Take a trip through history
The River Chess catchment has a rich history from mills to watercress, Iron Age relics to ancient meadows.
Humans and rivers have been inextricably linked over the millennia, and the River Chess is no exception. The River Chess catchment is strewn with reminders of past generations and their connection to the river.
Rich in history – the cultural heritage of the River Chess and its catchment
Look out for these prehistorical features:
Flint tools and workings
Evidence of flint workings, such as tools and weapons, from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age; 11,700-4,000 BC) and Neolithic Periods (New Stone Age; 4,000-2,000 BC).
Iron Age farmstead
Located near to Chenies Bottom, a farmstead from the Iron Age (650 BC – 40 AD) was still occupied in Roman times (43-410 AD).
Whelpley Hill Hillfort
One of two hillforts in the catchment, and probably a site where objects were manufactured for trade.
Cholesbury Camp Hillfort
A large, enclosed hillfort. Which was used intermittently for iron production from the Iron Age into Roman times.
One of a series of linear earthworks. This section may have been a territorial boundary marker.
A villa with mosaic floors and underfloor heating was excavated under the current sire of Restore Hope at Latimer.
Evidence of a Roman road leading from the River Thames crossing the Chess near Chenies, and continuing to St Albans (the Roman city of Verulamium).
LiDAR – how it helps us to see the past
LiDAR stands for ‘Light Detection and Ranging’ and is a remote sensing method that uses pulses from a laser to collect measurements to examine the Earth’s surface. These measurements can be built up to create a 3D model of an area, mapping the ground beneath the airborne platform (usually a plane or helicopter) used to scan it. It can show us features of the landscape that have long been forgotten, whether a hillfort lost to grassland or a World War I training trench deep in a woodland. The Chilterns Conservation Board’s Beacons of the Past Flagship Project recently commissioned the largest high resolution LiDAR survey ever flown for archaeology in the UK.
Look out for these historical features:
Bronze Age finds
Concentrations of finds dating to the Bronze Age (2,000-700 BC) suggest burnt mounds used to create a type of sauna, perhaps similar to sweat lodges.
Meadows were irrigated to produce plentiful hay crops and rich grassland for pasture. Channels were dug and managed, so the fields could be flooded to maximise production.
This is one of several Medieval moated manors in the region, with extensive earthworks dating from the 13th century.
Originally constructed in the 13th century, with many changes over the Medieval Period. The manor hosted visiting royalty, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
Latimer Park House
Home of the first Barons and a prominent feature of the valley, possibly influenced by Lancelot ‘Capablity’ Brown, and used by the military during the Second World War.
Thriving water industries: watercress beds
This is the most complete and well-preserved mill on the river. Besides corn milling, it was also used for the manufacture of paper.
This was the site of a Saxon corn mill, referred to in the Domesday Book. It was owned by the canons of Missenden Abbey from the early 12th century. It last worked in 1937 and was demolished around 1960.
Meades Water Gardens was originally the location of the leat for the mill, but only the sluice gate remains. The site was later converted for use as watercress beds and then ornamental gardens. In 2008, the river was restored as part of a project to regenerate the gardens.
Loudwater Paper Mill
Owned by Herbert Ingram who founded The Illustrated London News in 1842 and built the nearby, imposing Glen Chess house.
The site of a Medieval manor that had its own corn mill, the remnants of which were demolished around 1860. The current house dates from the Tudor period.
Rich in wildlife
The River Chess catchment is extremely important on both a local and a global scale – it is one of only 283 chalk streams that have been identified in England. It has a clean gravel bed and crystal-clear, oxygenated waters. Plants like white-flowered water crowfoot grow abundantly in its fast flow, and fish, such as brown trout, lay their eggs in the riverbed.