Last month, at the age of 93, Alfred Leach retired as secretary of the Wheeler End Commoners, after 45 years in post. He has done a tireless job, ensuring that the common has remained unspoiled, open and free for all to enjoy.
Alfred moved to Wheeler End, about four miles west of High Wycombe in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns, in 1953. His cottage, Home Close, is one of the oldest properties on the 47-acre common. When he moved there from Ickenham, west London, he knew nothing about common land or common rights.
At the time of commons registration in the late 1960s he discovered that his property historically had common rights (the room he now uses as a studio was the old cowshed). Accordingly, he registered rights to graze two ponies, and rights of turbary (turf) and estovers (underwood and bracken).
He encouraged other property-owners to do likewise, protecting both the rights of common and the status of the common itself, but he says that many didn’t bother. Ten owners did register rights but there are another 30 to 40 who failed to do so and thus lost their rights. Alfred grazed a pony and a goat on the common.
Wycombe District Council, which manages the common for the landowner, the Dashwood Estate, asked Alfred to form a commons association to make it easier for the council to communicate with the commoners.
In his time as secretary, Alfred has frequently stopped adjoining property owners from encroaching on the common, snitching bits for their gardens, or letting their hedges grow out. He hasn’t had to take anyone to court but was known to be willing to do so if necessary.
The Open Spaces Society and Edward Dashwood have expressed their gratitude to Alfred for his decades of hard work for the common. It’s a pity that neither Wycombe District Council nor Lane End Parish Council has yet thanked Alfred for his efforts on their behalf.