second known review of the Sex Pistols live, so at last… a strange claim to fame!