Lowndes Park History
The first record of the land where the park is located relates to its ownership by the Sifrewasts in the 12th Century. We know that the land was aquired by The Whichcotes in the 17th Century and that they created the main avenue running through the Lower Park (now known as the Rue de Houilles in honour of our French twin town Houilles) by planting a double row of elm trees. Skottowes Pond was excavated in the 18th Century and filled with natural spring water. The pond is named after the Skottowe family, who owned a mansion house, called Bury Hill House, which once stood in the area where the Guide Hut is now located. Investigations by the Chess Valley Archeological and Historical Society have suggested that the Rolling Pin, a mysterious bump in the landscape at the top of the park, may be connected to the Bury Hill Manor. Excavations have revealed the foundations of a small structure, which might have been a viewing tower or gazebo utilised by the manor's occupants.
The "Rolling Pin" at the top of Lowndes Park
William Lowndes bought the land in 1802, demolished Bury Hill House and added the land to the grounds of The Bury, a grand house that still stands today off Church Street. It is thought that the viewing tower was demolished at the same time and that large quantities of rubbish from the demolished manor house were dumped on the site of the Rolling Pin; excavations in 2009-10 revealed a large number of empty wine and mineral water bottles, as well as broken pot and the remains of a pet cat and tortoise!
The predominant use of the land in the 19th Century was grazing, which would have created a truly rural scene in the heart of the town. However, written recollections of long-passed Chesham residents indicate that the lower park was also freely open for public enjoyment. In 1845 the elm avenue was felled and replaced with a single row of elms and the avenue was gravelled in the 1890s.
The Rue de Houilles as it looks today
During World War One, the park was used for training soldiers in bridge construction across Skottowes Pond. And at the end of the war, the park was the focus of Chesham's Peace Celebrations, including a lunch party, fireworks and ceremonial tree planting.
Recreational use of the park became more formalised in the 1920s, when the Lower Park was let by the Lowndes family to Chesham Urban District Council as a public recreation ground at a rent of one shilling per year. The Lowndes family did, however, reserve the right to drive cattle and other animals along the avenue! The pond was given concrete edges and the island created. The Council must have appreciated the need for recreational space in town, as in 1949 the Council purchased nearly 28 acres of upper park land from the Lowndes family at a cost of almost £3,000.
The avenue elms were felled in 1950 as they were thought to have Dutch Elm Disease. Most of the trees, however, were found to have been healthy. In 1953, coinciding with the departure of the Lowndes family from the area, William Lowndes reversed the 1920 lease and made a gift to the Council of the 9 acres that form the lower park. The park was then the centre of the town's Coronation celebrations in June of that year.
In 1957, the Council purchased a final 0.85 acres of land at the very top of the park, completing the jigsaw puzzle of individual parcels of land to create the park as we recognise it today. Grazing of cattle only ended in the park in 1959. During the 1970s, the pond and island were refurbished and a water staircase created. On the 2nd June 1972, the Council dedicated Lowndes Park in its entirety to the public for their use as public walks and pleasure grounds.
From the 1980s to the present day, the facilities currently found in the park were added, including the skateboard park, toilets and play equipment.