Now, I’ve visited Wycombe before to see the excellent Hellfire Caves (description under Favourite Places), but the destination this time was the much less thrilling sounding Wycombe Museum. It attracted my attention primarily because I heard they had a chair gallery, and videos about bodgers, and bodger is a funny word that sounds slightly dirty, so that was good enough for me. The museum is atop a hill (makes sense, as it is High Wycombe) with a parking lot behind it which we somehow managed to totally miss, instead paying for parking on the street below.
Wycombe Museum is free, and is housed inside “Castle Hill House” and surrounded by extensive gardens. Parts of house date back to the 17th century, but there were extensive renovations throughout the 19th, and they’ve kept a 1920s kitchen/canteen inside the museum for self-service refreshment purposes.
One of the galleries was devoted to the local football team, so aside from scoring an impressive goal (in flip flops yet!) in the net they had set up, I pretty much just skipped over this section, as I couldn’t give less of a crap about sports. I did note that they seemed to have found a mascot even more offensive than Chief Wahoo, the Lucky Wycombe Comanche, which must have taken some doing, as they only acquired him in 1999.
Never fear, the chair gallery was across the hall, and was exactly what I had come for. I think I actually progressed backwards through the gallery, which is something I seem to do a lot, but I nonetheless enjoyed learning about the history of chair-making in Wycombe. I was especially fascinated with the picture of the chair arch built for Queen Victoria’s visit; she even requested that her carriage be briefly stopped so she could look at it, so it must have been impressive indeed.
Not only that, but I also got to the promised videos on bodgers. You probably want to know what a bodger is, unless you looked it up when I first mentioned it at the beginning of the post, but in case you haven’t, it’s someone who makes chair legs out of wood. I find videos of people engaging in specialised crafts to be quite mesmerising, so I was happy to sit and watch the vintage video of them shaping some legs. I still think bodger sounds kind of dirty though.
There were a number of chairs on display, from the regal number shown above, to the plain Windsor chairs that the Chilterns are famed for producing. I believe there was even a Victorian child’s potty seat (pot section removed). I also learned about the differences between cane and rush seating, both of which were done by women, but rush seating was generally more lucrative because the rush had to be woven whilst damp, which made it messier and more unpleasant work.
We then headed upstairs, which was full of a mixture of objects pertaining to local trades similar to the displays at the Amersham Museum; since the towns are mere miles apart, they were both involved in straw weaving and lace making. Because I’d already seen most of the tools at Amersham, I wasn’t so keen this time around. The place was totally deserted, which is normally exactly what I want in a museum, but here it made me feel rushed, like they were just waiting for us to leave so they could close for the day, which probably also affected the amount of time I spent looking around.
There was a whole timeline of Wycombe history, with some relevant artefacts, but most of the signs were weirdly low to the ground, as if intended for children. The majority of the captions were just normal museum signs, and not those child-friendly ones you see with pictures and bigger type, so I’m not sure why they arranged things in such an awkward manner. I’m sure I must have learned some interesting facts about Wycombe, but I can’t recall any of them now, which is never a good sign. The Amersham cockatoo stayed with me no problem.
In the corner, there was a random art gallery of what I imagine was local art, though there was a dearth of captions, so I can’t provide much more detail. There was also a photographic exhibition of local mills with adequate signage that I found more intriguing. A fact of note that I did learn at the museum was that the windmill from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was relatively nearby, though privately owned. I have an absurb fondness for Dick van Dyke, especially in Disney musicals, and whilst Chitty is nowhere near as impressive as his Cockney accent in Mary Poppins, I just had to stop at the windmill. It turns out it is along a country road, behind hedgerows and a fence, so I really don’t think the owners want people stopping. I’m certainly not recommending doing this, but we parked down the road and walked down a public trail in a nearby field, and took a harrowing trek through some brambles to snap a cheeky picture, which can be seen below.
It was covered in scaffolding, which does spoil the effect somewhat. But, back to Wycombe Museum; as you could probably tell, I wasn’t terribly impressed. As we’d just visited Amersham Museum, I couldn’t help comparing the two, and whilst Amersham was smaller, I much preferred it (and I don’t think I’m the only one, as Amersham was relatively busy). The chair gallery was fine, but I don’t think much thought went into arranging most of the other galleries. Finally, on the subject of chairs, I should note that the Wycombe Museum is not the same as the chair-making museum in Wycombe, which appears to be more of a shop-cum-museum experience, and which I have yet to visit. Maybe for a future post… 2.5/5 for Wycombe Museum.