I began my working life in 1960 with Whately, Hill & Co, based in West Wycombe. They were old- fashioned Estate Agents who ran country estates including all those owned by the Ernest Cook Trust, plus West Wycombe (for the National Trust) and Shardeloes, Amersham for ‘the Squire of Amersham’.
The favourite estate for both Ernest Cook and Whately, Hill’s boss. Captain John Burrow Hill, was The Penn Woods Estate. I believe Captain Burrow Hill was buried at the Penn Street Church. I have two main memories of working in Penn Wood.
Firstly the effort that went in to it looking its best in June usually when it opened to the public to enjoy the display of Rhododendrons and Azaleas. The quality of the wood’s management was recognised by The Forestry Commission who used to take their trainees to see and learn how a private woodland should be managed.
The other and more personal was the selection of standing beech for sale to the local furniture manufacturer Dancer & Hearne. This entailed myself and another young chap (Roger, a Penn Street resident) going through the wood with our boss John Millbourn and Mr Fred Hearn and his assistant Jack selecting trees for felling. The care taken to ensure little damage to the canopy was paramount and we had to say no to many of the finest trees which Mr Hearn coveted. We would estimate the height of the usable wood in the tree and then measure its girth using a ‘quarter girth tape (I still have mine). We would then return to the office with the list of trees and calculate their volume using Hoppus measure tables. I seem to remember that the Hoppus system allowed for taper in the tree and resulted in a volume measure in ‘Hoppus Feet’. A price was agreed per Hoppus Foot and our schedule was then submitted to Mr Hearn for checking. All these calculations were done by the two of us youngsters without any calculators etc and were checked by Dancer & Hearn’s comptometer operators; we were proud to know that we were always correct.
Other memories include the fact that Ellen Wilkinson MP, who led the Jarrow March, lived on the estate, at Little Inkerman Farm I believe. The Estate Manager was Peter Hickman who lived at the Keeper’s Cottage, well protected by seriously cantankerous geese. We updated cottages on the estate to include bathrooms, one being Snowdrop Cottage, a location I still covet. Another was off the Penn Road and I think is now part of the Golf Course. The farmer of that area wanted us to cut down the rows of limes which I hope still survive to this day. Common Wood was always part of the estate in our day but somehow didn’t have the same attraction.
I assume that the Trust sold off the estate as there was insufficient revenue from the farms to keep the estate profitable. What happened after that I found somewhat distressing driving through the area and seeing what a mess the new owners made of it. The best thing that happened to it was its acquisition by The Woodland Trust.
I remember that Mr Ernest Cook lived at The Crescent, Bath and was somewhat of a recluse. His Trust was set up to take on badly run estates and develop them so that they were financially stable then they would be handed over to The National Trust. The last estate to be handed over was Bradenham Manor after which there was a falling out (apochryphally an argument about the colour of the 40ft curtains hung at the renovated Bradenham Manor House). The Ernest Cook Trust still exists to this day but I doubt that anything was loved more by Ernest Cook than Penn Wood.
© Neil Herbert-Smith