The Liberty Legacy

by Barnaby Usborne

In earlier parts we have covered Arthur Lasenby Liberty’s specific influence on the parish boundaries and on St John the Baptist Church. Before we move on, it is worth pausing a moment to reflect on how he came to be in The Lee and what other influences he had.

The Lee manor estate

Arthur was born in 1843 in Chesham, where his father owned a draper’s store. When he was eight the family moved to Nottingham, but he came back frequently to stay at his grandparents’ home at Chartridge Farm. So he knew the area well when, in 1890, having heard from his grandparents that The Lee manor was available, he rented it from the Plaistowe family. Thus began the association between The Lee and the Liberty family that continues to this day.

By the late 1890s he had become a local JP, Chairman of the (then much smaller) Parish Council and High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. He had already begun acquiring land locally and in 1900 he bought the manor from the Plaistowes. We read in Part 4 how he then set about building up the estate to over 3,000 acres and how this in turn led to the expansion of the parish to its present size.

As well as this legacy and the enlarged St John the Baptist Church, his other visible legacies include:

  • The Guild Room opposite the green – built to form a social centre and local meeting room
  • The Well-House built by Liberty craftsmen to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee
  • The tree-lined approach roads
  • An enlarged manor house
  • Clearance of the village green, including re-positioning and re-building the Cock and Rabbit
  • Water supply from a spring in the Misbourne valley
  • The first public telephone
  • The original parish magazine
  • The house at Pipers, built as a wedding present for his eventual heir and successor
A view of the old Cock and Rabbit pub

A view of the ‘old’ Cock and Rabbit

Arthur was knighted in 1913 for ‘services to the applied and decorative arts’. Although shortly afterwards his health began to deteriorate, Arthur and his wife, Emma, continued to invest their time, energy and efforts in bringing improvements to the parish. They had no children of their own.

Paternalistic interest

Arthur died in 1917 and is buried at St John the Baptist Church. His nephew, Ivor, who had been named as Arthur’s heir in 1913, then took over both as head of Liberty’s store and owner of ‘The Lee Manor Estate’.

We learnt in the last part of his role in the Great War. Between the wars, Ivor and his wife Evelyn continued to take a keen and paternalistic interest in the local community. They donated the recreation ground to the village and built the Youth Club (now the Parish Hall) “for the purposes of education and recreation”.

They were the major employer in the parish, keeping a large domestic staff to run the manor house and with many others employed in farming and in the upkeep of the estate. Ivor’s death in 1952 was to mark the end of an era. For fifty years nearly the whole of the enlarged parish including most of the dwellings in it, had been owned by one landlord. He had also employed most of the inhabitants. All this was about to change… as we shall read in the next instalment.

Principal sources

1.    One Hundred Years in The Lee, Ed: Barnaby Usborne (2000)

Part 8: The Lee in the First World War: July 1916
Part 10: Modern Times