University-led project shines a light on the Chilterns’ bygone craft and industrial communities
A Buckinghamshire New University academic says she’s aiming to build people’s ‘sense of place’ in the central Chilterns through a six-year project examining people who have lived and worked in the region over the past 150 years.
‘Woodlanders Lives and Landscapes’ will examine the day-to-day lives of people who worked in the chair-making and woodware industries, and in lace-making and plaiting straw in the central Chilterns, going back to the 19th Century.
It is one of 18 projects under a £2.8 million National Lottery-funded Landscape Partnership Scheme (LPS) called ‘Chalk, Cherries and Chairs’, developed by the Chilterns Conservation Board.
“Woodlanders Lives and Landscapes will build a stronger connection and sense of place for local people with the landscape of the central Chilterns through research, recording and interpretation of local history,” said Dr Helena Chance.
Dr Chance, Reader in the History and Theory of Design at the University, in Queen Alexandra Road, High Wycombe, is leading a team of people capturing the lives and stories of the rural communities, from their families, homes, networks, and social and sporting lives, to traditions, songs, games, food, clothing, churches, and education. These include bodgers, who were the wood-turners who worked in the woods, and their families.
“I aim to discover how the lives of the craftsmen and women shaped the landscape we see today and how in turn the landscape shaped their lives,” added Dr Chance.
The project runs until Spring 2025 and will lead to walking tours, signposted visits to bodger’s homes, and pubs tours, as well as talks, and a historic map of the central Chilterns, illustrating where the communities lived and what they did.
“The project will leave a long legacy,’ said Dr Chance, who is working with historian, archaeologist, and President of the High Wycombe Society, Stuart King, as a consultant on the project.
“We particularly wish to uncover more of the history of the lives of women and children, many who were employed in these industries, and discover how their lives were connected to those of the bodgers and woodware workers over the past 150 years.
“We will ultimately understand more about the social history of Chilterns’ residents, from their domestic and social lives, to their homes and gardens, networks, and social and sporting activities.
“We’ll also look at their health, their politics, experiences of war, dialects, traditions, songs, games, food, clothes, religion and education.
“We will discover how these people’s lives and work shaped the landscape we see today and how the landscape shaped them.
“The project will build a stronger connection and sense of place for local people with the landscape of the central Chilterns through research, recording and interpretation of local history.
“There is plenty of research showing that an understanding of the history of the place where you live contributes to people’s attachment to it and a wish to care for it.”
Dr Chance is recruiting a research assistant and a team of volunteers for the project. To apply email Helena.firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Anyone who wishes to find out more about the project and who may wish to volunteer either in a small or larger way should get in touch with me,” added Dr Chance.
“I am very excited and interested at the prospect of bringing together local people, some of whom will have much more knowledge about this subject than I do, to collectively explore the social history of the Chilterns from fresh perspectives.”
‘Chalk, Cherries and Chairs’ is developed by the Chilterns Conservation Board, which conserves and enhances the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It aims to restore and enhance the wildlife habitats, landscape features and cultural heritage of the central Chilterns. It will also work to educate and inspire communities to become protectors of their local heritage and landscapes.
Kath Daly, Countryside Officer for the Chilterns Conservation Board, said: “We are delighted to be working with Dr Chance and Bucks New University to help deliver this fascinating project.
“You can find out more about this and the other exciting projects we have planned for the scheme over the next five years on our website.”