Category Archives: general

A tribute to John Sapsford and Rivers Orchard

2008 john sapsford in his later years sHello,

Currently I am preparing the second of two articles about John Sapsford (1922 – 2010) a local history luminary who wrote about Sawbridgeworth and High Wych.

In his later years John was active in promoting the Rivers Orchard Project.  The importance locally of Rivers Nursery (1725 – 1987) cannot be underestimated.  John Sapsford  collaborated intensely with Elizabeth Waugh, author of “THE ART OF PRACTICAL POMOLOGY, THE HISTORY OF RIVERS NURSERY, a book I cannot recommend enough.                                                                                                  Elizabeth came up with the below tribute:

For a number of years, I enjoyed working with John afternoons in his bright sitting room. I was attempting to pull together the facts that would form the basis for writing of the rise and fall of Rivers Nursery, one of the most important in terms of employment and prestige and certainly the longest surviving of local businesses. John was a fount of local knowledge in the best possible sense: he gloried in the accurate recording of events, having a positive attitude to assembling mundane facts in chronological order, in bearing witness to his times from his place in them. Unlike many writers he did not choose to aggrandise himself. He seemed to take pleasure from paying attention in an intelligent manner and noting what he observed.

Although he focused on several other subjects too, his relation to the Rivers Nursery is a good example of his skills. His father was one of the long-term employees of the company which at its height in the early 20th century employed up to 300 people – but one who rose to be manager. John never worked for Rivers but in addition to being a good archivist of his father’s documents, he was quietly collecting information as he grew up and went to work for other employers. As John witnessed the prosperous times and the decline of the business as well as the eventual rebirth of Rivers Orchard as a local heritage, he was there at a crucial period. In his later years, he found time in his industrious way to make notes and take pictures and to share them with all who were interested.

His efforts can be valued for being comprehensive and his own modesty allowed him to see the people and events he walked through without bias. His quiet achievements and accurate knowledge certainly underpinned the efforts to preserve the memory of Rivers Nursery, in its way the embodiment of the rural Sawbridgeworth that is so quickly disappearing.

Elizabeth Waugh

The below picture, taken on 1st September 2016 shows Rivers Orchard in its full glory.  It is good the Orchard has been saved!


John Sapsford, the Sapsfords, the Burys and the Birds

Currently I am preparing publication of an article based on the writings of John Sapsford.  As some of you may know already, John Sapsford (1922 – 2010)  wrote extensively about the history of High Wych and Sawbridgeworth.  I received a lot of help from John’s daughter, Wendy Oxborough who supplied me with some lovely photographs. Amongst those is the below  picture taken in 1907 at the wedding of Alice Sapsford and Walter Bird. Perhaps some of your ancestors are in it as well!

1907 wedding of alice sapsford to walter bird

According to John Sapsford’s writings the people in the above photograph are:

Backrow left to right: Frank Bury, Susanna Thurgood, Percy Saban, Harry Tucker, William Bird, George Childs, Emma Thurgood, Nellie Thurgood, William Sapsford, Jim Eaton, Bertha Rickett, Minnie Rickett.

Middle row left to right: Lilian Bury, May Tucker, Louisa Sapsford, Walter Bird, Alice Bird, Alfred Sapsford, Liza Saban.

Bottom row left to right: Leonard Thurgood, Harold Thurgood, William Bury, George Rickett, Emily Tucker, Arthur Sapsford, William Rickett.

Talk to you soon. Best regards,  Theo

Grace Dunn

hw 65 grace dunnThose of you who have read my articles may have noticed mention of this lady.  A lifelong villager she wrote her reminiscences and also a short history of our village.      It is my intention to write an article about her. Meanwhile it might be a good idea to to make her writings directly available. Had she been alive whilst the internet came about, I am sure that is what she would have wanted.

Click here for Grace Dunn’s history of High Wych.

Click here for Grace Dunn’s personal recollections.

Thanks to Chris Finch for making these nice handwritten versions available.




A Message for September

Because of a bereavement in my family no High Wych History article was published in our parish magazine the Link this month. I did  however send round an article I wrote for the Hertfordshire family history society. It is of a more general nature but may still be of interest to you. You could download it. Just click on this link

Whilst on the subject of the Herts FHS, I suggest you visit their website and have a look round. Who knows, you might even want to join! Check out

My next article will once again discuss  the first world war, its implications for our village and talk about two soldiers who actually survived that awful conflict.   After that I intend to turn to Allens Green and hope to discuss the Queens Head public house there and the primary school which existed there until the early sixties when it was incorporated into High Wych School. If you have information on those two subjects, please get in touch.

Meanwhile, over in our neighbouring town the Herts at War Exhibition has opened. It will run until 31st December 2015 at Sayesbury Manor, Bell St, Sawbridgeworth CM21 9AN. Opening days are – Thursday by appointment, Friday 10-4 and Saturday 10-4. Anyone wishing to volunteer, book an appointment or requiring further information can visit or contact Dan Hill – As yet there is not as much High Wych and Gilston content as some would wish but that as soon to be remedied.

Talk to you soon,  Theo

Super 8 or VHS to DVD conversion – Can you help?


I have in my possession a Super 8 film and a VHS tape containing images of High Wych and Allens Green from 1965, the latter being a conversion of the first.    Is there anybody amongst you who is able and willing to convert either to a DVD compatible video file?   I am told that conversion from  the original Super 8 would result in the best quality image.

My idea would be to combine the 1965 images with ones from the present day and perhaps sell the resulting disc for charity.  If you think you can help e-mail me at theo at vandebilt  dot co dot uk

Please do not use the comment facility as I am swamped with spam and might accidentally delete your your message as a result.

Thanks,  Theo





Please help me


A lot of my research currently concerns WW1 and the way this conflict touched the lives of ordinary people around here. Now however I need help concerning the details of  soldiers mentioned on the plaque in  St. James’s Church.  See belowIMG_5175 There are 4 soldiers mentioned on that plaque of whom I have not been able find any details, e.g. the date and place of their passing, their regiment and where they were at the time of the 1911 census. They are Henry Camp, Hugh Lipscomb, Percy Morris and Walter Richard Webb.

There is private Joseph Cakebread who is not mentioned on the plaque but perhaps should be. Probate records have him resident in High Wych and mention his wife Lily Maud. Joseph served in the 2nd Bedfordshire and was born in Hoddesdon in 1884. Prior to WW1 he lived with his grand parents who manned the post office in London Road Sawbridgeworth, so I am told but I have not been able to verify.

Finally there is major Henry Griffith Boone who was born in  Trichinopoly, India on 16-11-1880. He died near Ypres on 5-9-1917   and  served in the Royal Horse Artillery and the Royal Field Artillery. At the time of the 1911 census Boone lived  in Okehampton Hamlets, Devon. Newspapers from 1917 mention Amwell Bury Farm near Ware as the resident of his widow Margaret. Lots of detail therefore but nothing that points to High Wych. So why was he included?

If you know anything about any of the above. Please get in touch.  Thank you,   Theo




Book Review

MI 106

If your name is Blackaby, Brace, Camp,   Fish, Holden, Springham, Kempthorne, Macscall, Ward or Wybrew and your family has but the slightest connection to High Wych, Eastwick or Gilston you will find this little book interesting.  The Hertfordshire Family History has produced a handsome booklet listing monumental inscriptions of graves in the three churchyards of our local parishes. The authors, a team lead by Janet and John Pearson, carried on work done by   W.B. Gerish in 1909. All legible inscriptions are listed and an index provided shows which grave is where.My own work as High Wych historian is greatly helped by all this information!

Of course, both Eastwick and Gilston churches are much older than St.James’s High Wych. They both date from the 13th century. St. Botolphs Eastwick must even have been preceded by an earlier church. In 1138 Baldwin de Clare gave Eastwick Church to Bourne Abbey in Lincolnshire. Consequently there is some intriguing stuff to be found on the relevant pages.

Priced at £8.00 inclusive of postage and packing the little tome is more than worth the money.  Order it from the  HFHS’s website:  or by e-mail from their booksales officer at

7 – High Wych Memorial Hall

Our Village Hall dates from 1923 but the idea of building came about much earlier. Sometime after the death in 1908 of Bishop Johnson, first vicar of High Wych, it was suggested a village hall should be built dedicated to his memory. The first mention I found of those plans date from January 1912. See below. Five months later, on 22nd June, the Essex Newsman reported on another fundraiser: a garden fete and bazar held at the Manor of Groves. Under auspices of Mr. Frederick Silva, then resident there, the event was opened by Johnson;s successor as bishop of Colchester, the right rev. R.H. Whitcombe. The band of the Essex Yeomanry lent jollification and “a considerable sum was raised”

H and E Observer 1912 0120 hwmh masthead

Fundraising continued but the Great War intervened. In November 1922 however, local landowner Arthur Salvin Bowlby donated a plot of land adjacent to the Churchyard with a view of erecting a village hall. Henry Fowell Buxton, a brewer who then lived at the Manor of Groves, Horace Fuller Rackham, the vicar and Bowlby himself signed the deed of gift. They also became the first trustees. The Hall was to be dedicated to the memory of Bishop Johnson of Colchester, first High Wych vicar and to those who lost their lives in the Great War. The deed stipulated the Hall was to be used “for the purposes of physical and mental recreations and for holding meetings in connection with religious and philanthropic objects”. How to interpret this was left to the trustees but it was also said that “the premises shall at no time be used for revolutionary propaganda.”  

H and E Observer 1912 0120 hwmhWork started quickly and after only four months the Hall was finished. An article in the Herts and Essex Observer at the time described it as “a handsome building of brick and red slates”. It becomes a meeting place for High Wych Village Club, the Parish Council, ,the Women’s Institute, the Men’s Club, the Scouts and Cubs, the Hockey Club, the Girl Guides and the Brownies. Naturally villagers are as proud as punch of their new hall and the local paper mentions many occasions of its use. In 1923 only the Herts and Essex Observer of 1923 mentions our new hall several times.   A whist drive in April of that year is the first example I found. Some seventy people took part and raised funds so that a piano could be bought. On 17th November it is reported that that H.F.  Buxton (another new resident at the Manor of Groves) donated a billiard table to the newly formed men’s club.

H and E Observer 1923 0324 HWMH     HWMH Herts and Essex Observer 1923 (Small)

As the twenties roll into the thirties, forties, fifties and onwards, the Hall continues to be a focal point of village life. The Hockey Club and Cricket Club organize dances. The WI organizes its monthly meetings. The Hall was also used as a canteen for the children of High Wych School. Until the early seventies school dinners were prepared in the kitchen and served in the Hall itself. Those who were there remember hard folding chairs and splinters in backsides!

During the Second World War, High Wych Memorial Hall provided services for the women working in the Land Army. Dinners were often prepared and served for them there. Whist drives were organized as well as dances when locals and visiting members of the armed services jitterbugged to the music of Jay Dimmock and his band, a 5 piece combo from Hoddesdon. Some twenty years later that same Jay Dimmock gave a teenage Cliff Richard his first chance to sing. That happened in Cheshunt though, not High Wych! 

The post war years are mainly remembered for two people : Arthur Clow and Michael Elsdon. Arthur Clow who served from 1939 until 1969, was caretaker, treasurer, booking secretary and secretary rolled into one. Those who wanted to hire the hall went to see him, paid the money, got the keys and got on with it. Mike Elsdon, a young mechanical engineer who worked at Holbrooks came to High Wych in  1940. Immediately he became involved in local affairs including the Village Hall. In 69 Len Helmer (yes him again) proposed Mike Elsdon become chairman and the Hall Committee was put on a more formal footing. Most importantly preparations were started for an extension of the Hall. Mr Bob Springham, a young local architect, offered his services and produced the necessary drawings and a model. All that was needed now was the money!!!

hw 65 scrapbook page 006 village hall             springham 70 07 hwvh extension proposal a

High Wych Memorial Hall in 1965        One of Bob Springham’s sketches for the new Hall

Over the next months and years Mike Elsdon leads his committee in a frenzy of fundraising and discussions on planning and finance. Some of you may recall an embroidered picture in the Hall (made by committee member Grace Dunn) showing the signatures of people who donated money to the project. Our one hundred club was also started around that time. In the end total costs of the project came close to £ 20.000, a big sum for those days. Luckily some financial assistance was provided by the local council. By the summer of 1973 a formal dedication ceremony was held. See copied article from the Herts & Essex Observer on the facing page.

hw 65 grace dunn hw village hall006 part

1970: Grace Dunn does her embroidery                  1973 – The New Hall is revealed   

In 1972 Jack Balaam joined the Hall Committee. Whilst he was not in the same vein as Arthur Clow, he did for many years serve as the first point of call for those wanting to hire the Hall. Jack, who served as both treasurer and booking secretary was on the committee for many years until his untimely death in 1991. Many still remember him with admiration and affection. Mike Elsdon stayed on as chairman until 1976 when he was succeeded by L.J. Hibbs who was followed by Charles Wentworth Stanley who served until the early nineties when the author of this article (who he?) took over. Through all those years, in fact until 1995, Mike Elsdon stayed on the committee giving us the benefit of his experience.

It was during my own term of office, which lasted until the late nineties, that Pam and Bob Giles joined the Hall Committee. It is surely safe to say that Pam and Bob are now as closely associated with High Wych Memorial Hall as Arthur Clow and Jack Balaam once were. Meanwhile, Mandy Reynolds took over from yours truly as Committee Chair. She was followed by Paul Stephenson who has now been at the reins for some six years.

HWMH Muslim Wedding3The 21st Century – A Muslim Wedding at High Wych Memorial Hall

1402 2401 david saunders buys stamps in hwmh post office

Monday 24th February 2014 Councillor David Saunders buys stamps at the newly opened HWMH post offfice

Through all those years the Hall has continued to play an important role in HW village life. Activities include Karate, Scottish Dancing and Tai Chi. The Women’s Institute and the Ladies group continue to use the Hall whilst recently a weekly  Internet Café was started. Finally, from Monday 24th February the Hall will host an outreach post office.

Yes, times have moved on. High Wych has changed from little more than a hamlet to something approaching suburbia, regrettable that may be but that is life! And what do I personally recall most from my time on the Hall Committee? It was an occasion when we were trying to stamp out commercial hirings, that is to say prevent the Hall being hired for “private parties”, which were but a cover for profit making ventures. When questioned, a culprit claimed their party was held “to celebrate our aunt’s successful hysterectomy operation”

Those who want to know more, or even book the Hall can visit

Information for this article mainly comes from my own “short and incomplete history of High Wych Memorial Hall” Two pictures were lifted from the Hall website.

1203 2106 memorial hall lscp

The Hall as it is today         

1 – Introduction – The 1965 WI scrapbook

The idea for these articles came about after having seen the exhibition at the school in 2011 to commemorate their 150th anniversary. An excellent book was published on the occasion and I thank Mandy West and Lorraine Winser for their efforts and their encouragement. Then, in early 2012 I was allowed to look at a scrapbook from 1965. That scrapbook was produced by members of the HW Women’s Institute on the occasion of their golden jubilee. It provides a fascinating view on how we lived nearly 50 years ago.

In 1965 the population of our Parish stood at 629 and there were 253 rated properties. There were two pubs, now there is only one. There were two shops. Likewise, there now is only one. The two largest houses, then as now, were the Manor of Groves, now a hotel and the Grange, originally the vicarage; in 1965, the home of the Wentworth Stanley family and still a private residence. Helmer & Dyer, the builders, Dixon’s Garage and Andrew’s Heating provided local employment. There was no street lighting. A proposal to install 15 lights was put forward but not decided upon as only four members of the Parish Council attended the relevant meeting.

The scrapbook tells of meetings of the WI of course, of the Young Wives Group and of other organisations. One such was the “Silver Lining Club”, the flourishing over sixties organisation which has since folded and which organised monthly meetings, outings and holidays for its members. There are pictures and reports of weddings and births, of fairs organised by the school and the scouts of the harvest supper. On the “dark side” burglaries at the Manor of Groves and at Crumps Farm are mentioned.   

 Most impressively in 1965 High Wych did once again win the best kept village of Hertfordshire competition. Our village scored 100 points, the highest possible number of marks.

Leafing through the scrapbook makes one feel more than a little bit nostalgic,sad even at the loss of community spirit and togetherness. Nowadays it seems we are but another commuter village for people who work elsewhere and whose social life has little to do with our immediate neighbours. Luckily we still have our church, our school, our one shop, our one pub and our memorial hall not to mention organisations such as the Garden Club and the WI.

hw 65 scrapbook page 019 school 2 25 hw 65 scrapbook page 020 school  caree taker Mr. Beale & cleaner Mrs. Bird 25

School children at play  – Mrs. Bird (school cleaner) with Mr. Beale the caretaker

hw 65 scrapbook page 001 green 25 hw 65 scrapbook page 001 pink cottages bw25 s

The village green in 1965

hw 65 scrapbook page 006 Arnold the painter  (from H&D) at work on memorial Hall 50   hw 65 scrapbook page 031 silver lining club leaving for bognor small

Arnold the painter takes a break from painting the village hall – The Silver Lining Club leaves for Bognor.

hw 65 scrapbook page 014 february  guides - Gladys Wood 25 cropped   hw 65 scrapbook page 013 january scouts 2 25

Gladys Wood in her guides uniform – Cubs with Akela. 

Thanks to the Parish Council for letting us borrow the scrapbook, contents of which have now been completely scanned in. The scrapbook itself is now on view at the school.


Hello and Happy New Year!

This is my first posting on the new High Wych History blog.  You may already have read my articles in the Link , our parish magazine. These will of course continue to be published there. Through this blog  however I will be able to keep you updated on my research more regularly and in more detail.  As time goes by extended versions of various earlier articles as well as new articles will be posted first here.

As always, please contact me if you have a contribution, criticism or correction to make. I am always on  the look out for new subjects, photographs and stories. Unless you specifically ask me not to do so I will always mention my sources.

Thank you and best wishes