Woodlanders’ Lives & Landscapes

The Chilterns as we know it today is a beautiful landscape of woods and picturesque villages. But, in the past, it was also a busy industrial environment where people made their livings in the woods and cottages in trades like straw plaiting, lace making and furniture making. Woodlanders’ Lives (delivered by a partnership between the Chilterns Conservation Board and Bucks New University) is a new project whose volunteer researchers are busy uncovering the fascinating stories of how the people who worked in these industries went about their ordinary daily lives. You can see some of these stories on the project’s blog page www.chilternsaonb.org/woodlanders-lives/stories.

We are especially keen to find out more about the straw plait and lace trades that were such a part of the history of the area just to the east of Wendover. Plaiters made the long strips for the straw hats that were so fashionable at that time and that were made in centres like Luton and Dunstable. Lace making and straw plaiting was low-paid piece-work done at home and, unsurprisingly, employed mostly women. Children, sometimes as young as three or four, could also be put to these tasks. Straw plaiting seems to have largely died out by the early twentieth century but lace making lasted a little longer.

If you’d be interested taking part, we’d love to hear from you. There are lots of ways to get involved: researching people, villages or trades; interviewing local people; writing stories; or giving talks and tours. There is help and training and you’ll meet other enthusiastic volunteers. You can find out more at www.chilternsaonb.org/woodlanders-lives or by getting in touch with Helena Chance Helena.chance@bucks.ac.uk, 01494 522141 ext 4105.

A nostalgic view of a plait school, where young children worked long days. From Cassell’s Family Magazine, 1882


Woodlanders is one of the eighteen projects in the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs scheme, funded by the National Heritage Lottery, which encourages local people to get involved with the history, the environment and the wildlife of the Central Chilterns. You can find out about the other projects at www.chilternsaonb.org/projects/CCC