The-Lee or not The-Lee? That is the-question

This page is based on an article by Mike Senior which originally appeared in the Newsletter in 2003.

Signpost at the junction of Lee Clump Road and Chesham Lane. The fingers point west to Swan Bottom and Wendover, south to The Lee and east to Lee Common, Chartridge and Chesham

The question raised is whether The Lee should or should not be hyphenated (The-Lee). Compared to some global problems this issue is, of course, small beer, but nevertheless has caused some little controversy in the area.

The problem is that our village seems to have had a number of names in its time. One of the earliest spellings comes from the twelfth century records of Missenden Abbey which refers to ‘Lega’. Then in 1356 the Abbot of Missenden, Ralph Marshall, was convicted of “counterfeiting and clipping the King’s coin, namely groats and sterling, at his manor called Legh”. This schizophrenia continued into Henry VIII’s time when, in 1537, the village was once again referred to as ‘Lega’.

Just ten years later, some papers from Edward VI’s reign make mention of “the lordship and manor of Lye, alias, Ley”. Thomas Plaistowe’s memorial (1715) in the Old Church refers to ‘the Lee’ (with a small ‘t’) and during the nineteenth century the village became known simply as ‘Lee’. In 1847, for example, the Revd W. Watson “was nominated curate of Lee”. In his “History of Buckinghamshire” (1832), J. Sheahan goes further and not only calls the village ‘Lee’, but says that it was “formerly called Lee Chapel”.

It was in the 1890s and early 1900s that the hyphen began to appear in The-Lee and the Victoria County History of 1908 stated that the official postal address was ‘The-Lee’. The hyphen persisted during the 1920’s and 1930’s, but, just to complicate matters, Kelly’s Directory of 1939 calls the village “Lee (or The Lee)”. Today, most people would settle for “The Lee”.

I suspect that Sir Arthur Liberty was the man behind the hyphen – it was just his style. The story goes that when the local Council put up new signposts sometime about 1910 they called the village ‘The Lee’. This displeased Sir Arthur who immediately sent out a gang to paint in the hyphen.

So there we are. What’s in a name? Take your pick – Lega, Legh, Lye, Ley, Lee Chapel, the Lee, Lee, The-Lee or The Lee. What does it matter anyway? But, come to think about it, how about Lee-Common, Hunts-Green, King’s-Ash and Swan-Bottom? Well, perhaps not.