Industries of all types have thrived for years along the riverbanks, in the woodlands, and on the hills of the Chilterns.
The Chilterns AONB has provided people with ways of making a living for many hundreds, even thousands, of years. In Prehistoric and Roman times, iron-smelting took place at sites like Cow Roast on the Bulbourne, and Cholesbury in the Chess catchment. This iron was used for tools and weapons, cooking and building materials, and it enabled humans to forge ahead with technological advances.
From the Roman Period onwards, mills popped up along the Chilterns’ rivers, harnessing the power of the water and processing a range of materials from turning grain into flour, rags into paper, and even a brief flirtation with milling silk and polishing diamonds!
Yet, it was the rise of the Industrial Revolution that really brought change across Britain and the Chilterns was no exception. Look for the evidence all around you: view the famous Brunel bridge that spans the Thames from Hartslock nature reserve; take a trip on the railways to explore our delightful Market Towns; or explore our Victorian heritage at the Pitstone Green Museum (seasonal opening). Visit our interactive map to find even more family days out and industrial adventures across the Chilterns.
Georgians and Victorians usher in a new age
The Industrial Revolution started during the Georgian Era (1714-1837 AD), brining with it innovation, technology, employment and growth. Transport routes and toll roads were constructed and improved across the Chilterns, making it easier to pass through the hills, and markets and trade expanded. Waterways were heavily used and the Grand Union Canal was constructed in the late 18th century to connect London and Birmingham and enable the transportation of bulky and heavy goods.
By the 1800s, the demand for firewood from Chiltern woodlands had fallen because more and more people were using coal for fuel in their homes. At the same time, the local furniture-making industry was taking off, which required a regular supply of wood. Chair-making became an important industry, especially around High Wycombe. The woods began to change in appearance as tall, narrow trees were grown to produce timber that could be handled easily by woodland workers. Some areas were planted with beech, which were often felled when they reached 40 years old. The high beech forest that we know today began to appear.
Sitting down on the job!
Chairs were assembled in factories, but some of their components, such as legs, spindles and back supports, were made in the woods by craftsmen known as ‘bodgers’. These men worked in the woods every day, building small huts for shelter. The chair industry thrived for over a hundred years, but declined at the end of the Victorian Era as foreign timber began to be imported in large quantities. Our Woodlanders Lives and Landscapes project shines a light on chair-making and other Chilterns crafts.
Harnessing water and steam
Along the rivers of the Chilterns, the Industrial Revolution saw Victorian mills for flour, cloth and paper multiply, using the water to power wheels and machinery. Today, only a handful of mills are still in regular operation: at Ford End near Tring, at Redbourn on the Ver, and at Pann Mill on the Wye in Wycombe.
Come with us to Metroland
Thus ran the slogan of the Metropolitan Railway, carrying Londoners into the countryside beyond. Today, you can still take a ride to Chesham and enjoy this ‘Walkers are Welcome’ town. This scheme encourages towns to provide information, offer and maintain attractive walks, and promote tourism. Fuel-up ready for your explorations in a choice of cafés and pubs, or enjoy the markets and shops of this pleasant town. Find more rail-friendly places to visit in our Market Towns section.