These photographs of Owen Dean, the last itinerant chair bodger to work in the Chilterns, were taken by Frank Ghysens in 1958, two years before Owen died. The workshop illustrated was in Monkton Wood, Great Hampden.
Mark Latter, Owen Dean's grandson living in America, saw the photographs on our website and contacted us with more information. Mark grew up in Princes Risborough with White Leaf Cross nearby and Monkton Wood his playground.
Great Hampden was where all Mark's adventures started when he stayed with his grandfather most weekends at the thatched cottage that Frank Ghysens photographed. With Mark's kind permission we can now publish more details of Owen Dean's life and work.
Like his four brothers, Owen was always a chair bodger. He would buy a stand of beech trees from the local landowner and set up his shed and equipment close by. Owen moved around the local woods: Great Hampden (near where he lived), Speen and Naphill. It is rumoured that he had two near misses during the 1939-45 war when the German air force dropped bombs trying to find RAF Bomber Command.
Owen packed sacking in the window cracks of his workshop to keep out draughts and he made incredibly strong tea in his breaks from bodging. He smoked heavily.
After these photographs were taken Owen closed down his workshop as he could not make it pay. He spent his last years working as a forester on the Duke of Buckingham's estate.
Owen had one daughter, Mark's mother, who is probably the person on the horse, Ben, in the picture at the end of our sequence taken in Monkton Wood.
A film was made about Owen Dean, the craftsman, in the 1950s. His tools are in the chair museum at High Wycombe.