The Plough Pub- A Chairmaker’s Tale from Woodlanders’ Lives
by Jane Barker
A number of pubs across the Chilterns have close associations with the chairmaking industry. This article looks at the history of The Plough in Winchmore Hill, a pub that was run by three generations of the Pursey family for almost 80 years…
The Purseys are a local family with strong ties to the chairmaking industry. One remaining descendant still lives in the village today.
Formerly a farm (dating back to the 17th century or earlier), The Old Plough has been a public house since at least 1830. The first beer-house licence was granted in 1830 to a 30-year-old woman, Caroline Rogers, who supplemented her income by selling groceries. The pub was taken over by Weller’s Brewery in Amersham in the 1860s and remained in Weller’s ownership until the brewery sold all its pubs in 1929. We don’t know for sure when the pub’s name lost ‘Old’ and became ‘The Plough’. Perhaps Weller’s made the change?
In 1870, after the death of Caroline Rogers, George Pursey was appointed as landlord. George was a local man, aged 39, married for 18 years and father to five children. He had been living just down the road and working as an agricultural and wood labourer, like his father before him. He moved into the pub with his wife Lavina, his sons Thomas and William, and daughters Ellen and Sarah (daughter Mary (14) was away from home, in domestic service, although she later returned to the village). Thomas (aged 17) and Sarah (aged 12) worked as apprentices.
Shortly after he became landlord, George remodelled the pub, adding new wings to the left and right of the original building, and setting up the family’s first chairmaking workshop – consisting of a turning shop, a timber yard and a sawpit – immediately behind the pub. He was quickly successful in running both the pub and chairmaking business and the Purseys soon become an important local family, taking part in many aspects of village life.
By 1881 the Purseys had established a second workshop on The Hill in Winchmore Hill, and ownership of this workshop was transferred to George’s youngest son William sometime towards the end of George’s life. This second workshop was sold to Rose & Co (another local chairmaker) shortly after the end of the First World War and, around the same time, William’s sons George and Sydney Pursey set up a third chairmaking factory called Cherry Tree Chairmakers on the opposite side of The Hill. This was the largest of the chairmaking enterprises run by the Pursey family, employing 20 people in the 1930s.
Chairmaking was certainly a family affair – not only did George and both his sons work in the business, all three of his daughters married into woodworking families and lived locally. By 1891 George and Lavina had four of their children and 19 grandchildren living in the village. At this time the village population was 313.
The pub was a central part of village life – hosting social events, providing employment in the chairmaking business, and serving as the setting for coroners’ inquests. In 1890, the ‘Bucks Herald’ reported that Mr G A Charsley, coroner, presided over an inquest into the death of Amy Blanche Rogers, aged 5, who died in a fire. Her mother (Mary Ann Rogers) told the inquest that Amy’s nightgown had caught fire after her brother Albert, aged 8, had made and lit the fire and Amy had gone downstairs. Mary was cautioned against allowing such a young child to light a fire!
In 1895 the licence for the pub transferred from the now ageing George to his eldest son Thomas. Alongside his grandson Arthur, George continued as a chairmaker and, following the death of his wife Lavina in 1903, he moved out of the pub to live with his daughter Sarah at Winchmore Hill Farm. George died in 1911.
Thomas Pursey was born in 1853 and ran the pub with his wife Emma (née Pearce) from around 1900. The couple had eight children. Thomas suffered from poor health and a disability, and he was an asthmatic. However, he continued with the chairmaking business up until at least the start of the First World War. The timber yard and sawpit continued alongside the pub during this period, perhaps supplying chair parts to the chair-manufacturing workshop owned by the family on The Hill. Thomas died in 1919 and Emma took on the role of landlady at the pub, running it up until her death in 1936. Emma was reportedly a formidable woman with a sharp tongue and flashing brown eyes. We do not know when the workshop at the pub ceased production.
When Emma died in 1936 the pub then passed to her youngest son Frank, born in 1890, who served as the landlord through the Second World War and up to 1956. Prior to taking over the pub after his mother’s death, he worked as a carpenter and builder and lived in the neighbouring village of Coleshill. The pub remained an important part of the social life of the village, hosting the final of The Royal British Legion darts tournament in 1938. Surviving family members report that both Thomas and Frank were involved in the undertaking business, which operated from next door to the pub. Frank was famous locally for making his own coffin. During the Second World War Frank was fined for breaching the blackout.
After Frank, the pub was managed for a period by the brother of his son-in-law, before becoming part of the Penny Farthing chain of restaurants, where a three-course lunch could be purchased for 65p to 95p in 1975.
The late Barbara Windsor, the famous buxom actress, invested heavily in The Plough in the 1990s when she was married to Steve Hollings, her second husband, a chef from Yorkshire. Sadly, their restaurant venture (and marriage) ended in failure and debt for Barbara.
The pub, now an Italian restaurant, continues to play an important part in village life.
Researched and written by Jane Barker
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