Shardeloes Preservation Campaign 1956-57

When the Amersham Society was formed the first item on the agenda of the first Committee meeting was to discuss the fate of Shardeloes House, the home of the Lords of the Manor of Amersham. It was decided that the Society should do all in their power to prevent its demolition.

It was a beginning of the successful campaign to protect the house. Extracts from the Minute Book below show how the Building Preservation Order was secured by the Society in 1957. In 1958 the House was added to the Historic England register. An article from Country Life (5 Jul 1913) was used as a source for listing. By 1960 this historic and elegant Georgian mansion was saved by converting into flats.

Minute Book, 16 Oct 1956 Committee Meeting
Minute Book, 16 Oct 1956 Committee Meeting

16 Oct 1956, Committee Meeting:

The Chairman [Mr J. Camp] opened the meeting by drawing attention to the first item on the Agenda, – The possible demolition of Shardeloes House. The Chairman read a letter to the meeting which he had received from Mr Baines of Chesham in which Mr Baines stated that in his opinion the estimate given for repairs to Shardeloes needed confirmation. This resulted in a general discussion during which Mr Pike was asked to enlighten the meeting on the Council procedure in such matters. Mr Prizeman drew the attention of the meeting to the fact that various industrial organisations which had purchased similar properties had very successfully utilised them and retained their character. Squadron Leader Thompson said that in his view the situation was a challenge to the Society and the committee should reach a decision as to whether they were in favour of trying to preserve Shardeloes or not.

It was resolved that the Society should do all in their power to prevent the demolition of Shardeloes and a Statement to be issued to the local press was drawn up which read as follows:-

“The Amersham Society is deeply concerned at recent reports about the possible demolition of Shardeloes. It is noted that already in this area various industries have already acquired similar buildings and have successfully preserved their character for the future. The Committee of the Society has resolved to investigate every possibility in order to preserve this notable building which has played so large a part in the history of Amersham.”

8 Nov 1956, Committee Meeting:

The Chairman opened the meeting by stating that this meeting had been called principally to lay plans for the General Meeting on 13 November 1956 and also to ascertain whether the publicity which had been given to the plight of Shardeloes had resulted in any improvement in the situation. The Chairman hoped the Society’s efforts had achieved the desired result and give the matter more publicity than it had in the past, which was due to the great amount of work Squadron Leader Thompson, the Society Publicity Officer, had put into this. Squadron Leader Thompson reported that the situation had improved and that the Squire feels certain that if there is no private buyer, it will be taken over by one of the Government bodies and, indeed, was grateful for the publicity as, of course, he is the last person who wants to see this building demolished. The Chairman asked Squadron Leader Thompson if it was likely that Television would view Shardeloes Squadron Leader Thompson replied that, as yet, he could give no definite answer to this, but hoping it might be so.

13 Nov 1956, General Meeting:

The Chairman opened the meeting with an address on the aims and objects of the Society. He stated the Society started originally as a historical society, but eventually it was felt that a section was needed to deal with preservation of old buildings etc. With regard to Shardeloes, the Society had tried to give the matter more publicity than it had previously received and he thought that it had achieved this aim, which was largely due to the work of Squadron Leader Thompson, the Society’s Publicity Officer. The Committee felt that the Society must move with the times and, therefore, was not averse to the idea of an Industrial or Government department taking over the house. The Chairman then called on Mr Pike to say a few words on the historical associations of Shardeloes.

Mr Pike gave a very interesting talk on Shardeloes relating how Queen Elizabeth I is reputed to have slept in the Old Manor and how many bricks were used to build the present one. Mr Pike’s verbal portrait of Shardeloes was enhanced by several tales of Amersham.

The Chairman then gave the meeting a report on the activities of the Amersham Society and Shardeloes up to the present date.

Squadron Leader Thompson stated that he felt it was up to the Society to try to maintain Shardeloes and that the Society’s efforts on its behalf were mildly successful.

Mr Aston-Waller from Aylesbury was then asked to say a few words. He said he felt it an honour to be asked to speak at this meeting as he was not a resident of Amersham, but as he was a descendent of Edmund Waller, he was very interested in this district and Shardeloes. He had been over Shardeloes and had noticed a similarity with Stowe School and in fact, he was of the opinion that Shardeloes could serve as a very good school. The large bedrooms would make ideal dormitories. He then proceeded to give a report on the present condition of the Mansion with description of the structure, roof timbers etc. and the general layout of the rooms.

Mr Benthall stated that, at the moment, so far as the public were concerned the house might as well be demolished, as they were unable to enter to view, and he would like it to be taken over by some concern whereby it could be arranged that the public could enter (for a small charge if necessary) on certain days in the year. He thought that the apathy of the public towards the present position of Shardeloes was largely due to the fact that the majority knew nothing about the actual house, having never seen inside. Mr Benthall was of the opinion, however, that the Society performed an extremely fine piece of work with regard to the publicity Shardeloes had received.

The meeting was then thrown open to general discussion during which time various organisations and grants were discussed. It was decided that Squadron Leader Thompson, together with Mr Aston Waller and Mr Benthall should contact the Education Authorities with regard to the school possibility.

Some members voiced doubts as to the advisability of an Industrial Concern taking over, to which Mr Prizeman replied that right from its start the Society had avoided becoming averse to progress and always being “down to earth”. Mr Prizeman had seen similar houses in the possession of such bodies where it was impossible to detect any difference whatsoever from the outward appearance and in fact, in some cases the surroundings had been improved greatly.

4 Feb 1957, Committee Meeting:

The Chairman opened the meeting by informing the Committee that Shardeloes had been sold, although the name of the Purchaser would not be revealed until all papers had been signed etc. The objection to the preservation order had been withdrawn and, in the Chairman’s opinion, there was nothing more for the Committee to discuss in connection with Shardeloes. This view was endorsed by Squadron Leader Thompson, who felt the Society could now embark on other project.

25 Feb 1957, Committee Meeting:

The Chairman opened the meeting by reading a letter from the Georgian Group re Shardeloes House notifying the Society of an Enquiry to be held at Elmodsham House, Amersham, into the objection which had been lodged against the Building Preservation Order and enquiring whether any members of the Society would be present. Mr Pike was of the opinion that the matter really had no connection with the Society now. The Chairman thought it would be a good idea for some member of the Society to be present and stated that he himself would be present if any one else would care to attend.

21 Mar 1957, Committee Meeting:

The next item on the Agenda was the Inquiry regarding Shardeloes House. Squadron Leader Thompson reported that he attended with Mr Benthall, representing the Society, and handed the Chairman a written report. Squadron Leader Thompson remarked on the excellent way Mr Benthall had put the case of the Society to the Inspector and suggested a letter be written to Mr Benthall thanking him on behalf of the Society. The Secretary [Miss Archer] was instructed to do this.

24 May 1957, Committee Meeting:

The Chairman then put forward the suggestion that Mr McTaggart (the present owner of Shardeloes) be approached as to the possibility of allowing Members of the Society to view the unoccupied rooms at Shardeloes House. One Sunday in the near future would be preferable and two or three experts would have to be available to conduct parties round, and to provide some form of control.

Mr Pike informed the meeting that the whole estate was now up for sale and it might be advisable to contact Mr McTaggart as soon as possible. The Secretary was instructed to write to Mr McTaggart on the lines suggested.

16 Oct 1956 – 4 Feb 1964