In February 2014 The committee voted to change the name of the Chamber to the Chiltern Chamber and incorporate businesses from Amersham and Chesham together. This was an important step for an organisation with a proud history.
The Chesham Chamber was founded in 1949, the first President being H.W. Carsberg, In its first year an annual Trades Fair was established, offering such delights as cookery demonstrations by the Eastern Electricity Board, with tips on “How to Stretch your Cheese Rations”! Another attraction was a TV demo by Messrs. Chittenden, the set on offer at £50.5.4d. It is interesting to note that of the 24 companies taking part, 3 are still in existence. By the following year the Trades Fair had grown to 33 stands.
In the Chamber’s Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951 our members listed in the brochure included 5 butchers, 8 drapers & ladies’ outfitters, a hotel, a milliner and 19 “manufacturers”.
Throughout the early years, and right up to about 1994 Dinner & Dances were held annually, first at the Cooperative Hall and later the Bell House in Beaconsfield. In Coronation year, 1953, the Chamber put on a Shopping Week, with 47 traders taking part in a “spot the crown” window competition.
There is a gap in our records between the late ’50s and early ’70s, though the Trades Fairs continued to grow, the Old Peoples’ Christmas Parcels scheme was started (taken over some years later by the Lions Club) and the seasonal installation of Christmas trees, fixed at rakish angles into wall brackets outside 50 participating shops was begun. In 1974, after much hard work by the committee of the day, Christmas tree lights were provided, though not allowed to be switched on that year due to the coal strike!
Extending shopping from 5½ days to 6 days a week was welcomed in 1976, and the same year saw the launch of a Young Enterprise Scheme in conjunction with the Rotary Club.
Christmas in Chesham
Back to Christmas decorations, thanks to a member who admired the garlands of Christmas lights in a nearby town in the early ’80s, committee volunteers took up the idea for Chesham with lanterns purchased with help from the Town Council. This was a haphazard and often dangerous enterprise, consisting of running up and down ladders, knocking holes in shop walls and literally playing with fire to attach the bulbs. However, the result so impressed neighbouring Berkhamsted that they copied us. We eventually persuaded the Town Council to take this responsibility off our hands. They subsequently sold the lights to another town and bought what we have today.
A worthwhile involvement of the Chamber in about 1984 was with the Education/Employers’ Liaison, a joint Amersham/Chesham enterprise. The idea was for employers to sit in on school lessons to find out what went on, and for teachers and pupils to discover what happened in commerce. Some of the employers became so engrossed in the lessons that they were annoyed when the bell rang! This scheme was eventually handed over to the local Council and later died out.
The pedestrianisation of the High Street, first discussed in the late ’70s, was completed in 1990. Unfortunately, one downside was the demise, after 10 years, of the Chamber’s annual Pancake Race, as the slippery new paving in the High Street made it too risky for contestants. The winner’s cup still exists.
Two days of late night Christmas shopping was first organised in 1991 by Rod Culverhouse, and the following year a 1-day Town Festival was arranged by Geoffrey Evans. These events evolved into the popular Victorian Christmas Shopping Evening which Diane Brackley and her sub-committee put on each year. This has now been superceded by Christmas in Chesham a festival of music, dance and late night shopping.
In 1995, following 3 years of recession and low morale, the decision was taken to exit the National Chamber of Trade which absorbed 50% of our income, created piles of paperwork and had become less useful to us over the years. Chesham’s revitalisation programme had got under way, and we supported the Sainsburys project to provide the town with a new supermarket, theatre and Town Hall.
Three ‘firsts’ in 1999: the appointment by the District Council of a Town Centre Manager under the aegis of The Chesham Partnership; the official approval of a twice-weekly market in the High Street; and the first Business-for-Business exhibition held at the new Elgiva Theatre, which has become an annual event. (Sadly, the job of Town Manager ceased in 2002 with the winding-up of the Chesham Partnership, but revitalisation continues with ChAP (Chesham Action Partnership) and the Better Chesham group).
A change of tack in 2000 saw the Chamber change its name for the next 18 months to Chesham in Business and become more of a business networking group, dispensing with formality and letting the members decide how it operated. This was friendly and sociable but as there were similar groups in the town, in late 2002 we went back to our original position as Chesham Chamber of Trade & Commerce.
Bringing together Amersham and Chesham
In 2012 we rebranded ourselves as CHESHAM CHAMBER, to work hand-in-glove with other local organisations to raise Chesham’s profile in a modern world. In February 2014 came the name change to Chiltern Chamber, incorporating businesses from both Amersham and Chesham.
Many thanks to Jean Pritchard with assistance from Rod Culverhouse.