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Saturday, 25 September 2010


Stephen Salter is my 6x great grandfather and oldest identifiable Salter ancestor. He or his father brought the family from Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire to Coleshill in Buckinghamshire … no, Hertfordshire … no, Buckinghamshire … no, Hertfordshire.

Coleshill, home of the early Salters;
a little piece of Hertfordshire in Buckinghamshire
until the Counties (Detached Parts) Act of 1844

Coleshill isn’t an island. It’s a landlocked little village on top of a steep hill between Amersham and Beaconsfield. But although it’s completely surrounded by Buckinghamshire, it is (by an accident of history and land ownership) a detached part of Hertfordshire – a little island of Herts in a sea of Bucks. When counties were taking shape, Coleshill and the parish of Amersham in which it lies belonged to someone whose main property was going to be included in Hertfordshire, so Coleshill jolly well had to be in Hertfordshire too.

It wasn’t until 1844’s Counties (Detached Parts) Act that this and similar anomalies throughout the country were rationalised. Until then its unusual status was open to exploitation. In a nutshell, the parish didn’t fall under the jurisdiction of Buckinghamshire magistrates, and was beyond the everyday reach of Hertfordshire magistrates. So it was, at least potentially, a refuge from justice, and for one man at least, a refuge from injustice.

One of Stephen Salter’s neighbours in Coleshill was Thomas Ellwood, student and  friend of the poet John Milton and an important figure in the early history of the Quaker movement. Ellwood (1639-1713) had been much persecuted and imprisoned for his faith. In 1669 he married Mary Ellis, a Coleshill girl, and moved to a house just inside the parish boundaries of the village! He must finally have felt safe, and wrote a cheerful poem that year giving directions to his sanctuary:

Two miles from Beaconsfield, upon the road
To Amersham, just where the way grows broad,
A little spot there is called Larkin's Green,
Where on the bank some fruit trees may be seen;
In midst of which, on the sinister hand,
A little cottage covertly doth stand.
"Soho!" the people out and then enquire
For Hunger Hill; it lies a little higher.
But if the people should from home be gone,
Ride up the bank some twenty paces on,
And at the orchard end, thou may'st perceive
Two gates together hung. The nearest leave,
The furthest take, and straight the hill ascend,
The path leads to the house where dwells thy friend.

Hunger Hill, Thomas and Mary Ellwood’s home in Coleshill

Ellwood lived the rest of his life there, and it’s hard to resist the thought that he and the Salters discussed theology outside some brick-built cottage in the village. Surely meetings with Ellwood must have contributed to the shaping of the Salter family religious conscience, which is evident in their domestic and public life, their sense of public service and personal denial, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Stephen Salter’s great great grandson William Augustus Salter became a Baptist minister, the first Salter to attend university when the University of London opened its doors in 1828. But in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Salters of Coleshill were makers of bricks and tiles. Their work survives in Coleshill in several old buildings including their own home (then a farmstead and now a rather grand house called The Rosary, which remained in the ownership of the family until it was sold on by Stephen’s great granddaughter Mary Smith).

There in Coleshill, Stephen laid not only the foundations but also the bricks and mortar of a family legacy.

The Rosary, c1930 and c2000, built with Salter bricks and tiles

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