Last week we showed on the Nostalgia page a block of four blue postage-type stamps which depicted the Guildhall end of the High St, with the heading “Wycombe Month”. So what was “Wycombe Month”?

It was an event first organised in 1932 by the High Wycombe and District Furniture Manufacturers Federation to showcase the area’s furniture industry. As the chairman of the Federation explained “it is an attempt at combined movement rather than a combine. A healthy breeze of competition has been stirred, not by the few but by the many. Wycombe is a unique town dealing with a unique depression in a unique way.”

In the United Kingdom the Great Depression of the 1930’s was at its height in 1932. In the five years 1929 to 1933 the UK’s world-wide trade fell by a half.

In the summer of 1932 unemployment reached 3.5M, 70% of the workforce were out of work in some locations, and many more had only part-time employment. Many families depended entirely on payments from local government, known as the “dole”.

A General Election in 1931 brought in a new Conservative-dominated national government to replace the Labour/Liberal coalition. A round of cuts in public spending and wages was immediately instituted. Public sector wages and unemployment pay were cut by 10%, and income tax was raised from 4s 6d to 5s on the pound. These measures were deflationary, and only worsened the situation.

In High Wycombe the manufacture of furniture dominated the local economy, and the industry was badly affected. Hence the Furniture Federation’s attempt to alleviate the situation by organising the Wycombe Month event. The “Month” was September 1932, deliberately timed to include the period of the annual British Industries Fair (BIF) in London.

The event was unique in that it was a cooperative effort in the sense that most furniture manufacturers in the district participated by opening their factories to potential buyers throughout the month. Most firms established special showrooms to display their furniture.

When reviewing the success of the event Mr A E Barnes Chairman of the Federation remarked “In Wycombe firms have been slow to develop the showroom idea and failed to recognise the importance of appeal in selling.”

In addition to the recession, it seems that a powerful motivation for the event was to attempt to overcome the tendency for furniture manufactured in High Wycombe to be branded differently when put onto the market, and lost all association with the town. Apparently this was particularly noticeable at the BIF, and the Wycombe firm of R J Howland had adopted the practice of “fixing a large and distinctive label to all the furniture leaving their factory proclaiming its place of origin”.

As an editorial in the Bucks Free Press stated “The time is ripe to label the goods and to make Wycombe known for its enterprise and the quality of its products. It ought not to be possible for chairs, designed and made in Wycombe, to be represented as “French models” at a fashionable seaside resort, or for chairs made locally to be bought in Holland, by American visitors, as specimens of Dutch craftmanship. These are facts.”

Among the firms who commented favourably on the outcome of the Wycombe Month initiative were Mr Ercolani from Furniture Industries Ltd who said “The number of buyers we have received exceeded all expectations”. W. Birch and Son Ltd commented “Our experience shows that the experiment of the Federation has very considerable possibilities” and the mattress-makers W S Toms Ltd, now Hypnos in Princes Risborough, were a little more restrained “The Wycombe Month has done a bit of good, we have had more buyers than usual.”

The Federation and its members decided that the Wycombe Month should become an annual event to be held in September. This continued until 1938, when WW2 intervened the following year, and the event was not resurrected after the war finished in 1945.

In the final year, 1938, the BFP reported “Wycombe Month this year is enjoying a well-earned measure of support from the Corporation of this ancient borough. In the municipal museum there has been arranged a small exhibition of antique furniture which anyone passing might pause to visit.”

By then the Federation had over 200 members and the “showroom idea” seems to have really caught-on as “all the members had arranged special showroom displays”. The Wycombe Month had “among the hundreds of furniture buyers throughout the country become an established event in the industry’s diary”.

In fact, the event had been replicated by the Manchester Furniture Trades Exhibition. This was also held in September, from the fifth to the fifteenth, but was thought unlikely to effect the Wycombe Month. Even so the R J Howland firm had arranged a display in Manchester as well as in their showroom in Wycombe.

The BFP had an extensive report of Wycombe Month in its edition on September 2 1938, reviewing the showrooms of many of the factories in Wycombe. “Many this year have adopted very effectively the showing of furniture in its natural setting, in tiny rooms leading off from the main hall. One of the most notable examples is that of Messrs E Gomme Ltd at their Spring Gardens Factory. Here the showrooms are perhaps the largest and most elaborate in High Wycombe.”

The report continued “At the Leigh St factory of Messrs Gommes some of the most interesting examples are those made from wood from the massive piles taken from Waterloo bridge during its demolition. The tough Canadian rock elm of the piles has been used with splendid effect in tables and sideboards. The firm’s policy of utilising where possible good English timber with interesting historical associations has given them many fine models of unusual attraction.”

Does any reader know the whereabouts of any of these pieces fabricated from the Waterloo bridge piles ? If so I would be grateful if you could let me know by emailing