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Help Restore the Victorian Toll House at Chiltern Open Air Museum

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Donate towards the restoration of our Victorian Toll House

This Giving Tuesday we hope you will continue to support our vital conservation work by making a donation, no matter how small or large, towards the restoration of our Victorian Toll House that originally stood in High Wycombe.  Why not take a look around the Toll House.

Each year 50,000 buildings are demolished in the UK. Many of these are of great historic and cultural importance to their communities.

Chiltern Open Air Museum is a charity that rescues historic buildings from your community that would otherwise be demolished to make way for new developments. They are rebuilt at the Museum to secure their future and preserve them for the enjoyment of all.

Every building in our unique collection was once the home or workplace of ordinary people – a history rarely preserved.  

As a self-funding Museum, we receive no regular government or council grants. Instead, we rely on donations and admission fees to fund the maintenance of our historic buildings and continue our vital conservation work.

Giving Tuesday Logo

Created in 2012, Giving Tuesday was a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. Over the last decade, it has grown into a global movement that inspires millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity.

Every penny counts so do please consider donating.

Giving Tuesday Nov 28, 2023

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Suffragists or Suffragettes

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Statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London.
Statue of suffragette Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London.

Women’s suffrage societies which campaigned for the right to vote began to appear in Britain in the middle of 19th century and their members called Suffragists believed in peaceful, constitutional ways to promote votes for women. In 1866, a group of women organised a petition that demanded that women should have the same voting rights as men and gathered over 1500 signatures in support of the cause. They took their petition to Henry Fawcett and John Stuart Mill, two MPs who supported universal suffrage. Mill drafted an amendment to the Second Reform Bill that would give women the same voting rights as men and presented it to Parliament in 1867. The amendment was defeated, however, by 196 votes to 73.

In the wake of this defeat, the London Society for Women’s Suffrage was formed and similar women’s suffrage groups were founded all over Britain. In 1897, 17 of these individual groups joined together to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), led by Millicent Fawcett.

The NUWSS adopted a peaceful and non-confrontational approach. Members believed that success could be gained by argument and education. The organisation tried to raise its profile peacefully – and legally – with petitions, posters, etc. and public meetings. By 1914 the NUWSS had grown to approximately 54,000 members. Almost all of its leaders and most of its members were middle or upper class, and largely they campaigned for the vote for middle-class, property-owning women. However, working-class women did join the NUWSS and some members recognised that they needed the support of all women.

In Manchester in 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) with her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. Christabel Pankhurst said, “the vote question must be settled. Mine was the third generation of women to claim the vote and the vote must now be obtained. To go on helplessly pleading was undignified. Strong and urgent demand was needed. Success must be hastened.” The organisation grew to include branches all over Britain and involved more working-class women.

Today “marketing” to encourage support for a political or social view is normal, but it was first used politically by the W.S.P.U, who created their campaign as a brand. There were well-designed logos, stylish exhibitions, spectacular processions and meetings in London and the major cities. Special colours represented the movement, purple, white and green for freedom, purity, and hope respectively. Supporters wore the colours and they were used on badges, bicycles, chocolate bars, cakes, jewellery and even a motor-car. The label of suffragette was actually first used in an article by Daily Mail journalist Charles E Hands. The intention of the “ette” suffix was “to belittle and to show that they were less than the proper kind of suffrage worker”, says Elizabeth Crawford, a researcher and author on the women’s suffrage movement. “But they took up the name and were very proud of it.”

The WSPU adopted militant, direct action tactics. They chained themselves to railings, disrupted public meetings and damaged public property. In 1913, Emily Davison stepped out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. Her purpose remains unclear, but she was hit and later died from her injuries.

Suffragettes were arrested and imprisoned, but continued their protest in prison by hunger strikes. Although initially they were fed by force, in 1913 the Prisoners Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act was passed in parliament. Commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act it allowed prison authorities to release hunger-striking women prisoners when they became too weak, and re-arrest them when they had recovered. Emmeline Pankhurst was jailed and released on 11 occasions. Newland Park, the large house next to COAM, was used as a refuge for Suffragettes.

The gardens at Newland Park - image copyright Simon Dawson with thanks to Amersham Museum
The gardens at Newland Park – image copyright Simon Dawson with thanks to Amersham Museum

You can read more about this connection with Newland Park on the Amersham Museum website or come to their presentation at COAM on Friday 13th October at 12.30pm.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, the suffragettes and suffragists stopped their campaign and after the war in 1918 some women were given voting rights.






Rise Up Women! by Dr Diane Atkinson 

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The life of country children

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Country life for working families before the early 20th century was not at all as some popular paintings portray – roses round a cottage door, happy and healthy children playing in a well-cared for garden. Many families with three or more children would live in cottages with only two rooms. Parents would do the best they could, but very low incomes meant that living conditions were often horrible. Bedclothes, for example, could well be beyond the finances of the poor and so they would make do with sacking and rags, frequently filled with vermin. At Steeple Claydon in Buckinghamshire a loan society was set up by the local gentry to loan blankets to poor families in the winter and such societies could be found all over the country into the early 20th century.

An 1858 painting by George Washington Brownlow entitled 'Straw Plaiting School in Essex'
An 1858 painting by George Washington Brownlow entitled ‘Straw Plaiting School in Essex’

It was not until the 19th century that a law was passed that required children to go to school. This did not mean, of course, that schools did not exist. For the children of the middle classes and the aristocracy there had always been options available, but they were few and, by and large, cost money. As far back as 1553, Archbishop Cranmer proposed a new code of Church law that would require the clerk of each parish church to teach children the alphabet as well as the catechism. This was never adopted however, but there still remained strong practical reasons for parents wishing to have their children at least able to read.

The United Kingdom Census in 1861 shows that out of 4.3 million children of primary school age in England & Wales, 1 million were in purely voluntary (church) schools and 1.3 million were in state aided voluntary schools, but 2 million had no schooling. The 1876 Royal Commission on the Factory Acts recommended that education be made compulsory in order to stop child labour and in 1880 a further Education Act finally made school attendance compulsory for children between the ages of five and ten, though by the early 1890s attendance within this age group was falling short at 82%
Schools at the time emphasised the learning of facts and required that the children memorise these facts. A few examples from The Rev Dr Brewer’s My First Book of Geography give the flavour of what the children had to commit to memory.

Teacher: How may the number of counties in England and Wales be remembered?
Pupil: It is the same as the number of weeks in the year.
Teacher: Who divided England into counties?
Pupil: Alfred the Great.
Teacher: For what purposes?
Pupil: That persons might more easily refer to places, and that order might be more easily preserved.
Teacher: What is the climate of England?
Pupil: Moist, but healthy.
Teacher: What is the character of the English people?
Pupil: Brave, intelligent and very persevering.

Poorer families were often tempted to send their children to work if the opportunity to earn an extra income was available. In rural communities, the help of children at harvest time was vital. Also plait schools and lacemaking schools could be very tempting as a way of enabling children to help with the family income. Moreover, plait schools and lace schools had long thrived before the 1880 Education Act was passed and so the loss of income would be keenly felt. Attendance officers often visited the homes of children who failed to attend school, but they frequently proved ineffective.

Children would be expected to help with harvesting, bird scaring, rat catching and the many other tasks linked to country life, which meant that such schooling as there was had to be missed at certain times. P.H.J.H. Gosden’s book “How they were taught” refers to school log books of the time mentioning hay harvesting as the cause of absenteeism in Ivinghoe in 1875 and Cublington in 1891. The poem below illustrates the tasks that children might do.

The sheep get up and make their many tracks
And bear a load of snow upon their backs,
And gnaw the frozen turnip to the ground
With sharp, quick bite, and then go noising round
The boy that pecks the turnips all the day
And knocks his hands to keep the cold away
And laps his legs in straw to keep them warm
And hides behind the hedges from the storm.
“Sheep in Winter” by John Clare – 1793-1864

In 1857, the Bishop of Oxford received a complaint from Radclive-cum-Chackmore in North Buckinghamshire that few children over eight or nine attended school because the boys were taken for work and the girls for lacemaking. (There is a blog on our website about lacemaking.) In 1867, the Royal Commission on the Employment of Children, Young Persons and Women noted that in the Buckinghamshire and Berkshire lacemaking industry, farm labourers treated it as normal that their daughters would be sent to lace schools from the age of four or five and as a result gaining little or no formal education. Towards the end of the 19th century, changes in fashion and machine-made lace led to a decline in lace schools.

The other “cottage industry” prevalent in the Chilterns was straw plaiting. Once again children as young as four would be sent to a plait school where they would spend many hours in the charge of a teacher who might teach them a little reading, but mostly concentrated on proficiency and speed of plaiting. The most popular teachers were the ones who got the most work out of the children. The children would have to finish uncompleted work at home and it was not unusual to see them plaiting as they walked home and in the street as they talked with friends. About thirty yards of plait was considered to be a day’s work. Ivinghoe in Buckinghamshire was seen as a plaiting centre and there, as in many towns and villages, this interfered with such education as was available towards the end of the 19th century. The practice of plait schools was so common and the money earned so important for the poor labourer households that police or Factory Inspectors could make little difference. Only the collapse of the plait trade brought an end to the plait schools.

Multiple other excuses however were found to keep children away from school. Girls could be kept at home for the weekly washing day; when the cowslips bloomed boys and girls would be taken by their mothers to collect the flowers for cowslip wine and cowslip pudding. Some might be kept at home on traditional festivals such as St Valentine’s Day, Plough Monday and for local village or church events.

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Swing Riots

The Labourers’ Revolt, commonly known as Swing Riots was mainly rooted in the poor living standards and impoverishment of agricultural workers for more than fifty years. A wave of more than 3000 acts of revolt swept across England for over 2 years. The system of farmland imposed by Parliament in the previous century had removed the right for the poorest to feed their animals on what was previously common lands. The common land was then divided between the largest local landowners. Until the early 19th century the main employment of farm labourers in the Autumn and Winter was to thresh corn. The advent of threshing machines driven by horses or by water power, able to perform the jobs of several men in less time further impoverished the already poor labourers. Landowners, seeing the economic advantage for them, quickly set about using threshing machines on their farms, putting workers out of work in their thousands. This all coincided with two years of poor harvests and rising prices and cuts to poor relief.

Threshing Machine at COAM

The threshing machine in action at Chiltern Open Air Museum

The riots finally broke out in the late summer of 1830 as jobs became increasingly scarce, wages were reduced and the future of employment became increasingly bleak. The first destruction of a threshing machine by farm labourers was on 28 August 1830 at Lower Hardres, near Canterbury in Kent. The destruction of machinery became the characteristic feature of this labourers’ movement. In October of the same year, a hundred threshing machines were vandalised and burnt in the eastern part of Kent. The uprising quickly spread westward to Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Middlesex and acts of arson increased.

The riots further spread north into the Midlands, the Home Counties and even up to East Anglia, and eventually reached Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, making it one of the biggest popular uprisings since the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The rioters burnt crops, destroyed threshing machines, slaughtered cattle and stole corn from warehouses.

Threatening letters that were sent to magistrates, large landowners, parish clerics and local Poor Law enforcement officials contained the demands of the rioters to raise wages, stop using machinery and cut tithes. These letters were signed by “Captain Swing” or “Swing”. (The name Swing may be a reference to the flails which the labourers used to thresh corn and which needed to be swung with some force in order to thresh the crop.) If the demands were not met, large groups of labourers would threaten landowners and if their demands were not met they would destroy machinery and other things associated with the landowners. While the attacks occasionally led to authorities responding to the demands, many farm owners reneged on the agreements and unrest spread to neighbouring areas. Local magistrates responded leniently, but the government intervened with harsher punishments.

Not all landowners were unsympathetic. Sir Harry Verney at Claydon was unperturbed, seeing no local threat to his own property, somewhat to his surprise.
“Some of the poor are living very miserably. Able-bodied young men having families receive in some cases 3s 6d a week (17½p). A pittance which ensures thieving and poaching. We should alter the game laws… increase the workhouses… have a legalised labour rate … The new beer shops have added to the number of places of rendezvous for the idle and dissolute.”

However, numerous arrests took place and the trials resulted in 19 hangings, 644 imprisonments and 481 transportations to penal colonies in Australia. Rioters were not only farm workers but also rural artisans, shoemakers, carpenters, wheelwrights, blacksmiths and cobblers. On January 10th 1831 a special Commission in Aylesbury tried 160 men for breaking farm machinery and rioting of whom 32 were sentenced to 7 years Transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania. The 160 men involved were accused of committing their offences in Waddesdon, Stone, Little Brickhill, Iver, Long Crendon and Upper Winchendon and Chepping Wycombe (the spelling of the village at that time, now High Wycombe). In all, 1,976 men from 34 counties were arrested of whom 800 were acquitted, 644 jailed and 481 transported.

The link below provides examples of Captain Swing letters www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/what-caused-the-swing-riots-in-the-1830s/

Written by COAM Volunteer, Roger Coode

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Children’s Games

Why do children play games?

Is it just to pass the time or do they have another significance? The philosopher Bertrand Russell thought that “it is biologically normal that they should, in imagination, live through the life of remote savage ancestors”. A rather bleak assessment! Piaget, the specialist in child development, thought that they allowed children to “assimilate reality” in a safe environment.

Children playing a traditional wooden game

You can play some traditional games in Thame Vicarage at COAM

Two thousand years ago the Greek writer Julius Pollux refers to two games which are still played today – Hide and Seek and Ducks and Drakes (skimming flat pebbles over water). Moreover, in AD 60 a Roman writes about two shepherds playing best of three at Rock, Paper, Scissors. What are now seen as games for young children were once played by older ones too. In the 18th Century and early 19th Century in Britain, boys of secondary school age were playing Hopscotch, Puss in the Corner, Marbles, and Leap-frog.

The names of the games vary wildly through time and place. For example, there are dozens of names for the player who chases the others in Tag, e.g. Het, On it, King, Mannies, Tiggy, Touch, Under, and many, many more. Rock, Paper, Scissors also has other names such as Hick, Hack, Hock and Ding, Dang, Dong.

At COAM, we have two permanently marked out Hopscotch games, one in the garden behind the entrance to the museum and the other next to Thame Vicarage. The “scotch” part of the name here means a scratched line used to mark out the sections. It is a very ancient game, in some opinions Roman or pre-Roman. It certainly exists in at least twenty-five countries all over the world and on every continent. It is not only a children’s game, although in the UK it has become so. In Poor Robin’s Almanack of 1707 we find: “Lawyers and Physicians have little to do this month, and therefore, they may (if they will), play at Scotch Hoppers.” Until the middle of the twentieth century the paving stones of our streets were often decorated with chalk lines by children making a hopscotch game, the chalk lines taking the place of the scratches or scotches that can be used to indicate the squares. The rules of the game vary widely across the country, the essential point being to move a small stone over the grid and hopping to avoid the lines “scotched” on the ground.

Girl on hobby horse

Children can play on the hobby horses at COAM

In Thame Vicarage there care modern examples of one of the oldest playthings of which we know. It is recorded that Aegeilias, King of Sparta, who died in 361 BC and Socrates, the great philosopher, were both found entertaining their children by riding a hobby-horse. The hobby-horse or cock-horse is simply a stick with reins at one end, with or without a horse’s head attached. Our hobby-horses have heads! You could even use your sister’s hair as reins as seen in this German lithograph.

Skipping is a universal children’s game and often accompanied by rhymes to maintain the rhythm. There are many hundreds of such rhymes. Some are very simple: “Salt, pepper, mustard, vinegar”. Others are more complex, such as:

“Ice-cream, a penny a lump
The more you eat, the more you jump!
Eeper Weeper. Chimney sweeper,
Married a wife and could not keep her.
Married another
Did not love her,
Up the chimney he did shove her!”

“Mrs Brown lived by the shore,
She had children three and four,
The eldest one is twenty-four
And she got married to the man next door.”

Written by Roger Coode, Museum Volunteer

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1950s Doll House Restoration Project

1950s doll house


I’m a self-employed handyman and, like many in my line of business, Christmas/New Year is a quieter time. So when my wife Nicky (a COAM gardening volunteer) spotted an appeal in the volunteer newsletter for someone to repair a recently donated 1950s doll’s house, she suggested it would be a good project to keep me occupied until paid work built up again. The doll’s house was duly collected from the Museum and set up on the dining room table for what I was sure would only be a few days. Two things then conspired to turn this simple time filler into a five month project: firstly, four tropical storms in as many weeks led to a flood of requests for repairs to fences and shed roofs and suddenly my empty diary was full again; secondly, an initial inspection revealed that the work required to the doll’s house was more extensive than I had anticipated.  This ‘blog’ is therefore to explain what’s been happening, for the benefit of those at the Museum who may have been wondering where their new exhibit had got to.

The first job was to test and repair the electrical circuits so the lights could be made to work again. After much investigation and tracing of the delicate wires, the fault was traced to the little switches installed by the original craftsman. Sadly, these therefore had to be changed. Whilst sourcing period correct replacements it seemed sensible to switch to LED bulbs. However, these are polarity sensitive and not all the bulb holders were wired the same way, so I had to switch back to ordinary bulbs rather than disturbing the old wires and risking damage to them.

Originally, the lights were powered by batteries concealed in the roof void. However, opening up the roof revealed that the original battery set-up was no longer there, so the next idea was to convert the system to mains supply. This would make display easier and cheaper for the Museum. A suitable transformer was installed in the roof-space and behold the lights worked! or at least the upstairs ones did. More fiddling, advice from a BBC engineer and a bigger transformer and, at last, the downstairs lights worked too!

Doll house with window illuminated

With the lights working it was on to the windows. Three of the panes of ‘glass’ (Perspex) were missing, so a supplier was sourced that could replicate the originals in a very similar period material. Some of the wooden trim was also missing, so new sections were carved to the same dimensions and glued into place. A de-laminated plywood interior door was glued and clamped and the whole house was given a careful clean ‘Repair Shop style’ with cotton buds, water and mild detergent.

Cleaning doll house with cotton bud

Then came the problem of matching the original paint colours. Much experimentation with RAL charts and a lot of help from the local decorating centre finally arrived at near perfect matches for the three main colours, enabling the new trim to be blended in and flaking interior paint to be touched up.

doll house interior of window

The next job was to stabilise the crumbling external paint. At the time that the doll’s house was built, materials were still in short supply in post-war Britain, so the structure was made from whatever was available. The walls were made from previously varnished recycled plywood. Ingeniously, this was coated in a sawdust and glue mix and painted white to replicate a lime washed pebble-dash render. Unfortunately, over time, the bond between the varnish and the sawdust glue had broken down in places.

Dolls house with damaged render

Large patches of ‘render’ were therefore loose or missing. A coat of diluted PVA glue was applied to the remainder to prevent further deterioration and the guinea pig’s bedding supplies were raided to provide replacement pebbledash to cover the bald patches (Don’t tell Nicky but this needed a quick spin in the food blender to make it a bit finer before it was stuck on).

Repairing rendor on doll's house

Doll house with repaired render

The final task was to recreate the curtains. It was clear that there had been curtains at some stage, because curtain rails had been cleverly created by stretching springs between nails above each window, but some springs were missing and there were no curtains. At last a chance for Nicky to get involved. Some 1950s style fabric was pulled out of her extensive fabric store in our spare bedroom and the sewing machine was set up. At this point the task obviously became too daunting, so Nicky decided to break her shoulder to get out of it. This left me in charge of the sewing machine, attempting to deliver 10 pairs of something vaguely resembling curtains. Machine sewing is not one of the services I offer my customers, for reasons which would be obvious if you were to take a close look at my handiwork. However, new springs were sourced and the new ‘curtains’ were hung.

Doll house with restored interiorDolls house with new curtains and carpets

Finally, attempts were made to clean the original green velvet carpets, but these had been attacked by moths in the past and were in a poor state. They have been kept, but alternative carpets were fashioned from a new piece of velvet, in a colour matching as close as possible to the original.

Outside of restored doll's house

And there you have it. A five day time filler that became a five month project, involving several people to provide advice and assistance, but well worth it to preserve the fine handiwork of the original creator and enable it to be shared with new generations.

Written by Jonathan, Museum Volunteer

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A Buckinghamshire Lace Maker

We were sent this poem about lace making by a visitor whose visit to COAM had inspired her to write it.

A Buckinghamshire Lace Maker

A statue except for her waltzing hands,

Flickering back and forth over the cushion,

Bone bobbins and delicate fingers draw the eye,

White and slender, like the threads they move,

Up and down, twist by twist, pin by pin,

Her face is a mask, still as a mountain,

As she forms the milk white net.

Centuries run through her clever hands,

Mother to daughter, mother to daughter,

Woman to woman, woman to girl,

Wind and unwind, length by length,

Flows from those hands the sea foam mesh

That will adorn the ball gown of a lawyer’s wife.

Farthing to halfpenny, penny to shilling, shilling to pound,

Bread and milk and rent and tea,

Coal on the fire, a hat for church,

Little by little, year by year.

The filmy thread loops and curves, forming flowers in its wake.

Amersham to Ayelsbury, Beaconsfield to Buckingham,

Hand after hand, freedom after freedom,

The days are numbered, the machines draw near,

Front room to factory, fingers to cogs, handiwork to history.

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‘I had a little nutting tree and nothing would it bear
But little silver nutmegs for Galligolden fair.

Twenty pins have I to do, let ways be ever so dirty.
Never a penny in my purse, but farthings five and thirty.

Betsy Bays and Polly Mays they are two bonny lasses.
They build a bower upon the tower and cover it with rushes.

Pardon mistress, pardon master pardon for a pin.
If you don’t give us a holiday we won’t let you in.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
Jack jump over the candlestick.’

You may have come across verses like these and presumed that they are simply nursery rhymes and have no real meaning. In fact, they are all examples of “tells”, poems used to teach children to count and to develop speed in their lacemaking. To “tell” is another word for “count” as in the word “teller”, a person who counts votes. Some tells are much longer and develop into a whole story.

But when and where did lace originate? There is pictorial evidence from the late fifteenth century of simple plaited laces used on costume, and this is consistent with the statement by the author of a bobbin lace pattern book — the Nüw Modelbuch — printed in Zurich in 1561, that lace was brought to Zurich from Italy in about 1536. What is certainly true is that the second half of the sixteenth century saw the rapid development of lace as an openwork fabric, created with a needle and single thread (needle lace) or with multiple threads (bobbin lace).

The earliest form of lace, needle lace, was slow and difficult to make and gradually bobbin lace took over. Bobbin lace is generally quicker to work than needle lace, and skilled workers were soon able to copy needle lace designs. Details of such lace can be seen on hundreds of portraits from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Bobbin lace was the kind that was brought to England in the 16th century by Flemish Protestant exiles fleeing from the persecution of Philip II of Spain between 1563 and 1567. It is recorded that amongst those refugees were makers of “bone-lace”, so called because they used bone bobbins or sharpened bones as pins. By 1568 the refugees had reached Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, bringing with them their lace-pillows, bobbins and parchment patterns. Later, around 1820, a Huguenot exile and his two daughters settled in Coggeshall. The daughters were skilled in making tambour lace, so called because the net forming the groundwork of the lace was stretched tight on a wooden hoop like a tambourine. This later developed into making lace onto which were sewn beads and sequins for the fashion industry.

Great Horwood was a typical village where lace-makers worked. In order to get the best possible light they sat outside when they could.  On cold and wet days, they would sit in windows.  Three or four lace-makers would often congregate in a bay window for maximum light, often with a ‘chaddy pot’ (this was similar to a warming pan, filled with hot coals) tucked under their skirts for warmth.  When it was dark, they sat around one candle surrounded by special glass reflectors called flashes on a wooden stand.  These maximised the light, and rush bags were attached to the stand to hold the flashes when not in use.  Lace-makers worked long tedious hours and often ended up with very poor eyesight as a result.

The following is taken from Rita Essam’s article, ‘Lace-making: Clean Work & Purdy Work’, www.greathorwoodhistory.org.

Lace-maker, Clara Ridgway (nee Smith), is pictured here surrounded by the tools of her trade. She is working at a lace pillow, with characteristic bobbins, resting on a three-legged ‘lady’. By her right shoulder is a bobbin winder, and on the floor to her right is a candle stool with flashes.

The lace pillows were round cotton bags stuffed with straw.  The straw was cut into small pieces and hammered well to make it hard enough for pins to go into.  The pillow was placed partly on the knees and partly on a three-legged pillow-horse called ‘the lady’.  The pattern was pricked on to a piece of parchment and attached to the pillow by special brass pins.  A pin cushion was pinned to the right-hand side of the pillow and traditionally was heart shaped.  It was stuffed with bran, which was slightly oily thus preventing the pins from corroding.  The bobbins were wound with the thread in pairs.  They were made of wood, ivory or bone. The bobbins were weighted with spangles.  A spangle was a ring of brass wire threaded with glass beads.

A Buckinghamshire lace pattern with bobbins.

Children as young as four were taught to make lace by their mothers who used to hang two pairs of bobbins on the side of their lace pillow and began to teach them basic skills.  Not only girls were taught, but also boys. The finished lace would be collected by a salesman and taken to market.  In the mid-19th century, the going rate was one shilling (5p) a day, out of which the lace-makers needed to buy threads.  This was more money than could be earned by domestic servants and more than an agricultural labourer was paid.

​Many villages around Great Horwood had lace schools at this time, teaching lace-making, reading and writing to both girls and boys. Great Horwood probably had one, but its location is unknown. Maybe it was held in the church before the Church of England school was founded there or perhaps small lace schools were held in people’s homes.

In the 1851 census there were 102 lace-makers in the village.  They varied in age from 9 to 82 years.  Two pauper lace-makers from Great Horwood are listed at the Winslow workhouse in the same census.  In 1861 there was a total of 134 lace-makers with an age range of 5 to 73 years, and in 1881 there were 111 lace-makers aged 10 to 77 years.  In the early part of the 20th century lace continued to be made in Great Horwood.  However, due to the introduction of machine lace the industry was in steady decline and by the second half of the century had effectively vanished

May Royce making lace.

Some of the descendants of lace-makers of the 19th and 20th centuries still live in the village, including surnames such as Barfoot, Marks, Ridgway, Viccars, Hancock, Lambourne and Mallet.

A bobbin winder.
Photograph courtesy of Rita Essam.

I am grateful for the permission of Rita Essam to include some of her article and photographs which illustrate the article so well. Please note that there should be no unauthorised copying of the photos.

You can find further information on local lace making here http://amershammuseum.org/history/trades-industries/cottage-industries-of-bucks/

Written by Roger Coode, Museum Volunteer

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A History of Garston Forge at Chiltern Open Air Museum

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Chiltern Open Air Museum is what is known as a ‘living’ history museum, where traditional working methods are used in our centuries-old buildings. Nowhere is this vitality clearer than in its Victorian-era blacksmith’s forge, once located in Garston, Hertfordshire, and now found at the heart of the museum: the village green. It sits at the centre of our footpath network, and when the hearth is lit and the doors are open, passers-by will hear the slow pumping of the bellows and the rhythmic beating of metal.

It is a working building in the truest sense of the word, used by local blacksmiths to make both decorative and practical pieces, such as the tree guards in our apple and cherry orchards, pictured below. The museum has always had a focus on conservation and sustainability, and having the facilities to provide authentic constructions and repairs on-site is a major boon. There are several smiths and volunteers who are trained to use it, and visitors can book experience days on which they learn how to make a few items of their own.

These tree guards were made in the forge.

The forge was built around 1860 and run by the Martin family, who were blacksmiths at Park Street and Leavesden, until 1926. It subsequently fell into disuse and was due to be demolished to make way for housing developments. Thankfully, the building was donated to the museum and dismantled by volunteers, led by Phil Buller and assisted by North Watford Venture Scouts, in 1982. It was kept in storage until resources were available and re-erected at the museum in 1984.

The forge is not alone in being a well-timed rescue. Many of the buildings that are now here at COAM were set to be altered, scrapped or destroyed because of changing regulations and demands on the land. The Chiltern Hills have a long and rich history, but like many places across the country, the demand for more housing and new facilities is high. This demand is neither unprecedented nor unreasonable, but it is the duty of museums like COAM to preserve that which it can, not just in its buildings, but also in its landscape and culture.

The balance between preservation and functionality can be a difficult one to maintain. Physical artefacts such as buildings inevitably decay over time and repairs and replacements must be made for their continued use. After all, the museum would not be very ‘living’ if its buildings, though unaltered, were unusable. For this reason, authentic changes are made, such as sourcing the forge’s hearth from a similar Victorian forge in Naphill, and the bellows from Leavesden Hospital. These replacements allow COAM to provide visitors with a view of history that is tangible and to which they are connected, something to be experienced rather than observed from a distance. They highlight the importance of preserving cultural history as well as physical history, so that good judgment may be used when telling the stories of our past. With its collection of ordinary people’s homes and workplaces, COAM’s aim has always been to invite visitors to take part in a history that is not simply preserved but sustained, in which their role is not just to remember the past, but to inhabit it too.

An interview with Mark Harding, one of the forge’s blacksmiths, can be seen below.

Written by Joe Wilcock, Digital Assistant

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A history of Easter at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Easter has been celebrated in one form or another for over two thousand years, as a celebration of spring, as a religious festival and as a joyful holiday. Over that time, the emphasis has changed and it’s interesting to think about what Easter would have meant to the people associated with some of the museum’s buildings.

Replica Iron Age roundhouse

Replica Iron Age roundhouse at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Early Britons like those living in our Iron Age roundhouse would have been closely attuned to the seasons that determined how they lived. We believe that they celebrated the festival of Imbolc in February, to welcome the birth of the first lambs, and Beltane in May, when the cattle were moved to their summer grazing.

Later, people began to celebrate the spring equinox, marking the emergence from winter and the balancing of day and night. Eggs were associated with this festival as a sign of the emergence of new life and hares were seen as a symbol of fertility.  According to the 8th century monk, Bede, celebrations at this time were associated with Eostre, the goddess of spring and renewal. When Christianity came to Britain, the celebration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection was linked with this festival.

Throughout medieval England, Easter was primarily a religious festival and celebrations carried on for many days. However, it also involved eating, drinking and playing sports and games, partly because it came at the end of Lent when people were required to abstain from many of these worldly pleasures. The long-standing tradition of giving eggs as gifts was an important part of the celebrations. Peasants gave them to the lord of the manor and there is a record from 1290 of Edward I purchasing 450 eggs decorated with gold leaf to give to members of his household. In a more practical way, being able to eat eggs was significant for the poor who were not allowed to eat eggs during Lent but could not afford meat. In the museum, the Arborfield cruck barn dates from the late medieval period and this was the type of Easter that might have been experienced by the people who used it.

Astleham Manor cottage at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Astleham Manor Cottage at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Our Astleham Manor cottage and Northolt barn are both Tudor. This is the period in which Henry VIII broke with Rome and, after that, the number of holy days reduced, but Easter remained important. People still observed the religious services and other traditions. Perhaps the inhabitants of our cottage and the users of the barn enjoyed the popular performances by mummers, known as Paskers at Easter. The Paskers dressed up, often in the clothes of the opposite sex, and visited neighbours’ houses, singing, dancing and ‘partaking of good cheer’. The tradition of egg-giving still continued and there is a record of the Pope sending an egg in a silver case as an Easter gift to Henry VIII before the Reformation.

Leagrave cottage at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Leagrave cottage at Chiltern Open Air Museum

The inhabitants of the Leagrave cottages would have experienced quite a different Easter. With the rise to power of Cromwell and the Puritans, Easter celebrations were banned in 1647 and, although they were restored in 1660, they never reached their previous levels of religious importance. By the 1770s, when our cottages were first inhabited, Easter might have been less religious but it was still a cause for celebration. One thing that the inhabitants would have enjoyed is the hot cross bun. The earliest written record of their sale comes from Poor Robin’s Almanac in 1733 which mentions a London street cry:
‘Good Friday comes this month, the old Woman runs
With one or two a Penny hot cross Buns’.

Many people of this time believed that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday had magical qualities and would not go mouldy. They believed that the buns brought good luck, could be used to treat illness and could guard against shipwreck if taken to sea. Some people would keep Good Friday bread hanging from the ceiling throughout the year, breaking off a piece and soaking it whenever needed.

By Victorian times, the number of national holidays had reduced, but Good Friday was still a national day off, along with Christmas Day. Perhaps the children living in the Haddenham Croft Cottage or High Wycombe Toll House would have joined in an Easter Egg hunt. This idea was introduced to England by the Hanoverian and, in 1833, Queen Victoria, then a child, recorded in her diary how much she had enjoyed this activity. She and Prince Albert continued this tradition, hiding Easter eggs in little moss baskets for their children to find. The idea remained something of a novelty in England for some time but, by the early 1900s, Easter Egg Hunts were quite widespread and, in 1902, Hamley’s advertised an Easter Egg Hunt box for sale. Another Easter activity particularly associated with the Victorians is the sending of Easter cards. Once the halfpenny postage stamp was introduced for postcards in the 1870s, the Victorians sent cards for many occasions and Easter was no exception. Their designs were often quite strange but most included rabbits, chicks or eggs and all suggested a sense of spring and hope.

Inside Amersham prefab at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Amersham prefab at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Finally, moving on to the Amersham prefab, built in 1947, we can visualise one important aspect of Easter in the years following World War 2. Chocolate Easter eggs had been first sold in England in 1873 and, as mass-production developed, became widely available. However, during the war, rationing of milk, sweets and chocolate meant that they could not be produced. Some sources suggest that children were offered carrot sticks as a substitute!  It was not until 1953 that the rationing of chocolate ended. How excited the children in the prefab must have been to eat their first Easter eggs!

Clearly, despite changes over the years, Easter has continued as a significant day in our calendar.  A line in the poem, ‘Easter Day’, written by Nicholas Breton, a contemporary of Shakespeare sums it up beautifully: ‘a day of much delightfulness: the sun’s dancing day and the Earth’s holy day’.

Written by Paula Lacey, Museum Volunteer

Photographs by Daniel Atkinson




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