Chair of the month for March is this cane seated fancy chair from Benjamin North and Sons of West Wycombe, made in about 1857.
Most furniture makers were men, so it can be easy to forget that caned seats were often made by women and girls. Caning seats was badly paid. Even working full-time, women were often earning a quarter of male furniture worker’s pay – and they were not well paid! But caning work could be done in the worker’s own home, fitting in around to unpaid tasks such as cooking and childcare. As the local lace industry declined, more women took on caning work, so that by the 1880s most chair caners were women.
This chair can be seen in Wycombe Museum’s exhibition, Hidden Hands, Women and Work in the Chilterns, 7 March – 10 September 2023. The exhibition explores the Chilterns crafts of chair seat caning and matting, lace making, straw plaiting and tambour beading. The exhibition is in collaboration with the Woodlanders’ Lives and Landscapes community history project. Entry to the exhibition and the museum are free.
The story of Benjamin North’s furniture factory, which was established in West Wycombe in 1853 and moved to Piddington in 1902 is told in ‘Piddington & Furniture’ by Simon Cains and Brian Robertson, published by Coval Consulting Publishing, 2022.
Chair of the Month is a partnership between Wycombe Museum and the Regional Furniture Society.
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