Drovers 1: Water

Drovers‘ animals required a good supply of water along the way, and at stopover points.  Cattle drink more than 20 litres per day (4 to 5 gallons) – which is a lot of water!  In the Chilterns, the Chalk Streams such as the Wye, the Misbourne, the Chess, the Gade, and the Ver would have been an important resource of running water to be exploited as the Chalk Geology creates a Dry Countryside.  Water seeps down through the Chalk and emerges where it meets the underlying Clay, mainly at the foot of the Escarpment.  There is less water now due to Water Extraction.  The Spring Line was favoured by Farms and Hamlets, and Villages are found straddled along it – together with the Icknield Way.  This provides us with a perfect clue for a Drove Route as springs and small watercourses abound at Wendover, at the bottom of the Escarpment, but beyond the Town it is dry.  Wendover Dean had to be crossed before the next source of water at Mobwell.  This is the source of the Misbourne, a large Spring-fed Pond on the outskirts of Great Missenden, situated opposite the Black Horse Pub, which could well have been used by Drovers.


The Fields behind the Pub are full of Springs and Small Streams that eventually join into the Misbourne and this area, for obvious reasons, has never been built on.  The Springs continue to seep out of the ground for half a mile or so.  The Misbourne widens out through the Town, with the Church on High Ground but overlooking the River, and proceeds through the Grounds of what was once Missenden Abbey.  Conveniently for the Drovers, Henry VIII had dissolved the Abbey in the 16thC.  At this point Drovers could have gone 2 ways.  The most obvious Route was to follow the Misbourne through the Chalfonts to Uxbridge, crossing the Colne into Middlesex where the Clay Geology favoured Streams and Ponds. They could also have forked off at Missenden and gone by way of Hyde Heath to Chesham Bois common and the valley of the river Chess keeping just above the flood plain all the way to Rickmansworth and the river Colne, and then going via Harrow straight to Marble Arch and the Road to Smithfield (or the Caledonian or Metropolitan Markets), or going via Bushey Heath to Barnet Fair. The relevance of Hyde Heath will be revealed a bit later. However, in spite of the obvious route, we also know that Ponds were built by Farmers for their Livestock at summer pasture on the Uplands.  Commons are what we are interested in as far as this project is concerned, and Commons had Ponds.  On the top of the Chiltern plateau, the geology is Clay with flints covering the Chalk Bedrock, and Clay is easily puddled to form a durable layer to hold water.

Hyde Heath Ordnance Survey 1822

Much water from the streams is extracted by modern Water Companies and these streams are shadows of their former selves.  For example, a seasonal stream runs along the foot of the Radnage Valley to West Wycombe but, due to Water Extraction in Radnage, it rarely flows except in times of exceptional Rainfall, and not always then. At West Wycombe, this Stream becomes the River Wye which flows through the Dashwood estate and High Wycombe to the Thames at Bourne EndSlough Lane and Slough Farm imply a Wet & Marshy area on the West side of West Wycombe Hill (see Map 2), and in the Caves (created as a result of Chalk Extraction) there is a river deep under the Hill itself.

Andrew Dury 1777 Map “25 miles around Windsor”

This implies an impervious layer of Chalk & Marl causing the water to move sideways instead of downwards, as it does in the porous Chalk Formation.  It may also explain why the original early Medieval village of West Wycombe was situated on the Hilltop, where the Church still sits, and only migrated down the Hill when the Water Table was lower Drovers coming from Stokenchurch were able to take advantage of the Pond at Water End (Beacons Bottom on the edge of the former Common) and then hit a dry run until the Springs and River that rises in the Field known as Long Meadow (behind the old walled Garden) which backs up as far as Chorley Farm (a very long Meadow in fact) where there is a small Stone Bridge over the Stream at this point.  Further downstream from the Village there was a succession of Mills on the River, all the way down to Loudwater on the other side of High WycombeMapOfHighWycombe1835Drovers wishing to avoid the Town, the Mills, and the wheeled Traffic on the Main Road and, not least, the Livestock Market (and its Attendant Fees accrued for using the Town Street, could have gone up the Track to Downley Common, from roughly where the Pedestal Monument is situated. Downley Common provided Pasture and the Le Spencer Pub, as well as Ponds. Although High Wycombe Library has some Papers claiming the Welsh commonly visited Downley, actual positive proof is lacking. Therefore, we have to think where they might have gone after Downley – which is not obvious.  Another modern Road which can be seen on all the early OS maps is that running from Stokenchurch to Lane End. Drovers, we might assume, would have avoided Marlow and instead gone along Park Lane to Booker common, Handy Cross, Flackwell Heath, Fulmer Common and, making use of the Alderbourne, on to Iver Heath, crossing the Colne at Cowley (nr West Drayton).

Ordnance Survey 1822 – Alderbourne Valley

Although it might seem improbable, Drovers seeking out Downley Common as a favoured stopping point, and friendly natives so to speak, may have made their way down Plomer Hill and joined up with this Southern Route on Booker Common (which at one time almost reached as far north as the A40).  Alternatively, if they were intending to sell some of their animals at the Market in Wycombe they could have descended the Hill to the Hughenden Stream and gone that way into Frogmore.  A diversion to Downley Common with its Ponds and Grazing seems to imply a location they were prepared to go out of their way to reach and the vast expanse of Wycombe Heath lay open to them to the North East.  Continuing from Downley Common on to Naphill Common they could have descended into what is now Hughenden Valley Village (avoiding Hughenden Manor) where the Hughenden Brook rises behind the houses (in the fields running from the Harrow Pub).  More importantly, is the Spring-fed Pond on what is now Boss Lane (formerly the track leading up to Kingshill and Great Missenden).  We may note a similar situation prevails in the Valley of the River Gade, with numerous Springs and Streams and a variety of Routes.  The old Town of Hemel Hempstead is built on a Ridge above the Floodplain.  Hemel, incidentally, had an important Sheep Market and Sheep were of course extensively reared in the Chilterns. The Woolpack Pub name is a reference to the Packhorse Trade that carried the Wool to the Mills – and has nothing to do with Sheep Markets.  The big question we might ask – why would Drovers have used commons? The obvious answer is to avoid paying Tolls – but they would still have required a Stopover, a Pub with Victuals and Liquid refreshment, a bed for the night – and, most importantly, permission from the Commoners or Landowner to graze their animals overnight.

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