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Open Country
Sat  6.10 - 6.35am
Thurs 1.30 - 2.00pm (rpt)
Local people making their corner of rural Britain unique
This week
Saturday 16 December 2006
Listen to this programme in full
This week, Richard Uridge follows the spring line on the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire border discovering how the water under ground has shaped the area all around it.
First Richard is in the town of Homer Green meeting a bodger  Stuart King specialises in wood turning and knows the history of the chair making industry in the Chilterns. He shows Richard how the bodgers, the old fashioned named for the woodworkers of the chair industry, made chair legs, arms, stretchers and other parts from the beech trees that make up much of the local woods.

Next, Richard is up on Watlington Hill surveying the land that chalk made. He’s there with Allen BeechyChalk Streams Project Officer for the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. He explains how the chalk actually came to be in the Chilterns. Chalk is a very rare habitat and the UK has the most and best examples in the world. The water contained in the chalk contains a number of minerals that were highly prized in the past for their health-giving benefits. The water also comes out at a constant temperature (11C/ 51 F), which encourages plants and animals to grow faster and bigger.
From the top of the hill, Richard follows a chalk stream to the village of Ewelme, which sits right along the chalk escarpment. The village was once the site of a large watercress beds and was the centre of the Chilterns watercress industry. According to Beryl Hunt,from the Chilterns Society, for 100 years, watercress grown on the beds were transported by pony cart and train to markets in the Midlands and the North, where the crop represented the only bit of fresh green vegetable during the winter months. The beds fell into disrepair and it was through the efforts of local residents and the Chiltern Society that the beds were eventually bought and restored. Richard sinks his teeth into the history of the industry.

Finally Richard happens upon an unusual site for a tiny village in the Chilterns. A large copula set back from the road. The structure wouldn’t be out of place in India. Indeed, the Maharahjah’s Well in Stoke Row has attracted attention since it was first sunk, more than 300 feet into the ground in 1864. The well was a gift from the Maharajah of Benares to the village of Stoke Row, which didn’t have a clean water well at the time. Angela Spencer-Harper is a local historian, lecturer and author who’s studied the history of the well and the village. She gives Richard the full story.

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