by Colin Sully and Barnaby Usborne
The fact that most of the land and housing in the parish remained in the estate of Ivor Stewart-Liberty until well after the Second World War meant that urban housing development was very limited in the parish during this period.
One building project to construct 21 council houses was completed by the Rural District Council immediately after the war. Apart from this, virtually all the building in the parish for over 50 years was carried out by the Liberty estate. In addition, existing houses and cottages could only be modified or extended if the landlord agreed.
A new era begins
The death of Ivor Stewart-Liberty in 1952 led to the sale of The Lee manor house together with a significant part of the manor estate; some 1,400 acres.
Following its sale, the manor house (described by Ivor’s son Arthur as “like a gypsy encampment”) was divided into three properties. Seven farms and a great many other houses and cottages were also sold, often to sitting tenants. Out-buildings and farm buildings were converted into independent homes. It was indeed the end of another era and the beginning of a new period for most of The Lee’s residents.
The year 1980 also marks a special point in the history of The Lee. This was the year when Chiltern District Council created a conservation area around the Old Church, the green and the former manor, thereby ensuring that the special architecture and history of this part of The Lee would be preserved for future generations.
In more recent years, rural planning restrictions have further limited the spread of large and small-scale developments. The Green Belt, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Conservation Area have all helped to create and then preserve the character of The Lee parish.
For some time now, the estate and the farms in the parish have no longer been the major employers of the local population. Like many pleasant places to live in the south east of England, The Lee has become more of a ‘community of commuters and retired folk’ than a truly agricultural community – even though we are surrounded by agricultural countryside and reminded of it every day.
The parish’s long history and the legacy of the Liberty estate continue to have a major impact on both the appearance and the character of the parish. Many of the traditional events and activities of The Lee that go back over 100 years – the flower show, the cricket club, the WI, etc. – are not just ‘preserved’ as an act of nostalgia but are still celebrated and valued by the present community. It is not surprising that such a community has more recently also created a community Shop and the LeeWay. [LeeWay, now suspended, was created to provide support, in an informal and friendly way, to those villagers who needed some help. This help could be, for example, a home visit, a car-ride to the doctor, hospital or shops, collecting shopping or a prescription, a friendly chat, etc.]
The 21st century
The proximity of London and of international airports, together with the advent of the internet and ‘high-speed’ broadband, have all greatly increased the attractiveness of the Chilterns in general and The Lee in particular as a place to live – notwithstanding the ever-increasing impact of road traffic, air transport and now (possibly) high-speed rail.
The small size of this parish, its special geographic location, its unique history and the visions of the people that have shaped it, have all combined together to make The Lee parish what it is today.
Just what it might look like in the future, we will speculate on in the final part of this history of The Lee.
- One Hundred Years in The Lee, Edited by Barnaby Usborne (2000).