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Welcome to the West Wycombe Village Project Blog written by a National Trust volunteer and supported by the National Trust. If it's your first visit, find out more about the project in our about section.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Welcome orientation

West Wycombe Village c1928
One of the first questions I always ask when I visit a National Trust property: how old is it? If I'm feeling intelligent then what period is it? But West Wycombe Village can throw a visitor with a more complex set of questions and answers.

Romans were proved to have lived in a village at West Wycombe over fifteen hundred years ago. But modern National Trust history begins in the 1930s and is set to continue into eternity as their role description reads: to protect historic houses and places, opening them up "for ever, for everyone".

During the Wall Street crash of 1929 the Dashwood family sold the village to the Royal Society of Arts which rescued most of it from demolition. After five years of extensive repair work and 'reconditioning' they handed the village over to the National Trust in 1934. 

For the uninitiated, the National Trust owns both the West Wycombe Village (most of it) and the West Wycombe Park, a 45 acre property with the large golden ball on the hill and a yellow ochre mansion home inhabited by the Dashwood family for over 300 years. 
West Wycombe hill
West Wycombe landmark, the gold ball
West Wycombe Park developed alongside of, but is different from neighbouring West Wycombe Village. The National Trust website describes the mansion as one of the most theatrical and Italianate of all English country houses. It's largely the creation of a cool eccentric Sir Francis Dashwood, the 2nd Baronet in the 18th century and co-founder of the infamous Hell-fire cave society.

West Wycombe Village was the first whole village acquired by the National Trust. It is a rare, intact example of an ancient working village developed from a staging post along the old ‘coaching route’ from London to Oxford, now the busy A40. 

Over centuries the village has been a home to many coaching inns, malt houses, furniture factories, and more. Nowadays it hosts a school, library, cricket club, three pubs, and a sweet shop. Because of and in spite of the traffic which sees some 11-thousand vehicles every day, it has managed to survive. The A40: some might say you can't live with it, others that you can't live without it.
West Wycombe Park mansion
Up the road, the Dashwood family still reside in West Wycombe Park. Sir Edward Dashwood lives with his family within the mansion home which is a popular television and film set location, like many other National Trust properties. I will confess now that I have not seen a single whole episode of Downton Abbey, the popular period drama ITV series, which has been filmed at West Wycombe Park. Too much mothering and now blogging. 

Although I don't have much time for the cinema either it is quite interesting to see what other photogenic film locations are owned by the National TrustSee this link for some film locations you might recognise. 

By writing this blog I am getting time to interview people I don't usually get to meet. Curators, archaeologists, building surveyors, and dendrochronologists. Maybe you’re like me and hadn't heard of the last. Dendrochronology dating (not to be confused with dendrology) is the dating and analysis of standing timber structures.

A dendrochronologist lets the National Trust accurately know the age of a building, often with some startling precision. The timber frames of two cottages in the village have already been dated. The first was Crown Court's cottage No. 25 which was likely to have been built in 1531. The other cottage No. 35 has been dated to 1648. 

Admittedly, these days, after asking how old is this National Trust property, follows the very important parental question: do they have a playground, a restaurant, and what's their coffee like... 

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