The Rye is a large level open space to the south-east of the town centre and was the flood plain of the River Wye. Since medieval or even Saxon times it has been used by the people of Wycombe for common pasturage, for recreation and for special events.
The Rye is now bounded at the north by the River Wye but to the north-west originally extended to St. John's Hospital before Easton St. was extended eastwards into London Rd.
To the south the original boundary was the original Wycombe to London road (now covered by the Dyke) but now includes Wendover Way to the south of the Dyke. To the west it extended to Bridge Mill in St.Mary's St. but the area has been reduced by enclosure of the Loakes Manor estate and by buildings near the Town Hall and the former Health Centre.
At the east it has been extended over the centuries to include Lady's Mead and Pound Mead by Holywell Spring (near the swimming pool).
Before 1548 the Rye was associated with St.John's Hospital but after the Dissolution it passed to the Borough.
From medieval times the Rye was common pasturage for the inhabitants and the burgesses were entitled to depasture 2 cows and 1 heifer during daytime. The cows were under the supervision of the Hayward who lived in a cottage between the river and the London Road close to the entrance to the Rye near Pann Mill. The cows had to be brought in by their owners in the morning but were allowed to find their own way home at milking time.
The right to depasture cattle ceased in 1927 with the increase of traffic on the A40 and the greater recreational use of the Rye.
The Rye, High Wycombe's common pasture
The Hayward's Register at the County Record Office (Ref.CH 1/R/2) lists the owners of cows pastured on the Rye from 1860 to 1880. A resident was allowed to pasture 2 cows and 1 heifer.
There were 20 to 25 owners listed each year.
I have listed the names for May 1860, June 1862 and June 1875 with the number of animals in the latter case. Of the 20 names in 1875, 10 appeared in 1860 and/or 1862 and these are indicated with an asterisk below. Unfortunately only 11 of the names give initials, so comparison with Judson's High Wycombe Directory of 1875 doesn't give positive identification of the owner's address. However 7 of the names belong to butchers, dairymen or cow-keepers and 5 to Public House keepers so in those cases identification is fairly certain.
10 addresses are in Easton Street and these are surely the owners. 2 are in Newland which confirms the statement that some of the cottagers there had a cow on the Rye which found its own way home at the end of the day. ( Photo on page 60 of R.Goodearl's "High Wycombe in old photographs" -which shows several cows ambling home passed the "Red Lion" in the High Street. PG )
The names, number of cows and probable addresses and occupations of owners are :-
Name as Cows Heifers Address in Judson Occupation in Register * J.Wright 2 - James Wright 41 Easton St. Butcher * G.Darvill 2 1 George Darvill 44 Easton St. (Pann Mill) Mealman Evans 2 - 3 possibilities in Albert Place, Brook St. and St.Mary's St. G.George 2 1 George George 40 Easton St. The "Coach & Horses" * A.Wright 2 1 Alfred Wright 53/54 Easton St. Butcher C.Stone(just an x) Charles Stone Either 21 London Rd. Steam Saw Mills Or Church Rd. Corn Merchant Atkins 2 - Alfred Atkins 71 Easton St. Cabinet Maker Britnell 2 - Either Thomas 16 Railway Place Turner Or William 46 Saffron Platt Folding Chair Maker D.Clark 1 - Daniel Clarke 2 & 90 Easton St. Solicitor Luttman 2 1 Either Henry 46 Easton St. Almshouse Or Sarah 14 Queen's Sq. Pork Butcher * Putman 1 1 Either Albert Putnam 11 Paul's Row The "Angel" Or Frank Putnam 6 Frogmore St. The "Bell" * J.Cheese 2 1 Joseph Cheese 35 High St. The "Three Tuns" * John Cheese2 1 John Cheese 15 St.Mary's St. The "Black Horse" (N.B. Charles Cheese 30 Oxford St. Cowkeeper) Pedall 2 1 William Peddle 6 Mendy St. Butcher Bravington 2 1 Frederick Bravington 19 Denmark St. Polisher G.Young 2 1 George M.Young 87 Easton St. Ropemaker * S.Hobbs 1 - Either Samuel 65 Easton St. Jobmaster Or Samuel 9 High St. The "Lion" Hotel * C.Hobbs 2 1 Charles Hobbs 64 Easton St. Dairyman * Figg 2 1 Robert Figg 15 Frogmoor Gardens Cow Keeper * Church 2 1 Either Daniel 1 Duke St. The "Porters Arms" and Butcher Or George 24 Newland St. The "Gate"