For several years in the late 1990s the monument to Captain Cook at The Vache had been difficult to reach with notices along the path saying "This footpath is not public and its use may be restricted or withdrawn by the owners at ant time" and "no public to be admitted beyond this point".
Now they have been replaced with ones saying "No public access beyond this point except those wishing to visit the monument, and only by means of the footpath which is not public. Its use may be restricted or withdrawn by the owner."
I visited the monument in August 2003 with CCS member Geoffrey Legge who, as a member of the Chiltern Society, had written to me about the resolution of the access problems. There is no parking for the public on the site, nor in the road outside, Vache Lane.
The Vache is a manor house lying in an estate of about 86 acres near the village of Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire. Its origins are obscure, but the current building is the result of extensive alterations in the eighteenth century. The original manor was owned by the de la Vache family, but after they ceased to own it in 1411 it changed hands many times with about 30 owners in 500 years.
One of these owners was Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, who bought the property in 1777 and lived there until his death in 1796. He was a patron of Cook, as captain of the Eagle, on which Cook was Master's Mate, as governor of Newfoundland, when Cook was conducting his surveys of its coast, and later as Comptroller of the Navy.
In 1780 (1781?) Palliser erected a memorial to Cook in the form of a globe standing on a plinth, with a long inscription about Cook on all four sides. It is housed in a two-storey tower of flint rubble with red brick dressings. Each side has an open arcade, and the parapet is battlemented. There is a staircase to a flat roof. The tower is atop a mount surrounded by a ditch or moat. It is in direct view of the front door on the north side of the Vache.
In 1955 the Vache was bought by the National Coal Board which used it as a training college until 1991. It nearly became a private psychotherapy clinic, but ,instead, it was developed by a company called Vache Estates Ltd restored parts of the Vache, by now a listed building, and erected 13 houses in its grounds. When the house was sold in 1998 some of the land was sold with it, including the Cook Monument. But Vache Estates Ltd retained the footpath to the monument, which runs around the edge of the property, and access from Vache Lane. It was they, and not the owners of the monument, who erected the offending signs.
During the campaign led by the Chiltern Society solicitors acting on behalf of Vache Estates Ltd argued that the monument had suffered considerable amount of abuse and vandalism and that in the interests of safeguarding the monument and protecting the Vache they wished to restrict access. However, it was pointed out to them that at the Public Inquiry in 1995 into the proposed development the company had undertaken to "maintain clear and unimpeded access during the daylight hours at all reasonable times for pedestrians from Vache Lane to the Captain Cook memorial plinth and monument". After much pressure the company changed the signs. And Chiltern Society members cleared the undergrowth along the path to make walking along it easier.
I first visited the Vache over 20 years ago when I took several photographs. Members of the CCS (or CCSU as it then was) visited the monument in 1987 during a weekend meeting based at Greenwich. The monument is a fascinating structure, as well as being the first ever memorial to Cook, and this year I took even more photographs of it. It was sad to see the deterioration in the lettering of the inscription and elsewhere.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 12, volume 26, number 4 (2003).
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