I am grateful to Richard Ayres for writing this article.

Richard is a volunteer with the Woodlanders’ Lives and Landscapes project funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund:

About two miles from Amersham along the A404 to High Wycombe, the road begins a long curve to the right up the hill towards Penn Street, by-passing on the left the hamlet of Whielden Gate, which until a few years ago contained the Queens Head pub, now a private residence.

A few yards further up the main road is a turning to the left signposted ‘Winchmore Hill’. If one follows this lane towards Winchmore Hill for a few hundred yards, there is on the left what used to be a picnic site, but which is now mostly overgrown with trees.

For nearly one hundred years from the mid-1840s to 1939, this was the site of a chairmaking workshop, later a factory, owned by three generations of the Hatch family, the last being my grandfather. The land on which the factory stood was part of the Shardeloes estate, owned by the Tyrwhitt-Drakes, squires of Amersham.

Origins of the business

In the 1841 census, my great-great grandfather David Hatch was listed as a chairmaker living in Woodrow, near Winchmore Hill. By 1851 he had moved a few hundred yards to Whielden Gate, probably to a house called Hollandsdean (a 17th century building) where he was described as a chair manufacturer. One of my aunts, born in 1906, could clearly remember the ruins of an old house in the factory yard when she was a child. It was in the grounds of Hollandsdean that David Hatch set up his workshop. In the 1861 census David Hatch had three apprentices listed as living at Whielden Gate.

The factory buildings were probably erected in the 1880s. David died in 1885, but the business had passed to his third son Joseph (1849-1943) by the time of the 1881 census. Joseph was probably born at Hollandsdean, as the 1851 census lists him at Whielden Gate as a one-year old.

The business prospers

Joseph Hatch ran the factory until the mid-1930s, and the business evidently prospered. He began to accumulate property, buying cottages and having new houses built in Winchmore Hill, and later owning property in Hazlemere. He purchased Nos. 1 to 7 in ‘The Row’ Winchmore Hill as early as 1887. He also branched out into farming, being a tenant of the Tyrwhitt-Drakes first at Woodrow Farm in about 1892, then at Childs Farm from about 1920, both farms being in the village of Woodrow, close to the chair factory.

Towards the end of the 19th century, industrialisation of chair production began with the introduction of machine tools. In the early years of the 20th century the chair factory reached its peak of production. At that time both sides of the Wycombe Road and Whielden Lane were used to store timber harvested from the beechwoods. Some 30 to 40 men worked at the factory in its heyday, and in addition the company employed outworkers in the surrounding villages to harvest wood for turning and caning in the factory. By the 1920s the business was known as ‘J. Hatch and Sons’, as his sons Joseph David, Frederick, Arthur and William were all involved in various capacities.

An advertisement for the company was produced on the reverse of blotting papers. When I was a child in the 1940s there were hundreds of these blotters in my grandfather Joseph David’s house and I was allowed to scribble on them. Apparently the blotters were never used as advertisements due the misspelling of ‘Whielden’ !

Local Character

Joseph was a well-known character, and as recently as 2005 was still remembered by some old locals, driving a horse and trap, white beard flowing in the breeze. He had the reputation of being a firm but fair employer: he refused to join a lock-out by chair manufacturers in High Wycombe in 1913 when their workers were demanding higher wages.

My maternal great grandmother, wife of Thomas Pursey, tenant of ‘The Plough’ in Winchmore Hill, overheard his workers discussing him in the bar ‘That Joe Hatch, ‘e might be ‘ard, but ‘e be a just b****r’.’ There was one occasion when he had toothache and he told one of his workers to knock out the tooth using a chair spindle. When the worker demurred, Joe threatened to sack him.

Third generation

Joseph died in 1943, but sometime in the 1930s he passed the chairmaking business to his two eldest sons, Joseph David and Frederick. Frederick died in 1938.

Joseph David Hatch, my grandfather, was born in 1874, probably at Hollandsdean, for in the 1881 census he was listed as living with his parents in Whielden Lane. He left school aged 11, and then accompanied his father’s workers delivering chairs by horse and cart to London, and sometimes as far afield as the south coast and Manchester.

In 1903 he married Kate Pursey, daughter of Thomas Pursey, licensee of The Plough in Winchmore Hill. Three generations of Purseys were licensees of the pub between the 1870s and 1953. Many members of the Pursey family were also chairmakers and intermarried with the Hatch family over several generations.

The early years of Joseph David’s marriage to Kate were spent at ‘Hope Cottage’ near Amersham station. His role at the time was to market the company’s chairs In London, and he travelled there by train.

Sometime between 1907 and 1911 the family moved to Coleshill to live in one of a pair of Victorian Cottages near the windmill called ‘Clivia Villas’. It was here that my mother was born in 1913. It has since been converted into a single dwelling called ‘Hill Cottage’.

He then purchased two cottages opposite the church which he converted into a single dwelling which he named ‘Moorwood’. My mother can remember as a child running from Moorwood through the fields on the path that led down to the Queens Head and then on to the chair factory, and the adders that used to sleep in the piles of sawdust in the factory yard.

By the 1930s foreign timber imports began to reduce the need for Chiltern beechwood and the rural chair factories began to decline. Joseph David wound up the company and sold the factory buildings to a timber merchant at the start of the Second World War. The buildings (which I can remember as a child) were destroyed by fire in the early 1950s.


As one grows older, one’s ancestors and the landscape they helped shape begin to have great resonance. When I revisit the Chilterns, I sometimes pay homage to the houses where my forebears were born or died, and to the tombstones under which they are buried. But a strange sensation occurs when passing the former picnic site at Whielden Gate, knowing that two of my ancestors were born and worked where a thicket of young trees now grow.


The research for this article was undertaken for the Woodlanders’ Lives and Landscapes project, which is part of the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership running in the Central Chilterns, funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund. Visit www.chilternsaonb.org/woodlanders-lives.html for more information.