Brush-making in Chesham

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    Chesham, with its surrounding beech woods, has had a woodenware industry since the 16th century. Brush manufacture, originally a cottage industry, began two hundred years ago to utilise the offcuts from the making of wooden shovels, used in brewing. The industrial revolution saw the rise of manufacturing, using steam sawmills and factory workshops. The railway came to the town in 1889 and meant that goods could be easily sent countrywide.

    By the early 20th century Chesham had ten brush factories making everything from paint brushes and brooms, brushes for road sweeping, for the dairy and for cleaning the barnacles from ships’ hulls. Bristles originally came from Poland and Russia, later from China. Women and girls were employed in the delicate and intricate work of attaching them to the brush head.

    Robert Webb started the first brush factory in the town in The Broadway in 1829 and later had a large factory in Townsend Road. At its height the firm, then called Webb, Jarrett and Co, employed 120 people. It closed in 1983.

    Other brush firms in the town included Robert Preston & Co Ltd in Nashleigh Hill, Lloyd Williams in Berkhamstead Road, George Hawes , firstly in Bellingdon Road and then in a building at the corner of Cameron Road and Berkhamstead Road, W.Griffin in Townfield Yard , Lewis Brushes first in Vale Road and then Chilton Road., Beechwood Brushes in Bellingdon Road. Factory fires were always a great hazard and in 1930 Beechwood Brushes suffered a serious blaze. By this time the firm had its own fire brigade of seven men, living locally.

    Just one brush factory remains in Chesham. Robert Russell started making brushes in 1840 and now the sixth generation of Russells operate the family business in Townsend Road, making specialist brushes.