Travel Report: Chesham, England.
The leafy English market town of Chesham in Buckinghamshire isn’t an exciting place. In fact, one might say it has very little to entice the passing traveler. While nobody could describe Chesham as the pulsating heart of England, it does occupy a special place in my heart. Because, ladies and gentlemen, Chesham was my home between 1994-1996. I was just sixteen years old when my family relocated here from nearby Old Amersham.
I’ve been back to Chesham on a handful of occasions over the years. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that I came to give the place some blogging justice. You know, retrace old steps, chase a few ghosts and try to make sense of the passing of time.
My journey began at Chesham War Memorial, where the bus from Old Amersham dropped me off at the junction of Broadway and The High Street. Made from white Portland stone, the local council erected the statue in 1921 to honour its local men who fell during The First World War. The famed sculptor Arthur George Walker designed it, modelling his creation on a surviving soldier who’d recently returned from Flanders.
It was so weird being back on Chesham High Street, where I’d spent so much time milling around during my teenage years. I remember buying my first National Lottery scratch card here (a brand new concept in the mid 1990s). Moreover, I won £50, which I immediately used to buy a new pair of shoes! It remains my first and only significant lottery win.
There were a couple of Chesham High Street spots I was particularly interested in checking out. Firstly, I headed to…. not Holland & Barrett. Back in the day this storefront was home to Chesham’s hottest music shop, Track Records. A Mecca for us teenagers, this was where I bought my first album, Carry on up the Charts by The Beautiful South.
Track Records helped me build my burgeoning record collection. I remember coming here specifically to pre-order those amazing limited edition Oasis cigarette boxes that held the singles off the first two albums. I still have them.
To make up for my Track Records heartbreak, I was warmed to see that Fast Break Sports was still alive and kicking! This is where I picked up my first self-funded tennis racket, along with balls and all the other gear I amassed back when I was a keen player.
Even more pleasing was the fact that they hadn’t updated that old retro sign above the door! Sadly, as I prepare the republication of this article, I see that the shop has indeed closed down. R.I.P. another Chesham institution.
I was also keen to revisit my favourite Chesham pub. Ok, so I wasn’t actually old enough to drink back when I first arrived in Chesham in 1994. Nevertheless, things were pretty relaxed in those days and I rarely had a problem. I see it’s called The General Arms now and has had quite the makeover.
For me this place will always be The Last Post. It was here that I had my first pint of Foster’s. And it was within these walls that we enthusiastically threw ourselves at the sweeping alcopop trend. I’m talking Hooch and Bacardi Breezers.
My college friend Steppers and I spent hours huddled in front of the quiz machine simply trying to win our money back. There may have been a few occasions where we actually won a few quid, but they were few and far between.
My favourite Last Post memory has to be the night we celebrated England’s 4-1 demolition of Holland in the football at Euro 96. The place was packed, with bodies streaming out the door and onto the street. Outside, there was much singing and flag-waving. These are the days you never get back.
Many of those late night drinking sessions eventually ended up here at Chesham’s revered Burger Inn. This was our choice spot for a late night cheeseburger, chips, kebab, durum, steak, pizza, whatever. Owned by a Turkish family, Burger Inn has been feeding hungry Cheshamites for over 36 years!
It even outlasted the town’s McDonald’s, which went the way of the dodo in 2006. This came as no surprise, especially as at one point it had been crowned the worst performing Maccie Ds in Britain!
My favourite Burger Inn dish was always The Brown Derby, a hot sugared doughnut topped with ice cream, chopped nuts and chocolate sauce. “Brown Derby?” mumbled the sweaty, obese man that always seemed to serve me. “Oh, yes” came my invariable response. How could I not order it again this time? The waiter seemed pleased with my choice.
“We’ve had this on the menu since the first year,” he told me proudly.
From Burger Inn it’s literally a ten second walk to Sainsbury’s, Chesham’s main supermarket. This is where I got my first part time job stacking shelves in the dairy aisle, back when I was taking my A-levels. Unfortunately, the entire store has been renovated beyond recognition.
But it was certainly nostalgic returning to the place where I spent so many hours unpacking boxes of cheese and yogurts. Those initial Sainsbury’s pay checks went towards my first computer and a whole bunch of games, such as Theme Park, The Curse of Monkey Island and Championship Manager.
I wasn’t even going to enter Sainsbury’s that day. There’s no way any of those old faces could still be there now, 21 years after I unpacked my final box. Right? And then I spotted Derek, a happy-go-lucky Cheshamite who used to work the Wines & Spirits section.
He didn’t remember me of course, god only knows the number of faces he’s seen come and go over the years. Nevertheless, we had a fun chat reminiscing over hated department managers and speculating on who graffitied Bob O’ Bob on the inside of the lift.
Derek sheepishly describes himself as “a bit old school”. After all, he is the unashamed owner of an antique mobile phone (pictured in his hand above) and refuses to use the internet. He’s also an aspiring poet and on the day of our reunion he told me he was looking into self publishing.
Back on The High Street, I made my way to the delightfully unchanged Chesham Tube Station, a Grade II listed building dating back to 1899. Just branch off onto Station Road, head uphill and turn the corner, it’s a two minute walk.
A Walk Down Memory Lane.
Chesham links up with The London Underground network and is the last stop on The Metropolitan Line. From here you can be in Central London in just over an hour. Which is exactly the journey I used to make whenever I went into the city to see my beloved Queens Park Rangers play on Saturday afternoons.
In the summer of 1997 a bunch of my friends and I decided we were taking the day off college to go and watch some tennis at Wimbledon. Somehow, as we were on our way to Chesham Station, the head of sixth form, Mrs. Miles, got wind of our plan. She subsequently became so enraged she actually jumped in her car and drove down to the station in a bid to thwart us!
Our train was literally pulling out of the station when she puffed into view, shaking her fist and shouting things like “You’ll never get away with it!” At least that’s how I remember it.
We were in a whole lot of trouble the following Monday. Called into Mrs. Miles’ office, she gave us a royal bollocking and there was even talk of us getting suspended. In the end, she simply sent letters to our parents. I remember my dad just shrugging his shoulders.
In the mid 1990s I lived at 76 Poles Hill. It’s a modest, semi-detached structure that’s changed little over the years. It’s much more than just a building to me of course. This is where I first laid eyes on Inde, the original Thomas family dog. And where, a year later, my newborn brother Cory arrived in my mum’s arms from the hospital.
This was where I first watched Pulp Fiction with my friend Ad. And where Steppers and I played out long, action-packed sessions of Championship Manager.
During Euro 96, a dozen of us piled into my tiny bedroom to watch England’s shaky 1-1 opener against Switzerland. It wasn’t the greatest game, but I’ll never forget the ceiling-shaking roar that broke out when Alan Shearer made it 1-0 early on.
It was just a ten minute walk from my house on Poles Hill to Chesham Park Community College. Half-heartedly, I took A-levels in English Literature, History and Theatre Studies.
When I look back on those days, I think of poor old Mr. Bagley trying to get us excited about Chaucer. I recall fondly the now sadly departed Mrs. Wright and her infectious love of Wilde, Dickens and Steinbeck. The college, now known as Chiltern Hills Academy, is way fancier than the grubby old place of my youth.
Chiltern Hills Academy.
From Chiltern Hills Academy it’s a brisk, fifteen minute walk down Chartridge Lane back to Chesham Town Centre. It’s a pretty walk for a main road. But all I could think of that afternoon was how an old college friend lost his life here in a car accident in 1997.
Like me, Matt Ackland was a QPR fan and took A-Level Theatre Studies. At some point during the course he dropped out to take a job in a local bank. It wasn’t long after that we got the news about his passing at assembly one morning.
Memories of Matt made me duck out of Chartridge Lane and cut through Lowndes Park for the remainder of my walk. Spanning 36 acres, this is Chesham’s biggest green space, with a multi-sports court, skateboard zone and swan-inhabited pond.
I never really hung out at Lowndes Park. Chiefly because it was a famed hotspot for Chesham’s local gangs. Nothing too serious for the most part, until someone got stabbed and my mum declared the place out of bounds. These days it seems much more peaceful and I’m happy to say my walk was a lovely, knife-free experience.
My family moved to Chesham due to my dad’s new job as general manager of The Manor Club, a small, members only fitness centre. At the time it had a gym, three squash courts and a bar where my friends and I used to watch live football. Because… wow… the place had Sky Sports! It’s now called Welcome Gym and they offer monthly memberships from £17.99.
Welcome Gym stands next door to Chesham United Football Club. My old friends Steppers and Steve C are regulars for Saturday home matches. Hence I planned for my Chesham tour to end at the stadium for a post-match pint.
I’d walked in during the game’s closing moments, just in time to catch the 400-strong roar at the final whistle. Chesham had defeated Blackford and Langley 2-1, thus people were already streaming cheerfully towards the lounge bar.
Founded in 1917, Chesham United are a semi-professional football club that plies its trade in The Premier Division South of the Southern Football League. It’s very much a “local club for local people”. But if you’re a football lover and passing through, do come and catch a game.
For more on my years growing up in Buckinghamshire, take a look at my article on Old Amersham.
You can also leaf through my many travel reports from around England.
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Very nostalgic reading. Remembering your journey helps to shape your destination in life. Thanks for rekindling some memories they took me back there.
Thanks, it is indeed quite a cathartic process writing these kind of articles.
Nostalgic, indeed. Fun to read and look at the pictures. Looks like a lovely little town and sounded like you had a few good years there. You’re an excellent writer, Leighton.
Thanks for reading! It was a hugely nostalgic trip revisiting those old haunts, I’m so glad I did it.
A good dose of nostalgia can help you discover where you’re coming from and how much you’ve improved.
Hi Emmanuel, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! And yes, I totally agree, these kinds of visits help to put everything into perspective.
A lovely piece. I was looking online to see if I could find any mention of Matt Ackland, it feels right that he should be remembered. 22 years later and those of us who knew him will always remember him.
Hi CJ, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m glad you liked the article and I’m even more pleased that the Matt Ackland reference was positive for you.
Reading this made me smile. It’s strange that I myself lived in Chesham when young but moved away in 95. Had a short stint back in 2018 for a year and I’m in the process of going back again permanently from August this year. Whilst many seem to put the town down,there is definitely something that keeps drawing me back though I cannot quite put my finger on it. One thing I will say I have lived in several places but none have the same community spirit as Chesham.
Hey Kirsty, thanks for reading and getting in touch. I’m glad this piece resonated with you and that the town has played such an important part in your life. I hope settling down in Chesham brings you everything you’re hoping for.
A totally picturesque village. Quite a trip down memory lane and an education in how Lignon was once a typical teenager. Heck, maybe we still are inside.
Thanks Memo, Chesham wasn’t (and isn’t) half as pretty or quaint as Old Amersham. But I enjoyed my two years here, especially the now legendary summer of ’96.
A lovely post reminiscing on your youth. I remember buying that Beautiful South album too!
Thanks again, The Beautiful South have always felt like a bit of a guilty pleasure to be honest. Still, Paul Heaton is a classic songwriter and those tunes have aged really well.
Thank you for sharing your memories of living in Chesham, I’m still party based there myself as I have family and volunteering connections to the town. I have some memories of the places you have said, I do miss the McDonalds as I had birthday parties and a first date there 🙂
Nic | Nic’s Adventures & Bakes
Ah, it’s a pity when key spots of your younger years disappear. Like a little part of yourself is gone. Glad you liked the article!
So many happy memories. I know the area quite well as hubby worked for a firm based in Old Amersham 1994 – 2001 and we still have friends in the area.
Thanks Sheree, I had remembered your Old Amersham connections and wondered if you might drop a message on this one. Glad you enjoyed this retro look at Chesham and its modest delights. I’ll have to go back one of these years and show Sladja ‘The Chesh’.
It’s good to step back in time and revisit old haunts and for your readers to learn something about these places. As with Amersham I’d heard of Chesham but have never been there. By the way, I also used to be a fan of the Beautiful South and collected all their albums! Great post Leighton.
I remember that Marion! I also recall, during those Chesham days, ‘One Last Love Song’ playing on VH1 just about every hour. Thanks for taking this walk down memory lane with me.
What a walk down memory lane Leighton. Chesham looks like a special place, although such places may only seem special, once we have moved on. I love these reminiscing style posts Leighton. I have gone back to revisit some of my trips from long ago. Most of the places I lived in were not worth revisiting. Cheers and Happy Easter. Allan
“Most of these places were not worth worth revisiting”. Ha ha, you made me laugh there. You’re quite right about certain places only seeming “special” years later in retrospect. Chesham definitely falls under that category. Glad you are enjoying these nostalgic posts Allan. Happy Easter!
Chesham looks charming and you weave in so many humorous details! I really enjoy your writing. Also, I was a Hooch drinker in my youth. I managed to buy a bottle at Christmas, B & M of all places were selling it. I can confirm that the memory is better than the actual product and it should only be consumed by those young enough to bounce back from that sort of sugar/alcohol/chemical content!
Ha, so funny about Hooch! Thanks for the kind words Helen.
This is a very well done post Leighton. Never having visited Chesham or other small towns in England, I enjoyed this look at your former hometown and managed to relate to many of your experiences. I also worked in a grocery store in high school. The job was a very interesting and learning experience.
Thanks John, I look back fondly on those supermarket days. I was mainly on the dairy department and unlike many of my colleagues managed to stay clear of the dreaded cash registers, which was my idea of hell. How about you?
I did just about everything (except the meat department) including bagging groceries, sweeping floors, and stocking shelves. Some of the people were real characters.
Enjoying this nostalgia series! You may have only spent a couple of years in Chesham, but the teenage years are definitely formative ones. From discovering your love of records to stepping into pub culture to getting your first job at Sainsbury’s, you did a lot in your brief time there. Looks like it has quite the food scene, from what you’ve shown us here! Looking forward to seeing where else you’ve lived before!
Thanks Rebecca, unfortunately it won’t be an extended series. I do have a few more places to write up but they’ll have to go on the back burner as Sladja and I have visits to make later this month. Glad you enjoyed visiting Chesham!
What a delightful post and a look into this town that had such an impact on you. Another wonderful piece of what makes up home for you 🙂
Thanks Meg! Glad you enjoyed this latest ‘Leighton Was Here’ report.
How fun to revisit Chesham and take a walk down memory lane. It sounds like your trip brought back some fond memories, but also sad to hear how some things have changed. I can’t get over how massive the Brown Derby looks!
Ha, I’m still digesting that Brown Derby 😉 Thanks for visiting Chesham with me!
Chesham looks a cute town, and no wonder it brought you back tons of memories. A very nostalgic post, it has a well-deserved place down the memory lane.
Thanks Christie! It’s been fun writing about a place that most bloggers would have virtually zero reasons to write about.
This was very enjoyable to read. Sounds like a nice walk down memory lane. Your photos show a very inviting town as well. Nice post!
Thanks for reading!
It’s a shame the winning lottery streak (well, that one time), didn’t continue 😉. And a pub that is decorated with hanging baskets of flowers (a stylish pub then). Hooch: A long time ago that was a favourite of mine too (but now it’s just way too sweet)! What a lovely walk through another hometown of yours … I love how you go back to all the old places and the memories it brought back. To me, Chesham looks like a pretty place.
How amusing it’s been to read that several other bloggers have not only heard of Hooch, but also used to have a soft spot for it. Glad you enjoyed this look at Chesham, Corna, it’s a pleasant albeit entirely uneventful town.
I enjoyed strolling around memory lane with you! How fun that you remembered special things you bought, the firsts. Loved that your dad just shrugged his shoulders finding out about your cutting school. My parents never found out!
Well I guess you were a bit smarter in the execution of your day off. Thanks for visiting Chesham Ruth!
Great article! I really loved reading it. The Oasis cigarette boxes are very cool.
Hey, thanks so much for all your exploring around Leighton Travels. I can see you’ve checked out quite a range of articles, appreciate you taking the time to like and comment.