Ellesborough School was built in 1839 by Sir Robert and Lady Frankland-Russell, who then owned the Chequers Estate. Built in the local traditional style it is a mixture of mellow red brick and bright knapped flint. The front gable has the Dutch style parapet above stone mullioned windows associated with the period. The architect was Edward Buckton-Lamb who also designed some additions to Chequers including the gatehouse at the top of Missenden Road, Prestwood Parish Church, Berkhamsted Town Hall and numerous mainly ecclesiastical buildings throughout the country. Sir Robert Frankland-Russell had an artistic talent and is believed to have been the inventor of children’s pop-up books. Lord Lee of Fareham acquired the Chequers Estate from the Russell family and lived there for a brief time before giving it to the Nation in 1917 as a country residence for the Prime Minister.
Following the 1870 School Education Act, a School Board was formed in 1874, and the school was enclosed in 1878. Many generations of happy children were taught in Ellesborough Village School before it closed on 18 July 1969. A local headmistress remembers visiting the school during its last term. “It was more like happy family than a school”, she says.
The Guide Association of Buckinghamshire then applied to lease the property from The Chequers Trust, and to use it as a Pack Holiday House, a camp site and a meeting place. The negotiations seemed interminable until, in the Winter of 1971 Mrs Geoffrey Wills, the County Commissioner at that time, was able to say, “At last one of our dreams has come true and we have secured the lease of Ellesborough School from the Chequers Trust”.
The building had deteriorated whilst it was unoccupied, and much repair and restoration work had to be undertaken before Brownies could use it as a Pack Holiday House. Young and old “Lent a Hand” so that finally on 29 April 1972 Cygnet Cottage ‑ Ellesborough Pack Holiday House ‑ was officially declared open by Miss Ailsa Brambleby (authoress of the Brownie Handbook). Mrs Wills remembers that there were about 1,000 people, mostly Brownies, present for the ceremony and not even the torrential rain was able to dampen their happiness and enthusiasm. In 1974 Mr Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister, visited the House.
Ten years after the official opening, the sun shone in April 1982 as Brownies from all over the County celebrated a wonderful 10th birthday. By now, however, the shortcomings of the accommodation were becoming more evident, and the County Commissioner, Mrs Win Pearce, in consultation with the County Executive, resolved to make some alterations and additions. More space was needed for training Guiders and Young Leaders and the accommodation was not sufficient to house a full Brownie Pack. Mrs Pearce was also concerned that, although handicapped Brownies/Guides regularly holidayed at Ellesborough, there were no special facilities for them.
An extension was planned to improve the facilities whilst at the same time preserving and enhancing the character of the old building. The cost of doing this made it sensible to ask the Trustees of the Chequers Trust for an extension of the lease. The Trustees, however bettered this by offering us the opportunity of buying the freehold on preferential terms, provided that a covenant was agreed which would require any future disposal of the property to have the consent of the public guardian who would need to ensure that any such disposal was not prejudicial ‘to the Chequers Estate as the country residence of the Official Occupant of Chequers for the time being’.
Guides believe in helping themselves and are always ready to rise to a challenge and they enthusiastically set about the tremendous task of raising the funds needed to grasp this wonderful opportunity of providing themselves with a permanent home in Buckinghamshire.
The Ellesborough Appeal was launched by the County President, Mrs Christopher Prideaux in April 1983. This led to a series of “Snowball parties” starting up all over the County. Many other forms of fund-raising activities also took place, and one deserving special mention was the filling of decorated tubes with 10p pieces by Brownies, Guides and Rangers, which raised sufficient funds to purchase a complete set of new curtains and fittings. On the practical side, decorating, cleaning, gardening, curtain making, re-equipping and a host of other jobs were carried out by many members of the Movement in the County. A great deal of help was also given by friends outside the Movement and, Mr Geoffrey Durtnal, husband of the County Secretary who designed the extension and supervised the building work which was carried out by William Wood Limited of Wendover.
By the time the builders left at the end of March 1984 the new Guide Centre was ready for re-opening. We had succeeded in doubling the area of the dining room and providing a new upstairs room accessed by a new spiral staircase. In an attractive lobby, an extra toilet was added, especially designed to assist handicapped people. The removal of the boiler from the dining area into the kitchen enabled us to provide an attractive new range of cupboards and a service hatch. Very considerable repair and maintenance work was also carried out and the car park and playground area were resurfaced. On top of all this, the Freehold had been purchased.
On 26 May 1984, the Guide Centre was re-opened by Mrs Geoffrey Wills in the presence of representatives from every Division and many friends of Bucks Guiding, including Mrs Joan Frost the new County President, Mrs C Prideaux, then President of Anglia Region, Mrs Anne Dunford the Anglia Chief Commissioner. Again, it rained hard all day, but the sunny smiles of lots of Brownies, Guides and Rangers made it a day to remember. In her opening address Mrs Wills said “It is wonderful for me to feel a part of this continuity and progression, not only for the Bucks Girl Guides, but also for the Old School. The Guides have ensured that its history of happy youngsters learning and growing up in beautiful surroundings will continue. All those who have supported this project have the pleasure of knowing that an attractive old building will be preserved and used to benefit future generations”. In her comments, Mrs Pearce expressed her sincere thanks to all those who had given their time and professional expertise and to everyone who had contributed to the Appeal.
By 2005 it had become apparent that the kitchen, which was a single story, flat roofed, wooden construction, was becoming dilapidated both internally and externally. A decision was taken to demolish this structure completely and to rebuild in brick to a design that would blend with the original building. The architect for the new kitchen was Mr Michael Zawadzki of Aylesbury and the building work was carried out by Richkin Ltd of Princes Risborough. An unexpected complication encountered when the new foundations were being dug, was the discovery of a 90’ deep well immediately adjacent to the kitchen, resulting in delayed progress and a large increase in costs. Funding for this project was obtained in part from Ellesborough’s own resources and from County but also from several generous public and private sources for which Ellesborough is grateful.
The task of furnishing and re-equipping the new kitchen was taken on by a team of Risborough Rangers who volunteered to design the layout and source suitable fittings. More importantly they also obtained a grant to cover all the purchase and installation costs. The Friends of Ellesborough donated a new cooker and a commercial dishwasher.
The new kitchen was officially opened on 1 February 2009 by Mrs Rikki Mackenzie (who was County Commissioner when the project commenced) in the presence of Mrs Liz Burnley (the Chief Guide), Rosie Spencer (the Anglia Chief Commissioner) and over seventy guests. For once, on an important day for the Ellesborough Guide Centre, it did not rain – but as the guests departed it started to snow !
As of Sept 2023 we now have planning permission to demolish the old outside toilets, shower block and porch. The plans allow for new toilets, showers, and disabled wet room. Inside the house we have permission for improved toilet and wash facilities, a leaders’ bedroom and upstairs young people’s dormitory. A new heating system and upgrade of the electrical works is needed. With grateful thanks to a substantial legacy we hope to start the work before the end of 2023 and will look to raise any further money we need to make our site remain special for the 21st C.