Its a good job this is a virtual journey around the British Isles, because geographically my journey so far has not been logical. Starting in Sussex I have zipped up, down and across the country as the whim has taken me. For this post, as I am going down to the Woodfair at Bentley Wildfowl Museum at the weekend, I thought I would take a look at a woodsman craft and so are featuring the Bodgers of Buckinghamshire. To be strictly accurate they were the Bodgers of the Chilterns, which stretch over Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire.
The Bodgers of Buckinghamshire were woodsman who made the rungs, stretchers and legs of chairs to supply the local Windsor Chair industry in High Wycombe. Traditionally, rather than transport the wood to a workshop bodger’s would work in the wood or forest, building a temporary structure to work under and using a foot powered pole lathe. Later some had their workshops at home. They weren’t, as it is sometimes reported, an itinerary band of men travelling from place to place, picking up work but rather their workshops could be said to be itinerant, moving around within the wood.
The bodger’s craft can be traced back over five hundred years. Stuart King has written a very interesting article on the last of the Buckinghamshire bodgers who clung on until the 1950s. Thankfully, there are still a handful of people who make a living from hand turning on a pole lathe but they don’t exist by bodging alone, which has gradually ceased to exist with the mechanisation of chair production. I have written another post on the origin of the word bodger, which has more details, if you are interested take a look.