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Cycle Chiltern's Country Lanes

Cycle instructor and history buff Katy Rodda guides us on a quiet loop just a short train hop from the capital

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This ride takes you to some key locations associated with the parliamentarian John Hampden (1595-1643). Until the 1850s, John Hampden was more famous than Oliver Cromwell for his role in the Civil War and anyone who knows their dates will see that Hampden died well before Charles I was beheaded (1649), leaving his hands conspicuously clean of the monarch’s blood. Navigationally the route is very straight-forward, but there’s three options from the station.

OPTION 1 — Turn left for a tough, direct climb on the main road up to Prestwood where you turn right at the NCN route 57 sign.

OPTION 2 — Turn right, then right at first mini-roundabout, then go straight through the village (past Roald Dahl museum) and along the valley road until the Nag’s Head pub. Turn right, go under the railway bridge and then immediately turn right through part of Little Kingshill. Go up hill until you spot the NCN route 57 sign. Turn right here and keep going in a straight line on the NCN route 57 and across the main road.

OPTION 3 — Follow the route uphill off road through Angling Streams Wood, until you join NCN route 57.

JOHN HAMPDEN SHIP MONEY MONUMENT

Charles I ran into deeper and deeper trouble, and debt, during the 1630s. His policies towards the Scottish Protestants (‘covenanters’) had lead to outbreaks of rebellion in the north, and he also failed to avoid expensive warfare in Ireland. Knowing that the policies causing the uprisings were unpopular with many in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, he simply refused to call parliament to sit, and this meant that he could not follow procedure to raise new taxes. In desperation, he tried to revive an old tax that had been levied on coastal locations to pay for coastal defences in earlier times.

In landlocked Buckinghamshire, far from the sea, Hampden refused to pay, maintaining that the tax was illegal. Backed by other key parliamentarians in both houses, Hampden narrowly lost his stand in court but gained the moral victory against tyranny for the parliamentarian cause, holding the king to account on behalf of all his people. The ship tax was increasingly unpaid and the king was forced to recall parliament after an interval of 11 years.

GREAT HAMPDEN CHURCH

Hampden was mortally wounded on 18 June 1643 at the Battle of Chalgrove Field. He died six days later and his body was brought back to Great Hampden. However, the site of his grave was kept secret so that his remains, unlike those of Pym and Cromwell, were not dug up and dismembered at the 1660 Restoration.

HAMPDEN HOUSE

Hampden was born into a wealthy family in 1595. The Hampdens had lived at Great Hampden since before the Norman Conquest and had long been active in public life at court, parliament and local government. Sons of William Hampden and Elizabeth Cromwell, John and his younger brother Richard (born 1596) were first cousins to Oliver Cromwell, who later became Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland.

John Hampden gained a reputation as a shrewd parliamentary tactician, challenging the moves of Charles I’s closest advisors in the Privy Council; he was one of the ‘Five Members’ who narrowly escaped arrest by the King on a charge of High Treason in January 1642. Hampden House is still privately owned. It is available for hire for weddings and other events.

CHINNOR

The early part of 1643 did not go especially well for the Parliamentarians; they lost ground to the Royalist forces in a number of places. However, Charles I had difficulties of his own. Short of money, his army was constantly on the verge of disbanding due to lack of pay. With this short age in mind, his ally Prince Rupert of the Rhine (Charles I’s nephew) decided to go after a Parliamentarian pay wag on passing through the countryside east of Oxford.

On the night of 17 June 1643, a Parliamentarian army was scattered in billets across the countryside near Chinnor; it was an unsatisfactory arrangement and when Rupert ambushed the village early in the morning of 18 June, the Parliamentarian response was disorganised. However, Hampden and the Earl of Essex between them managed to rally some troops to respond to the Royalists.

CHALGROVE FIELD

After the daybreak skirmish at Chinnor, the Royalists began a planned retreat that eventually drew the Parliamentarians after them until they reached Chalgrove Field. Here Prince Rupert’s tactics proved superior and when the Royalists left the field heading back towards Oxford, they had inflicted the greater casualties.

At about 9.30am John Hampden was seen leaving the battlefield, “his head hanging down and his hands leaning upon his horse’s neck”. He had received a bullet wound to his shoulder, or possibly an incorrectly-loaded pistol had exploded in his hand. He went first towards Pyrton Manor (you passed a turning for Pyrton about 10 minutes before reaching Chalgrove) but was sent on, in agony, to Thame.

There was one good outcome from the battle for the Parliamentarians: Prince Rupert failed to find the pay wagon. It vanished, cargo intact, into the wooded hills of the Chilterns.

THAME

Hampden went to school in Thame before entering Magdalen College, Oxford. On 24 June1 643 he died in a building in the centre of this small market town, where a plaque is placed. Hampden is commemorated widely: as well as numerous street names (including the Hampden Terrace that gave Scotland’s national football stadium its name) there are towns across the world as well as ships, a WWII bomber, and an electric locomotive named after him.

John Hampden’s name is still used to rally support for campaigners for constitutional monarchies and those seeking democracy. In the early 19th century, political associations known as ‘Hampden Clubs’ discussed constitutional reform, and in the early 20th century an offshoot of the women’s suffrage movement, the Women’s Tax Resistance League, adopted Hampden as its figurehead. Hampden’s statue stands at the entrance to the central lobby to the House of Commons, close to the spot where Speaker Lenthall addressed the king as he came to arrest John Hampden, John Pym and the other members of ‘The Five’.

All that now remains of the route are seven peaceful miles on the Phoenix Trail; you can catch a London-bound train direct from Princes Risborough. Or instead enjoy a sharp climb back into the Chilterns and a pint in The Hampden Arms (Great Hampden) or The Cross Keys (Great Missenden).

 

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