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Lockdown challenges help Bucks-led history project progress

Lockdown challenges help Bucks-led history project progress

Organisers say the coronavirus-enforced lockdown led to quicker than expected progress for a Buckinghamshire New University-led five-year research project examining the lives of people who lived and worked in central Chilterns over the past 150 years.

Dr Helena Chance (pictured), Associate Professor in Design Studies, who is heading the project, said lockdown had been 'a catalyst' in collecting data more quickly and improving communication between volunteers in the project, Woodlanders' Lives and Landscapes.

It examines the day-to-day lives of people who worked in the chair-making and woodware industries, and in lace-making, beading and plaiting straw in the central Chilterns, going back to the 19th Century.

Volunteers include two Bucks New University BA (Hons) Graphic Design students, Caitlin Martin and Charlotte Ketteridge, with the University also employing Research Associate Lesley Hoskins.

helena chance

Caitlin and Charlotte have used their skills to create promotion and information material for the project.

Dr Chance said: "Caitlin and Charlotte's contribution has been extremely beneficial for both them and the project and I'm looking forward to working with them more in future, and also working with students elsewhere in the University.

"We now have 23 volunteers actively working on research, with five volunteers coming forward during lockdown.

"The lockdown has given time for researchers to collect huge amounts of data from the population censuses from the mid 19th to early 20th centuries, giving us a breakdown of age, gender and occupation of village residents, so that they can analyse how the numbers of those working in the village industries we are researching change over time."

charlotte ketteridge

Dr Chance said examples of this included evidence of the dramatic fall in the numbers of lace makers and straw plaiters by the end of the 19th century, while the crafts of tambour and lace beading were rising in some villages.

"During the lockdown period, volunteers were willing and had the time to learn new skills, and our online meetings gave them the opportunity to share information and help each other," added Dr Chance. "Plus, online training was an innovation we were able to explore and record, meaning it is now available to volunteers at any time, and for volunteers joining in the future. This is a great benefit.

"Now that we are beginning to collect data from so many villages, it will be possible to understand how the range of and changes in occupations varied regionally across the central Chilterns.

"For example, we can ask if the chair makers, lace makers, straw plaiters and beaders were concentrated in particular villages, how many were there, and how did this change over time?  We have reached this point in our research more quickly than we had imagined, and much of that can be attributed to the work we were able to do during lockdown. It's a very exciting development to come out of such a difficult and challenging period."

The project runs until Spring 2024 and is aimed to lead to walking tours, bodgers’ pub tours, talks and demonstrations as well as published blogs and articles, and a historic map of the central Chilterns, illustrating where the communities lived and what they did.

Dr Chance would like to hear from volunteers living or working in Buckinghamshire or nearby and interested in family history and social history, filmmaking, blog writing, among other contributions. Email Dr Chance at for more details. Woodlanders' Lives and Landscapes is one of 18 projects under a £2.8 million National Lottery-funded Landscape Partnership Scheme (LPS) ‘Chalk, Cherries and Chairs’, developed by the Chilterns Conservation Board, which conserves and enhances the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Chilterns Conservation Board aims to restore and enhance the wildlife habitats, landscape features and cultural heritage of the central Chilterns. It also works to educate and inspire communities to become protectors of their local heritage and landscapes. First picture: Dr Helena Chance, Associate Professor in Design Studies. Second picture: Charlotte Ketteridge holding the Woodlanders' Lives and Landscapes leaflet she and Caitlin Martin designed Third picture: A bodgers pub, The Plough at Cadsden, near Princes Risborough. Photo courtesy of Stuart King.

bodgers pub