by Barnaby Usborne
As we have seen in earlier parts of this history, the origins of parishes date back over a thousand years. In the case of The Lee, the influences of the Normans, of the monks of Missenden Abbey and of the mediaeval lords are all clearly evident.
The exchange of properties and land (sometimes voluntarily and sometimes through the order of the Crown), national and local laws and systems of tax collection have all shaped the parish boundaries.
The first parish
The original parish at Lee was based on the early manor estate with boundaries extending only as far as Hunts Green in the south and Kings Ash in the north. The boundary in the east followed the footpath from Lee Gate to Chapel Farm from where it cut across the fields to Hunts Green, excluding Lee Common.
At the end of the 19th century the parish comprised just 500 acres and 33 properties, with a population of 125 people. The houses in the surrounding hamlets of Kings Ash, Lee Gate, Lee Common and Swan Bottom, were then in the adjacent parishes of Wendover and Great Missenden.
When Arthur Lasenby Liberty first started to rent The Lee manor house in 1890, The Lee was a village of great simplicity, with no main roads, water or drainage. Before his arrival, the manor had been occupied by a series of tenants with little interest in the village. The absentee landlords (the Plaistowes) were happy to sell the estate to Arthur, which they did in 1898.
Arthur was tiring of city life and was keen to return to his roots in the country. He set about this with the same vigour and determination with which he had founded his company (Liberty of Regent Street).
The Lee manor estate
Over the next few years he bought more than 3,000 acres of land, including 12 working farms, several large houses, many small cottages and lots of pubs. The Lee manor estate was extended to Prestwood and Wendover Dean to the west and north, and across Arrewig Lane to the east.
Arthur was regarded as being a good landlord, popular with his tenants. He built new houses and extended others (including the manor); he arranged for water to be piped up from the Misbourne valley; and he introduced the first public telephone.
In 1901 Arthur Liberty invited the residents of Lee Common, then part of Great Missenden parish, to join The Lee in preparing celebrations to mark the Coronation of Edward VII. Thus began the move for an enlarged parish, which Arthur as chairman of the Parish Council and a County Councillor was to campaign for vigorously over the next decade.
Under The Lee’s protection
The battle for enlargement was fierce, as both Wendover and Great Missenden parishes strongly opposed the transfer of their “outlying districts” to The Lee. But these districts had strong grievances, among which was their liability for loans for drainage work in Wendover and Great Missenden from which they themselves did not benefit.
In 1907 these residents sent a letter to Arthur asking him to call a public meeting to discuss the serious matter of bringing their homes under the protection of The Lee. Arthur claimed that enlargement would not affect him personally as he already owned almost all of the land. But as he felt it would be of benefit to many of his friends, he paid the administrative costs himself.
The campaign was successful and in 1911, after a great deal of discussion and a series of public enquiries, an Act of Parliament transferred over 1000 acres from Wendover and 500 from Great Missenden to make The Lee four times its original size and as we see it today. Overnight the population increased from 125 to 775 and the number of occupied houses rose from 33 to 188.
To mark the enlargement, Arthur organised the revival of the custom of beating the bounds of the parish, a custom repeated again on 12th March 2011 to mark the centenary of the occasion.
Note: Beating of the Bounds was last carried out in September 2019, as possibly the last occasion when the boundaries were accessible prior to construction of HS2.
In the next instalment we learn more of the Liberty family’s influence on The Lee.
1. One Hundred Years in The Lee, Edited by Barnaby Usborne (2000)
2. Coronation Year Records, Compiled by A. Lasenby Liberty