History & Heritage
With centuries of rich history behind the town, High Wycombe has cultivated a vibrant cultural past, filled with thriving industry, political grandeur and mayoral pageantry. The town’s existence can be dated as far back as the Iron Age, with evidence of Hill Forts in Desborough & Keep Hill, and later, the existence of a luxury Roman era villa.
The town’s name comes from its historical layout, a gathering of ‘Wics’ or ‘dwellings’, referring to the series of hamlets dotted along the town’s River Wye.
High Wycombe’s charter market has been in place for over 700 years – one of the oldest in the UK – and supported the town’s growth during the Medieval and Tudor eras when the town became known for its lace and linen cloth production. Tradesmen would make their way from London to Oxford, stopping along the way at various High Wycombe’s taverns, such as the Wheatsheaf Inn, which can still be seen on the High Street today.
With the first recorded inauguration in 1285, High Wycombe’s elected ‘Town Mayor’ has become an important figure in the town’s heritage. The annual ‘Mayor Weighing’ – a custom dating back to the 1600s – was originally introduced to assess whether the elected officials were getting ‘fat’ off the public’s taxes. Whilst the event is now purely ceremonial, High Wycombe is the UK’s only town to continue this tradition.
During the 17th and 18th Centuries, High Wycombe was noted for its mill-driven paper industry. The River Wye’s water, rich in chalk, was ideal for bleaching pulp. This was soon overtaken by the town’s famous furniture making industry (particularly Windsor chairs). By the late 1800s, around 150 furniture workshops and factories had been set up, taking advantage of High Wycombe’s thriving natural beech woods. By 1875 the town was producing around 4,700 chairs a day.
In 1877, High Wycombe became the first town to build a ‘Chair Arch’. Emblazoned with the words ‘Long Live the Queen’, the impressive display was created to celebrate a visit from Queen Victoria, a close friend of the then Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who resided at the town’s nearby country estate, Hughenden Manor.
From the 1870s to the First World War, furniture making was High Wycombe’s staple industry, and the town’s growth and prosperity can be directly attributed to the Windsor Chair. It is an icon of craftsmanship that remains much celebrated throughout the town to this day.
A slice of
Family-friendly museum that explores the history of Wycombe district through seven hands-on galleries. Collections include local art, historic objects and furniture.
Wander Wycombe with Willie and discover the fascinating history of High Wycombe.
Secret societies, wealthy pagans and man-made caves: learn all about the history of the mysterious Hellfire Club.
Download our free family-friendly heritage trail map and explore some of High Wycombe’s most historic sites.