High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire: Wycombe Museum


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.

20130727_161326   20130727_161437

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.

20130727_161430   20130727_161456

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.

20130727_161640   20130727_161632

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.

20130727_162449   20130727_162019

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.

20130727_161946   20130727_162039

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.

20130727_163457  20130727_162836

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.

20130727_163330   20130727_163630

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.


Amersham, Buckinghamshire: Amersham Museum


Some of you may best know Amersham as the place where the Metropolitan Line ends, all the way out in Zone 9!  Exciting though it would have been to have taken the Underground all the way out there, we actually drove so as to maximise the number of local museums around Buckinghamshire we could visit (3, as it turns out, due to awkward opening hours).  It’s quite strange to think of the Tube stretching so far out into the country, as Amersham appeared to be a rather quaint little village, full of Tudor buildings, including the museum itself, which is housed in a half-timbered Tudor hall house.


The Amersham Museum is only open on weekend afternoons between 2-4:30 (and Bank Holiday Mondays), so we had to time our visit carefully.  Admission is only £2, and we received a good introduction to the museum from the volunteer.  We began our visit on the ground floor, which contained a Tudor fireplace, and a case full of objects that had been found buried locally, including some tiles (medieval, and from Penn, not Jackfield).  There’s a timeline of Amersham history hanging from a wall, complete with curious anecdotes, and a back room with a video playing on the history of the Underground in Amersham.

20130727_151737   20130727_152304

The first floor provided us with a chance to carefully study the attractive beamed ceiling, and offered a good example of the kind of quirkiness I love to see in local museums.  The first room was fairly open to give you a chance to study the markings carved into the beams, and the fireplace (with lady-mannequin), but had a few children’s activities along one wall, where I learned the names of some Tudor colours.  Goose-turd green was surprisingly pretty, but the greyish beige colour next to it was too dull for my tastes, shame, as I’d quite like to try to order up a can of Dead Spaniard from Farrow and Ball (guess I’ll have to stick with my original plan of arsenic green).  Over by the windows, there was information on the Amersham Martyrs, Lollards who were burned during Henry VIII’s reign, so they pre-dated the Oxford Martyrs (including Cranmer and his self-immolated hand) of Actes and Monuments fame by a good 40 years.

20130727_151921   20130727_152059

The next room was absolutely crammed full of glass cases covering every aspect of Amersham history, from pipe-making to chair-making (the most famous Buckinghamshire chairs actually come from Wycombe, of which more in the next post. I bet you can’t wait!) to locally produced toys.  Being the weird Laura Ingalls obsessive that I am, I immediately honed in on the straw hat braiding section, especially a cutter used to split the straws which Laura never mentioned, so I’m left wondering if she simply left it out, as modern machinery might have spoiled the (Rose-influenced) survivalist Libertarian agenda of the books, or if their hats were just really thick and lumpy.

20130727_151746   20130727_152828

One of the real gems of the collection was the unnamed stuffed cockatoo pictured above, who became a local hero after alerting guests of the Crown Hotel about a fire which subsequently destroyed the building.  Because of his (her?) warning, everyone escaped unharmed, except for two cats (hmmm, I guess that whole cat/bird animosity thing is true).  The plaque claimed the bird lived to 118, which seems unlikely at best, but it was still a neat story.  My other favourite object was Roald Dahl‘s prescription for glasses.  He lived in Great Missenden, which is only a village or two over, and visited an optometrist in Amersham, who passed the prescription onto the museum.  Of course Roald Dahl’s house is itself a museum, but it always seemed very child-orientated, so I’ve never been willing to take the plunge.  Maybe if they ever host an adults-only evening with George’s Marvellous Medicine themed cocktails, garnished with Mrs. Twit’s glass eye, of course.  Hell, now I’m tempted to throw a Roald Dahl cocktail party myself…

20130727_152741   20130727_151936

Back downstairs, there was another room with a case devoted to local industry, which ranged from not only cottage industries like lace and cloth making, but to the Amersham Brewery, Goya toiletries, and Brazil Sausages and Pies, all now defunct.  Make sure you pull open the drawers underneath the case, as you’ll find not only some lovely Victorian bodices, but some hilarious advertising posters for Brazil’s sausages.  There was a small collection of things donated by TFL in the corner – some of those moquette ottomans that cost a fortune, but which I totally want anyway, and a few vintage Tube posters for Amersham.

20130727_152943   20130727_153344

There’s an herb garden out the back, which slopes down to the River Misbourne, full of Tudor medicinal and culinary herbs (and a lot of bees and wasps).  On a wall outside there’s a tiled mural made by local children to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first Amersham martyr.  And to think, the only tiles we got to make at my school were some ones that got hung up in the hall across from the gym.  Probably just as well; mine was rubbish anyway due to my complete lack of artistic ability.  Speaking of rubbish, there’s an outhouse at the end of the garden (actually, the toilets are outside as well, but they’re in a different building than the outhouse.  Don’t get them mixed up!).

20130727_153305   20130727_153245

Though it was on the small side, I liked the Amersham Museum quite a lot.  Obviously children enjoy it too, judging from the great number of them rambunctiously participating in the many child-friendly activities, including the museum scavenger hunt (they were honestly much too noisy for my liking, but I’ve not yet reached the stage of crankiness where I feel like I can scream at random children, at least, not if their parents are standing right there).  I do think Amersham has made a good effort to appeal to people of all ages, with just enough quirk to pique my interest.  3.5/5.