History of Haddenham Settlement

Early History

The Domesday book shows that the manor of Haddenham was thriving in 1086. It was not yet a village as the dwellings were in scattered settlements. But it had a church and water mills and all necessary organisation for the community. The manor was granted to Bishop Gundulf of Rochester by King William soon after the Norman conquest, and the Chapter and Dean of Rochester has held land and influence in Haddenham into modern times.

By 1295 the village had grown important enough to be granted a charter for a market and a fair, but proximity to Thame caused objection, and the right was taken away in 1302. The funfair that visits each September is not related to that charter fair and the occasion is still properly known as Haddenham Feast. It was the feast of St Mary and was a celebration run by the residents for many years.

For most of its history the inhabitants of Haddenham were entirely engaged in farming, including the husbandry of Aylesbury ducks, whose present day successors are to be seen on Church End pond. The change to a modern community really began with the Enclosure Act of 1830. This was when the open-fields ridge-and-furrow strip farming gave way to enclosed private fields. The use of agricultural machinery was developing apace, and from that time onwards farming became increasingly efficient so that fewer farm workers were needed. Urbanisation saw the village population decrease as people moved to the towns, factories or to the mines, and even to the colonies. It was a whole century before Haddenham surpassed the population it had in 1851, but it became more diverse with the emergence of new trades and occupations.


The Twentieth Century

The railway came in 1905/6 and the village was excited to have a mainline station and the expectation of becoming important again. Growth was still slow and the First World War was a setback with the loss of 52 young men. By contrast the Second World War was a real stimulus for change as the new pre-war private aerodrome was taken over by the military and designated RAF Thame. The grass airfield was initially used for training army glider pilots, but they were here for only one year and the military then used the site for several other purposes. Although never developed into an aerodrome with concrete runways, the fledgling support factories in one corner became the seeds of today’s large post-war industrial estate. It is currently home to a wide variety of businesses, large and small, with McCormick UK, DAF, and GGR amongst the larger employers. A new road, Pegasus Way, has been constructed to provide a direct link from the business park northwards to the A418.

The spirit of the war-time airfield has lived on through the presence of the Upward Bound Trust Gliding Club, a volunteer-run registered charity which has been teaching young people to fly since 1965. Many of the Trust’s young students have gone on to professional aviation careers; all have gained self-confidence from their achievements in aviation. After 53 years the Trust has been given notice to leave its site by the landowner and is seeking a new home. Gliders overhead will no longer be a feature of summer weekends, but you will still see one commemorated in the village millennium sign at Church End.

The Second World War also saw the military taking over the recreation field at Banks Park in the village centre with Nissen huts and other temporary buildings. After the war the Parish Council (as freeholder) decided to keep the buildings for community activities, and they have evolved through various changes and extensions into the present day Village Hall complex. It includes an exceptionally large main hall, of sufficient size to have hosted at various times roller skating, film shows, theatre productions, indoor markets, and ceilidhs. Banks Park is today also home to the Community Library, the Scout & Guide Centre, Fit-Life gym (originally the doctors’ surgery), and to the Parish Council, which itself has a history going back to 1894.

Part of Banks Park was controversially sold to Spicer Hallfield for their paper and printing factory in 1952. This provided local employment into the present century, when it was sold for housing, a development which in 2015 received a design accolade after its completion. The 1952 decision to sell may have been influenced by the gift in the late 1940s to the village of a new playing field at Woodways in the will of Mr Roberts. The land was later augmented by a further bequest, and by a pavilion and social club built to serve active football, cricket and tennis clubs along with general recreation.

Hadddenham grew considerably during the early post-war period. The three original settlements (or “ends”) of Townsend, Fort End, and Church End completely coalesced. Both Council housing and speculative private house building began in the late 1950s and continued through into the 1970s with estates along Churchway, Stanbridge Road and behind a new parade of shops in Banks Road. Then the village expanded to the west along Thame Road with large estates including Sheerstock. At the same time we lost all our High Street shops, three banks, two garages and several pubs, even while the village was growing. The closure of the railway station in 1963 under the Beeching cuts was not seen as a major blow in the age of the motor car in the 1960s. Meanwhile Haddenham gained a junior and two infant schools, a nature reserve at Snakemoor, a wildlife hospital at Tiggywinkles, a new Medical Centre plus pharmacy on Stanbridge Road, and garden centres.


Into the 21st Century

By contrast to the preceding three decades, the three decades from 1980 to 2010 saw very little change in Haddenham’s population size, and indeed a small decline:

1851
1,703 People
1951
1,666 People 
1981
4,815 People 
2011
4,502 People 

But as the new century approached, events beyond Haddenham were going to have an impact. In 1987 the new Haddenham & Thame Parkway station was opened, and effectively changed the course of Haddenham’s history. In 1996 the train operating franchise was awarded to Chiltern Railways; in 1998 the track was doubled; and in 2015 the link to Oxford was opened on what has become a successful, modern main-line railway. The parallel M40 motorway, just 10 miles from Haddenham, was completed in 1991. From being a rural back water, Haddenham is now in London’s commuter orbit. In current planning jargon, it is a “sustainable strategic settlement”, seen as in pole position to help meet the housing crisis of affordability and unmet demand over supply.

In 2017 the Government declared the entire Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc a major growth zone, with consequences yet to be announced. The District Council’s “Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan”, which covers the period 2011-2033, designates Haddenham for 50% growth, and allocates over 1000 new homes, mainly on three large development sites. These will come with new facilities and resources including additional football pitches, tennis courts, a cricket ground, playgrounds, pavilions, and a new burial ground. At an average occupancy of about 2.5 per dwelling, these developments will provide homes for around 2,500 people to be welcomed into the community.

In recent years Haddenham has featured in various “best place to live” surveys. In 2018 it was shortlisted and featured in the Channel 4 series “Village of the Year”. Particular interest centres on Haddenham’s historic built heritage with its large Conservation Area, regularly used for filming (particularly by Midsomer Murders), 120 listed buildings, and the use of witchert (a local form of earth walling) in most pre-20th century buildings and walls. But just as important, is the sheer extent and exuberance of a vibrant community culture with a remarkable number of active village organisations. Please enjoy your village.