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Red kite

TWO VILLAGES, ONE HEART

LACEY GREEN & LOOSLEY ROW

LACEY GREEN & LOOSLEY ROW

Red kite

THE FORGOTTEN HAMLET OF COOMBS

by Rita Probert


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Introduction

A winter scene from the top of the Grubbin looking across to the Vale of Aylesbury

Many people use the footpath via Gomme's Forge ornamental iron stile at the junction of Little Lane, Foundry Lane and Lower Road in Loosley Row to cross the hillside known locally as the Grubbin. They exercise their dogs and stop to admire the beautiful views of Lodge Hill, Wain Hill and beyond to The Vale of Aylesbury.

After a heavy snowfall the area is particularly popular with children and adults alike for sledging down the hillside. The area once again resounding with many voices that, in fact, echo the past.

New residents are perhaps unaware that at the top of the hill and to the left of the footpath, stile and beyond, now farmland, there once stood a small hamlet called Coombs. This consisted of a farm and three or four cottages housing over the years in its heyday an average of twenty men, women and children. By 1911, however, the number had drastically reduced to seven residents and signified the eventual decline of the hamlet.

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Origins

Dictionaries define coomb as a small valley with steep sides and there are many places bearing that name in Buckinghamshire, with a number of spelling variations on documents over the years. It has been suggested however, that the hamlet in Loosley Row derived its name from the home, presumably a farm, of one William ate Coumbe who in 1354 left a bequest of one sheep to the church at Bradenham. The Parish boundary of Bradenham still passes through the area formerly occupied by Coombe.

The date the farm and cottages were built remains unknown, although ongoing research may one day reveal the answer. It can only be estimated at the moment as during the 18th century or earlier. The area was certainly mentioned in a Will made on 1st March 1704 by one Henry Hawes:

18th Century map of Coomb farm
.... To my son John … all lands called Winters and Coombs in the occupation of William Stone with the aforementioned hedgerow at the bottom of the lower side of Coombs now in my occupation .....

The map of the 1700's clearly depicts Comb Farm


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Location

The hill-side (the Grubbin) and beyond towards Lacey Green was once heavily wooded and variously called Smallden, Smallridge or Smalldean Wood and Common. Trees covered the whole area right down to the current boundary hedge with Little Lane, which was once the main pre-turnpike Wycombe Road via Loosley Row.

Maps of 1811 and 1823 held at the Buckinghamshire Record Office clearly indicate the wooded area and the old Wycombe Road.

At some stage all the woodland was cleared, apart from a small section of mainly Beech trees down the far side of the hill, which still remain. The tree roots were grubbed out and the area thus acquired the name of the Grubbin.

Smallden Wood and the old Wycombe Road

Section of map of 1811 indicating Smallden Wood and Common and the old Wycombe Road (now Little Lane and Lower Road).

The current public footpath across the hillside follows the line of an original Carriage Road, which is indicated on the 1823 map and described in the accompanying register (both held at the Buckinghamshire Record Office, Aylesbury):

XVII: One other private Carriage Road and Public Bridleway of the breadth of 12 feet leading from the Wycombe Road at the south corner of an allotment to Thomas Randall in a southward direction through Smallridge Wood to certain cottages and gardens at Coombs and from thence as a Public Bridleway to a Bridle Gate in the Parish of Horsenden, which said private Carriage Road is set out for the use of the owners and occupiers of the same cottages and gardens for the time being for ever.
A section of the old Carriage Road described above, from the right of the stile at the top of the 	 Grubbin looking towards Bledlow Ridge, Photo 2009.

A section of the old Carriage Road described above, from the right of the stile at the top of the Grubbin looking towards Bledlow Ridge, Photo 2009.


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Owners and Occupiers - A glimpse into the past

A map of the late 1700' s exists and shows at least two buildings surrounded by areas of land recorded as Gingers' Combs, Ginger's Little Combs and Ginger's Great Combs indicating an early landowner/occupier.

Currell was also a name which had long associations with the hamlet over the years.

In 1789 a marriage took place at St Mary's Church, Princes Risborough between a William Currill and a Sarah Ginger of Coombs. suggesting perhaps that the land previously occupied by the Ginger family had eventually passed via marriage to the Currells.

In a survey of the Parish of Princes Risborough 1808-1810 names of owners/occupiers are not recorded, but the survey does describe properties at Coombs as two houses, gardens and closes and a garden in the woods.

The 1821 census although only recording the head of each household does at last give the first recorded names and number of occupants (a total in 1821 of 19) who lived in the hamlet in four properties. All the males being employed in agricultural work with the exception of one other trade in Thomas Randall's household. One unoccupied property was also recorded on the census.

William Currell
Thomas Randall
Thomas Fox
Ann Stone
one family
two families
one family
one family
5 males 4 females
3 males 1 female
1 male 2 females
2 males 1 female

 

It is possible, although yet to be confirmed by any documentation, that William Currell and his household of nine occupied the farmhouse.

At the time of the 1823 Land Enclosure Act, three of the main influential landowners in the area were John Grubb, Lord of the Manor of Princes Risborough, who resided at Horsenden: Lord George Augustus Henry Cavendish and Sir William Lawrence Young, MP for High Wycombe. The 1823 Register records the following names, presumably the landowners:

Cottage & garden at Coombs
Cottage & garden
Cottage & garden at Coombs
Coomb Enclosure
  John Grubb
George West, the younger
William Currell
Sir William Lawrence Young

 

The allotment of land allocated to Thomas Randall referred to in the 1823 Carriage Road extract still remains, being the small triangular plot at the junction of Foundry Lane, Lower Road and Little Lane, a few yards from the stile leading to the Grubbin. The plot can be seen in the below photograph of the 1823 map, numbered '605' (a magnifying glass may be required!).

1823 map showing Plot 605, Footway No. 17 and also the Carriage Road No.XVII

The Randalls were long-established as blacksmiths in Loosley Row: the Thomas Randall listed in the 1821 census at Coombs and employed in one other trade, was possibly the son of the blacksmith who lived at the property still known as Randalls Cottage, plying his trade at the forge next door (Forge Cottage). It is additionally mentioned in the No.17 Footway description:

One other Public Footway leading from the Wycombe Road near the Blacksmith's Shop at Loosley Row in an eastward direction over an allotment to John Jones, Smallridge Wood and an allotment to Sir William Lawrence Young, Baronet, to the Lacey Green Road.

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The People of Coombs -
Information from Census Returns

An extract of the original 1831 census is shown below and clearly defines the hamlet and the heads of each household.

1831 Census extract

By 1841 a few additional details were recorded, but it is not until 1851 that more information can be gained from the census returns. There were four separate families residing at Coombs:

William Currell, a widower of 86, living with his married daughter, Rhoda Dormer, aged 50, a lace maker, and her husband Henry 48, a sawyer. William is recorded as an agricultural labourer.

Next door was Daniel Currell, ag. lab., aged 45, his wife Catherine 40, lace maker, and their six children: John 19 and William 17 both employed on the land; Daniel 10 as a scholar, and the youngest children Jabez 8, Sarah 5 and Richard 3.

Then came John Williams 30 and wife Elizabeth 30 - again employed as agricultural labourer and lace maker respectively. They had four children: Caroline 9, Joseph 6, Fanny 3 and baby Ellen. This family was later to experience four bereavements within a short space of time, which will be referred to later.

James Gomme a 60 year old widower resided in the fourth cottage with his 25 year old unmarried son Jabez - like their male neighbours, with the exception of Henry Dormer, a sawyer, they were farm workers.

Census Returns for 1861 to 1891 record the Coombs' properties still occupied by four separate families, their occupations much as before - agricultural labouring and most of the women were lace makers. One exception in 1871 to farming was a John Gomme who worked as an engineer in the iron foundry.

By 1881 a James Welter and wife Ruth (both aged 36) had moved to Coombs. They were still living there when the 1911 census was taken: both employed in the same occupations as thirty years earlier - James, a farm labourer and Ruth a lace maker.

A name long associated with Coombs, stretching back to William in the late 1700's, was that of Currell. A Daniel Currell and his family were there from 1841 to 1861 and in 1891 another generation was resident in the hamlet, namely George Currell aged 33, ag.lab., with his wife and four children.

Also in 1891 widow and lace maker Ann Harvey proudly recorded in the occupation column of the census return that her 14 year old daughter, Katie was Monitor in Loosley Row School.

Living next door to Ann was a James Harvey with his wife and daughter. James was employed as a railway navvy - a sign that other jobs were gradually drawing men away from farm work. His 15 year old daughter, Emily was a lace beader.


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The Church & Coombs

Prior to the building of St John's Church, Lacey Green in 1825 as a Chapel of Ease, it was necessary for Coombs' residents, along with those in Loosley Row, Lacey Green and Speen to journey to St Mary's Church, Princes Risborough to attend services and ceremonies. The villages (known as the Upper Hamlets) then being part of St Mary's Parish until 1851 when the separate Parish of Lacey Green was formed.

The fortunate ones might have travelled by cart or horseback but the majority, more often than not, on foot across fields - part of the old route taken still known as Churchway. The elderly and infirm would have found it difficult, if not impossible, particularly in inclement weather. The St Mary's Church Registers record a number of Baptisms and Burials relating to Coombs residents prior to 1825 and until 1851 for Marriages.

St. Mary's
St John's
St Mary's, Princes Risborough St John's, Lacey Green

St John's Church above, Lacey Green was consecrated on the morning of 3rd July 1825 and 19 babies and young children were Baptized after the evening service.

The first recorded Baptism from Coombs was on 31 January 1830:

Jesse, child of Thomas & Rebecca Janes of Coombs, labourer.

The very first burial to take place in St John's Churchyard on 27th October 1825 was:

Joseph, aged 9 months, son of John & Mary Smith of Coombs

and the first marriage of a Coombs couple on 16th October 1859 when:

Josepb Currill aged 24, bachelor, labourer son of Daniel Currill, lab., married Mary Rixon, aged 22, spinster, daughter of Robert Rixon, lab.


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Hard Times

Living conditions must have been hard for the residents of Coombs, exposed as they were to the elements on top of the hill, particularly harsh during the winter months.

A dry summer would have also posed problems. In the early years until an underground rainwater tank was installed, residents were required to fetch water from the village well situated opposite the Foundry in Loosley Row. Possibly the men and boys sometimes went in a cart for this purpose, but more likely the water was collected from the well with the aid of yokes and buckets. Those nominated for the task then faced the uphill climb back to Coombs. (Jack and Jill comes to mind)

Local women tried to supplement the family income by stone-picking. Wearing aprons made from old sacking they would collect flint stones from the fields, including the Grubbin. These were then used for road repairs and to fill in potholes. The flints were also used to supplement bricks for house building. Only a few pence was received for this back-breaking task.

Lace making was another popular way for women and girls to help the family income and many living at Coombs were employed as such. Although they were able to work at home the payment received was meagre.

For one family 1854 was a particularly tragic and distressing year when in September, four of John and Elizabeth Williams' children died. Joseph aged 12 years of age, Fanny 7 years, Ellen aged 5 and 16 month old baby Emma, the children probably succumbing to a contagious disease. The parent's anguish cannot be imagined.

They were buried in St John's Churchyard, Lacey Green - Joseph and Ellen on 24th September and Fanny and Emma on 25th and 29 September.

No other deaths occurred in the hamlet around that time, so whatever struck down the Williams children was contained within their household.

In 1887 there was a case of a suicide at Coombs which was reported in the Bucks Free Press. A 68 year old man ended his life in a small shed or chicken house at the rear of his garden. Below is a summary from the newspaper report:

..... The man had been depressed for some 1 2 months, which was attributed to the fact that his son was seriously afflicted with a diseased hip and he feared for his future welfare ... prior to his death during the evening the man was at work in his garden trimming the hedge. He returned into the house and then later went missing. His wife raised the alarm. Doctor Warren of Princes Risborough attended and found life to be extinct. Much sympathy was felt for the relatives and friends of the deceased who had been a well-known and respected member of the community and a Deacon at the Baptist Chapel. Princes Risborough - a post he had filled for some time.

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The Decline

When did the last occupants leave Coombs and when did the cottages and farm finally become uninhabitable and derelict? Unfortunately, for the time being these questions remain unanswered unless anyone else knows otherwise!

In 1901, although four families still lived at Coombs, the total had diminished to 13. Occupations were changing and by that time included a road paver and a millwright. The latter was a James Flint aged 63, who was the first resident in Coombs not born in Buckinghamshire. James gave his place of birth in the census as Borden, Kent.

By 1911 only seven people remained in two of the cottages, the census recording that each property had four rooms. The occupants were all members of the Weller family:

Benjamin Weller, aged 59, working as a general labourer, 55 year old wife Lucy and their three children - Ruth, 15, Benjamin 13 employed as a farm boy and 11 year old William - all born in Saunderton.

Next door were:
James Weller aged 67, a Farm Labourer and his 65 year old wife, Ruth - a lace maker.

In the mid-1950's it was still possible to see the deep rainwater tank, covered with a sheet of iron, in the remains and rubble of a cottage garden. In the orchard during the Spring, snowdrops and daffodils planted by former occupants still flowered alongside wild primroses and violets. For many years a particularly large clump of white violets flourished under a holly tree.

A senior resident who was born in Loosley Row can remember as a child playing in the remains of an old garden at Coombs and picking plums from the orchard.

The photograph below shows the line of trees and some of the land where part of Coombs would have been sited. On the other side of the trees and hedges (out of sight) is the Grubbin.

Site of lost hamlet

Four sections of Ordnance Survey maps below can be compared to see the gradual reduction in buildings at Coombs over the years. By 1956 no properties remain - only the outline of the land they once occupied.

Ordnance Survey maps showing demize of Coombs

It is understood that sometime during the 1970's any remaining rubble from the demolished cottages and farm buildings, along with uprooted trees from the old orchards, was used to fill in the very dangerous underground water-tank: the site was then levelled.

It is now pastureland and nothing remains to be seen, although very occasionally small pieces of red roof tile, brick and crockery fragments can be found along the line of trees near the site of the former hamlet.

This brief story of Coombs barely touches the surface, more information and intriguing details undoubtedly lie hidden in the archives at the Buckinghamshire Record Office, Aylesbury awaiting to be discovered - the research will continue.