The history of High Wycombe has become synonymous with chair-making, although chairs were not made here in large numbers until after 1800. Windsor chair making emerged as a woodland craft in the 1700s to become High Wycombe’s largest employer by the 1840s. The local industry was characterised by wood turners (who became known as ‘bodgers’) making chairs legs in the local woodlands, together with large numbers of small factories where other chair parts were made, and the finished chairs assembled.
The landscape of the surrounding Chiltern hills provided an abundance of Beech woodland, and the timber is well suited to turning chair legs. Other timbers used included Elm for seats, and Ash which was steamed and bent to make arms and bow backs. Cherry and Yew woods were also frequently used. The location of High Wycombe, on a major route halfway between London and Oxford was well suited for transporting the finished chairs. By 1877, 4,700 chairs were being made every day across 150 workshops and factories. By around 1900, other types of furniture were also being made in and around High Wycombe. In the 20th century, much of High Wycombe’s output remained traditional, including antique-style reproductions and Windsor chairs. During this period, some manufacturers started producing more innovative designs, including Ercol and G-Plan.
Our collection represents over 200 years of furniture making including a wide range of styles of chair: Windsor chairs from the 18th to the 20th centuries, cane and rush seated chairs from the 19th and 20th centuries, a small selection of chairs from other regions, 20th century chairs by companies such as Ercol, Parker Knoll and G-Plan and a small selection of other types of furniture.
Find out about our accompanying furniture related items.