The ”Cook Monument”
A memorial to Captain James Cook (18th Century British pioneer explorer, navigator and cartographer of the South Pacific)
Just uphill, to the east of Chalfont St Giles centre, at the point where Vache Lane becomes Nightingales Lane, lies the entrance to the Vache Estate. At the heart of the estate is The Vache itself, a Grade 2 listed Manor House dating back many hundreds of years. And in the grounds of the Manor House lies an unusual and little known memorial to Captain James Cook.
The Manor House
North view of the Vache, as seen from the monument
The manor house lies in an estate of about 86 acres. 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 departed in 1411 it changed hands many times and has had about 30 owners in 500 years. In 1955 the Vache was bought by the National Coal Board which used it as a training college until 1991. It was then developed by a company called Vache Estates Ltd which restored parts of the manor house, by now a listed building, and erected 13 houses in its grounds. The house was sold in 1998 to the current (private) owners and some of the land was sold with it, including the Cook Monument. It was a condition of approval for the development that the public should continue to have right of access to the Monument. This runs from Vache Lane along the drive through the new houses, nearly to the Vache, and then along a footpath which runs beside the edge of the grounds of the house to the Monument itself.
Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser
In 1777, the house was bought by Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser. Palliser had many distinctions, having been a Member of Parliament, Comptroller of the Navy, Lieutenant-General of Marines, Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty, Governor of Newfoundland (when Cook was conducting his surveys of its coast), Admiral of the White and an Elder Brother of Trinity House. But he is better remembered today as the man who picked out Cook for high command.
South-west view of Monument, showing moat and bridge
North face of plinth
In 1781, Palliser erected a memorial to Captain Cook in the grounds of the Manor House. It took the form of a globe standing on a large rectangular 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 up to a flat roof. The tower was built atop a small hillock surrounded by a moat. It directly faces the front door on the north side of The Vache. It may be entered via a small wooden bridge over the moat and up a flight of steps.
Captain James Cook
Cook was a British explorer, navigator and cartographer who ultimately rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, as well as the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.
In these voyages, Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe. He was charged with searching for the great Southern continent believed to lie South of the Pacific, and sailed far into Antarctica which was previously completely unknown. He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved. As he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.
He was killed in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.
Cook frequently visited the estate and named a South Sea island “Vache Island”.
Current Status of Monument
For several years in the late 1990s the monument was difficult to reach
with there being a number of warning notices strongly discouraging the
general public from access.
After a campaign, led by the Chiltern Society, the company eventually changed the signs and Chiltern Society volunteers cleared the undergrowth along the path to make walking along it easier. The path is now kept reasonably clear by the Chiltern Society although brambles can spring up surprisingly quickly at times!
Parking is still a problem for those wishing to visit the monument by car as there is no public parking on the Vache approach drive or on Vache Lane immediately outside. However, there is ample roadside parking available on nearby side roads for those not wishing to walk up from the centre of the village.
Having reached the entrance to the Vache estate off Vache Lane, follow the tarmacked drive up and round to the right until you reach the entrance gate. Just to the left of this is a green sign directing the way and a ramshackle stile leading to the path to the Monument.
It is approximately a 400m walk up the drive and a further 400m along the footpath.
Extract from OS map showing location of Monument.
Red dashes show main drive to the Vache.
Orange dashes show line of footpath.
Sign and stile at start of footpath.
The website of the Captain Cook Society contains all the information you could possibly need relating to Captain Cook, and probably a lot more! See... www.captaincooksociety.com
Notes compiled by David Hanson (Chiltern Society rep for Chalfont St