New Chilterns Women Festival

Living Magazines Chilterns Women rushing or matting chairs, courtesy of Brian Robertson

New Chilterns Women festival will celebrate work done by women of the Chilterns with exhibitions, a conference, videos, accompanying book and events.

  • Chalk, Cherries and Chairs presents ‘Chilterns Women’ – a conference on International Women’s Day Wednesday 8 March 2023 taking place at Missenden Abbey, featuring keynote speakers, craft demonstrations, exhibition of ‘exceptional invisible’ Chilterns women, panel discussions and local craft stalls. · Tickets are available now at
  • A series of online videos revealing ordinary working people’s accounts of what it was like at work in the old local craft industries of chairmaking, beading and lacemaking will be released through February, giving an eyewitness account of past events, places and people of the Chilterns.
  • A new book, ‘In Their Own Words’ will be launched at the conference, to accompany the videos.
  • An exhibition, ‘Hidden Hands: Women and Work in the Chilterns’ will open for six months at Wycombe Museum on 7 March 2023. The exhibition will explore the traditional crafts and skills in Chilterns villages through stories uncovered in new research undertaken by the Woodlanders Lives and Landscapes group.
  • A series of participatory events associated with the exhibition will include engagement sessions for young people, talks and workshops from Lacemaking to straw plaiting, A Bodgers Pub Tour and Memory Day.

Today, women around the world and the way they work is an essential part of our collective efforts to meet the global challenges of care for people, biodiversity, climate change mitigation and the exploitation of both finite and renewable natural resources.

Women and their work have always fulfilled a critical role in ensuring sustainable harvests and in maintaining local environmental qualities. Here in the Chilterns, we are no exception. The specifically overlooked female contributions to our local cultural, economic and environmental heritage will be celebrated through this inspiring day conference, and associated exhibition.

Conference – Wednesday 8 March at Missenden Abbey

Chilterns Conservation Board invites everyone to come and join them at Missenden Abbey, where attendees will learn about the work of the women past, present and future who have made their mark living in and around the woodlands and grass meadows of the Chilterns. The conference will feature:

  • Keynote speakers, speaker panels and discussions: Invited speakers include Anne Larigauderie (IPBES), Majeda Clarke (UK Crafts Council), Jane Clare Jones (The Feminist Institute), Selina Todd (Oxford University), Helena Chance and Lesley Hoskins (Buckinghamshire New University), Geeta Luhdra (Brunel University), Judith Green (A Woman’s Place UK) and prestigious local makers Harriet Speed (Carpentry) and Halima Cassell (Sculpture), all subject to confirmation.
  • Craft demonstrations: Experts in traditional local crafts of the Chilterns will demonstrate and discuss crafts such as straw plaiting, lace making, chair caning, tambour beading and wood turning.
  • Book and craft shop: Selected products by local women makers and produce from small businesses run by local women will be available for sale, with free samples of traditional method fine sparkling wine from the Harrow and Hope vineyard and craft English cheeses from the Marlow Cheese Company.
  • ‘Invisible, Exceptional Chilterns Women’: Pen portraits of remarkable local Chilterns women, including Jean MacDonald, who pioneered the neonatal care of Special Care Baby Units at Wycombe General Hospital, suffragette Emily Brandon and the Countess Constance Markiewiecz, the Irish national liberationist whose diaries from Aylesbury Prison tell of her miserable time spent here.
  • A display of work by botanical artist Margaret Mee, one of the first environmentalists to raise attention to damage done to the Amazon Basin’s rainforests from large-scale mining and deforestation, whose original work documenting Amazonian plants is now held by the collection at Kew Gardens.
  • A display of work by Clare Leighton, who until May 2023 is included in the V&A Museum’s ‘Print and Prejudice: Women Printmakers 1700-1930’ and who illustrated her own book ‘Four Hedges – A Gardener’s Chronicle’ documenting her time living in Monks Risborough.
  • Guided village and woodland walks (Weds and Thurs mornings): Free guided walks around the Great Missenden area, taking in the natural heritage of the River Misbourne, the Chilterns Chalk Escarpment and Strip Valleys, Local Beechwoods and the village home locations of suffragettes like Margaret Gladstone, wife of the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, who lived in nearby Amersham Old Town.
  • Networking, buffet lunch of local fare, access to the Abbey’s private gardens and open woodland trail.
  • A strictly limited number of on-site dinner or dinner, bed and breakfast bookings at a subsidised rate are offered for those wanting additional socialising and networking opportunities and to make the most of a visit to the area.

Tickets and pricing

  • Guided walks only (Weds & Thurs mornings) – Free
  • Day conference pass, with guided walks & lunch – £12
  • Day conference pass, with guided walks, lunch and Wednesday evening dinner at Missenden Abbey – £45
  • Day conference pass, with guided walks, lunch, Wednesday evening dinner & overnight accommodation and breakfast at Missenden Abbey (details at – £99

Book tickets and find out more at

In their Own Words – book and videos

The latest in the Chilterns Stories collection, this new and unique book tells the life stories of people ‘in their own words’, all of whom worked in, or had connections with rural industries in the Chilterns. Volunteer researchers working for the Woodlanders’ Lives and Landscapes community social history project in the Chilterns were lucky to discover three important collections of oral history interviews. They had been recorded onto reel-to-reel and cassette tape between the 1950s and the 1980s, which until now have largely remained hidden in public and private archives. The oral histories give insights into four core industries that sustained Chilterns’ families for generations – chairmaking, lacemaking, straw plaiting, and tambour beading.

The accounts can also be viewed in video form – hear the interviewees telling their own stories alongside archive footage, images and volunteer accounts. Find them at

‘Hidden Hands: Women and work in the Chilterns’ exhibition & events at Wycombe Museum

Historically, women’s paid work has often been belittled and forgotten. This exhibition hunts down the hidden women’s work in Chilterns villages that formed a crucial part of the local economy during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Discover how the luxury goods made by these highly skilled workers contrast with the harsh reality of working long and poorly paid hours from their homes.

Hear stories of straw plaiting in Buckland; caning and rushing chair seats in West Wycombe; lace making in Great Hampden; and braiding and beading in Holmer Green. Come to learn more about the crafts, women’s lives and their impact on the Chilterns.

The six month long exhibition will open at Wycombe Museum on 7 March, and has been curated by the Woodlanders’ Lives and Landscapes project team in partnership with Wycombe Museum and Buckinghamshire New University, and forms the museum’s Summer Exhibition. A series of events will take place alongside the exhibition including Discover and Make sessions for young people, a family day, lacemaking and straw plaiting workshops, an exploration of local gin and beer and their links to local craftspeople, a Bodgers Pub Tour and a ‘memory day’ to collect new stories.

Lachlan Stuart, Project Manager of Chalk, Cherries and Chairs says: ‘We are delighted to be presenting our next Festival, this time focusing on the inspiring women of the Chilterns. We hope that through our conference, exhibition, events and new book and videos, the invaluable contribution of women in the Chilterns will be explored and celebrated by our whole community. We look forward to delving into stories of women such as Maud Grieve, whose knowledge of herblore sustained British Army medical supplies during the Great War, or Lynne Jones, who brought the first purpose built Breastfeeding Chair into production and Veronica Main, one of Britain’s foremost expert straw plaiters, with her strong connections to Luton’s ‘hatters’’

Elaine King, Chief Executive of the Chilterns Conservation Board says: ‘Chilterns women have shaped our cultural, industrial, and environmental heritage for hundreds of years. Sadly, their skills and craftmanship were often overlooked, so it’s wonderful to come together now and celebrate the stories of these women through history. I’m especially looking forward to hearing how women will shape the Chilterns into the future by championing and caring for the nature, heritage and communities of this special landscape.’

Image courtesy of Brian Robertson