For hundreds of years, the local beech woods provided a plentiful raw material for Chesham wood turners.

The industrial revolution saw the rise of woodenware manufacturing at the steam sawmills and factory workshops.

In the early 20th century, Chesham had ten brush factories making everything from paint brushes to brooms, to be dispatched all over the country and even to Europe.

One of Chesham’s earliest and most successful brushmaking companies was founded in 1829 by woodturner Robert Webb, who set up business as a brushmaker in a small workyard in the Broadway, where he was joined by his two sons, George and William.

Robert Webb & Sons, as the business became known, continued to expand and by the end of the century had moved to a new factory in Townsend Road, where new machinery was installed to speed production in an industry which was still largely reliant on hand production methods. After the First World War, the Webb family took over a London brushmaking factory and renamed their company Webb and Foulger Ltd. In 1948 a Yorkshire brush manufacturer, Frank Jarratt of Huddersfield, came into the family business and renamed it Webb, Jarratt and Co Ltd. In 1963 the company was absorbed into the Dendix Industrial Brush Group. The Chesham factory ceased production in 1982.

Beechwood Ltd, which was to become the other major brushmaker in Chesham, was established by George Hawes in 1876 as a woodware manufacturer, later turning to the manufacture of domestic brooms and brushes. It became one of the best known names in brush manufacture nationally. In 1948 Beechwood Ltd became Spa Brushes Ltd. Manufacture at the Higham Road factory ceased in 1988.

While the larger brushmakers, such as Webb’s and Beechwood’s, had their own woodworking departments, some Chesham woodworking factories specialised in making brush backs and handles. One such business was Treacher Webb & Sons of Alexander Street, which was founded in 1650 when Samuel Treacher started a foundry in Chesham, where he also made wheels and spokes from wood. Treacher Webb’s business was taken over in 1915 by timber merchants Sundt & Co, who specialised in the manufacture of wooden, and later plastic, handles for the brush trade at the company’s Cameron Road factory.

Today, the Russell’s factory in Townsend Road is the sole surviving brush works in Chesham. The late Robert Russell and his sons were photographed in 1998 by Anne Crabbe. The family firm of R Russell, brushmakers, was established in 1840.

More in the weeks to follow on beer, Baptists and boots! Find out more in the book Chesham at Work in the 20th Century.