Box cultural heritage

Katherine Spencer

Box cultural heritage today is not popularly known but it was part of most people's everyday lives at various points in history. Lace and straw hats, items crafted in the past in the Chilterns, were made using bobbins and mangles of Boxwood respectively. Some cultural uses have faded away very recently. For example, a newspaper of 1908 reported on the use of Box sprigs to signify Palm Sunday during church ceremonies in High Wycombe.

Huge volumes of Boxwood were used by the printing industry during Victorian times. Woodblocks were engraved with images to produce illustrations in newspapers such as the London Illustrated News and also in books. This popular use of Boxwood was inspired by the masterful engravings of Thomas Bewick. Later in the early 20th century, Chilterns-based artists such as Clare Leighton and Eric Gill revived this use of Box as an artform.

Further back in time, instrument makers used Boxwood in the making of woodwind instruments and also parts of stringed instruments such as pegs. Today, Box is largely reserved for making decorative pegs for stringed instruments and for replica or restoration historic instruments. This video clip shows a trio of musicians at a Chilterns Box Woodland Project event in 2013 playing historical woodwind instruments called chalumeaux - two of which are made from Boxwood:

Keeping Box cultural uses alive

The future of Box cultural heritage in the Chilterns is looking promising. A network of woodworkers, artists and others involved in Box heritage developed during 2013-2015 as a result of the Chilterns Box Woodland Project. Building on the success of public events in 2014-2015, it is hoped that the Chilterns will become a national focus for Box cultural heritage. The Chilterns Conservation Board encourages public events about Box heritage in the Chilterns - event organisers, artists and craftspeople are invited to get in touch for details.

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