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Heritage Building Trainee 2016 – 17 reflections

Reflections on the last 18 months of my traineeship

When I applied for the role of heritage buildings trainee I didn’t know quite what to expect. For a year and a half I had worked doing building repair work in Devon mainly using traditional materials such as cob and lime. I loved using my hands and the sense of history in the places so the opportunity to work in a museum dedicated to these old methods of construction seemed ideal to me. What exactly the museum would be like, however, I didn’t know! Fortunately the day long interview/ assessment, far less grueling than it sounds, gave me a great feel for the place and the people and what my role would be. Forward eighteen months and I can look back at what a great opportunity it has been to try my hand at such a broad range of trades and skills.

One of the first jobs was laying a chalk floor in the Iron Age roundhouse. We regrettably had to take up the old cobble floor as the cobbles were getting kicked up by lots of small feet and so the chalk was a replacement. It was a good lesson in how much the site and buildings are put under pressure by the frequent footfall (good for the museum of course) and how compromises, like replacing the cobble floor with chalk, have to be found. Some of the other jobs I carried out include thatching, blacksmithing, leadwork, lime plastering, and carpentry as well using the white earth material wychert, local to the area, to finish the garden wall of Haddenham cottage.

building a wychert wall

As part of my training I was also able to go on courses and work placements away from the museum. These included the green oak timber framing course at the Weald and Downland. It was fascinating and made me realise this was something I wanted to carry on with and learn more about. I later worked on an Elm barn in Hertfordshire, a cruck frame in Oxfordshire and learnt some timber repairs while at Orchard Barn in Suffolk and on placement in Twyford with IJP Owlsworth. So lots of good practise; unfortunately with timber framing it appears the more you learn, the more you realise there is to find out!

It was tricky at times to get the balance right between learning elsewhere and getting work done at the museum. However, the two things definitely complemented each other. For example I went on an electrical course which allowed me to do some basic wiring at the museum.

It also helped when I found myself faced with covering for the buildings manager at the beginning this year. This was always going to be a steep learning curve but what made it a more daunting prospect was that we had just started two fairly large jobs, repairing the sill beam of Thame vicarage room and replacing a supporting post in Skippings. Both were quite technically challenging jobs so the timber framing experience I had developed made it possible to tackle them.

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I ended up covering for more than three months and while it was difficult, it was definitely a high point for me being able to put things into practise and leading the team (who were excellent and very patient I should say!) with whatever jobs we had on.

In summary, it has been a really rewarding experience working at the museum. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting involved in everything, from timber framing to digging foundations and even setting up for the Halloween scary walk. My thanks to everyone here for making it so special.

Sam Rowland-Simms
HLF Heritage Building Trainee

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A Volunteer’s Introduction to Lambing Time

Lambing time at COAM

The image of fluffy playful lambs prancing around fresh meadows on a sunny spring day whilst their watchful mums nibble at the grass amongst the early spring flowers, is an image implanted on many country lovers and townies minds alike.

At the Museum, lambing is one of the events of the year for many visitors, staff and volunteers alike.  Although the Museum’s farm is not intended as a petting farm as at some farm attractions, visitors enjoy seeing the animals in an historic farm situation. And during the lambing weekend last May, visitors were able to see the ewes and their lambs in the traditional lambing fold as those once used by Chiltern farmers over many generations.

As a more recent farm volunteer, 2017 was to be my first full experience of the lambing season. Along with other volunteers, I would have a small part looking after the ewes and their lambs. I sensed as the year progressed from winter to the early days of spring, that amongst some of my fellow volunteers there was a noticeable period of increasing excitement as lambing time fast approached!

The nice thing about volunteering at the M­­­useum is:

  1. You can do as little or much as you like or are able to do. You can choose not to get involved in particular tasks that you might not enjoy or feel capable of doing. Great, no expectation to get involved with lambs being born at 3.00am then!
  2. However, you are encouraged to have a go at most things if you wish. Try something different and even go outside of your comfort zone if you feel adventurous. Uh oh! But fortunately, no encouragement this year for me to help with the birth of lambs at 3.00am or any other time.

The farm manager, Conway Rowland takes on the midwife duties as well as making night-time farm visits to check all is well. So a very sleep deprived Conway is glad that his team of volunteers can help out with other lambing duties as well as the routine farm jobs that must be done.

Lambing talk around farm gets going in March with discussion about when the first lamb will be born and more importantly, what should it be called (decided by a naming competition to raise funds).

But for farm manager Conway, lambing has been on his mind all year, in fact from the very moment the first of the previous year’s lambs were born. This is because he will assess lambs to determine which ones will be most suitable for breeding from.

lambing at COAM

The farm’s sheep are Oxford Down, a rare breed that was once commonly found in the Chilterns. Hence in order to help ensure the breed survives well in to the future and the farm’s own flock is fit and healthy, a couple or more of the lucky boy lambs will be kept uncastrated to develop into rams, either for tupping (mating) with the farm’s ewes or to be sold on to another flock owner to help keep the Oxford Down gene pool healthy. Conway will also be looking out for suitable rams from other flocks to introduce in to the farm’s stock.

Tupping takes place in the autumn.  From then on Conway will ensure the ewes get the right diet and environment to graze on to ensure the flock produces healthy lambs.

Last winter was a time for Conway to consider grazing requirements for the sheep and their lambs. It is not preferable to use the same pastures as used the previous year because of the risk of harmful parasites that can prevalent in those used by the sheep. By leaving these fields sheep free for a year or more can help reduce the risk of sheep being infected.

Putting up fence posts at COAM

So volunteers spent much time during the winter clearing scrub from under-utilised fields and replacing old fencing providing usable fields to increase the sheep grazing options.

The next task was to prepare the lambing fold ready for the new born and their mums. The lambing fold had been partially occupied by the museums two goats whilst their usual pen was removed whilst filming took place around the farm’s barns for a recent TV drama. The lambing fold, which includes a central area surrounded by individual pens, had to be thoroughly cleaned and repaired before it could accommodate the ewes.

Seventeen lambs were born over a number of weeks through April. During this period, volunteers helped keep watch on the lambs through regular checks day and night, particularly important for lambs in their early days. It was also important to ensure they were feeding from their mother and keeping healthy. Full marks to this year’s ewes as no lambs needed bottle feeding!

Lamb feeding at COAM

As weaning of the lambs commenced feeding time became a battle as the lambs greedily tucked in to the twice daily feed with the ewes. Over indulging young lambs would foam at the mouth and suffer a little later if allowed to eat too quickly. So to slow their eating pace and aid their digestion, it was necessary to battle through the feeding mothers to restrain the lambs from over indulging. Not an easy task as the ewes battled for space to feed, pushing any humans out of the way. The lambs then found plenty of gaps to dart in an out and avoid capture! As long as they were feeding from their mothers, it did not matter if they did not eat too much. It was more important to ensure the ewes got their fill in order to feed their growing offspring.

The ewes and their lambs were allowed to move from the lambing pen during the day to pasture allowing their mums to graze. Due to the exceptionally dry early spring, grass near the lambing fold was at a premium. So a number of excursions to richer pastures a little further from the lambing fold had to be organised during the day. This added to the entertainment as the ewes and their lambs were moved across the site whilst staff and volunteers were kept busy encouraging lambs, sometimes a day or so old, to go with their mums and not drop behind, or to stop the older lambs from going off exploring the exciting new world.

The lambs are quickly growing up and now no longer return to the lambing fold. As they are growing up, they still get into mischief as do any youngsters. With the rain finally arriving in May, the fields quickly returned to life providing the sheep with plenty of luscious grazing. Feeding the ewes and their lambs with the special food supplement gets more interesting as not only does the person feeding get mobbed by the ewes, but also by now by lambs that are getting bigger and stronger by the day.

As a volunteer I have learned and enjoyed much about the work involved around lambing. I have tried to keep objective about the whole process and avoid getting attached to lambs as it is easy to do. Unexpectedly, it has been the ewes that I became more attached to as they came to me for attention whilst doing chores around them. Some seemed to enjoy a nose or ear rub and maybe seeing them suffering in their pregnant state during the warmer days of early spring attracted my sympathy.

COAM Sheep

So as the year moves on and the lambs progress to being called hoggets (sheep aged less than one year that have yet to be sheared), I shall watch development of the flock with interest. Some will be sold on during the year, making space for next year’s arrivals, whilst others will remain on the farm during their breading years.

Julian Stanton
Farm Volunteer

 

 

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Chicken Run Blues

The Museum’s farm chickens are enjoying the milder spring weather having endured an unpleasant winter locked in their henhouse. This was in their own interest in order to protect them from the risk of catching avian influenza which was a problem in some European countries last winter.

Poultry farmers and other captive bird owners across the UK were instructed by Government agencies to keep all birds indoors from December. This was because of the risk from some migratory birds that had come from areas where avian influenza was found in wild birds. This restriction was only lifted in the Chalfont area this April.

Silver Grey Dorking Chickens

But the Museum’s chickens, Silver Grey Dorkings, were not impressed by their temporary incarceration.

“What a load of old nonsense keeping us indoors all winter” commented an anonymous spokeschicken.

“Totally unnecessary as we girls have nothing to do with those foreign birds, in fact any other birds. We have no time for idle chitchat anyway. Too busy meeting our egg production quota. We probably don’t speak their language anyway!”

“For four months we were locked away. We are a very rare breed and expect to be treated with the utmost respect. I bet they would not lock away the Museum staff in the old houses if tourists came to the UK with flu!”

“We Silver Grey Dorkings are one of the oldest breeds of poultry in the UK. We came to Britain with the Romans. They never locked us up and we are still around as a breed today as we are very hardy. Get to know us and you will find that we are a very docile breed, well except for some of the boys, and we are known to be good mothers and produce high quality white eggs.”

“We have been entering and wining prizes at poultry shows since 1845. That proves that we have a good pedigree. But we need to be able to range to keep ourselves in tip top condition. They expect us to lay lots of eggs and look presentable for the visitors but then lock us up for months. When we were let out, we had to hide ourselves from visitor stares at first. Being locked up isn’t good for your fitness but more importantly to us girls is how we look. What stress!”

“It does make us appreciate how awful it is for all those chickens in some farms that are always locked up, fed disgusting foods to make them lay loads of eggs, get fat and then be eaten. And worse still. What if they are seen in public. How awful they would look. How those girls cope with the stress! Maybe our lot is not so bad, although the ground has been a bit hard for plucking out those juicy worms recently.”

The much happier Dorkings are now enjoying their freedom in the enclosure next to the village green, although they may move soon to fresh pecking ground. They share a field with some young sheep, but have their own separate area fenced off area with an electric fencing to keep the foxes out.

“We are happy to be protected from those nasty foxes at night” continued the spokeschicken. “But we would rather it if we could roam the Museum grounds during day. I am sure those nice visitors would protect us if any foxes did come along. And visitors might share their sandwiches with us.”

The Silver Grey Dorkings, which typically live for six years, are provided with a suitable grazing area in fields around the Museum. They have plenty of space to roam in search of food including insects, grass and weeds that help provide a healthy diet, supplemented by special chicken feed. Free roaming chickens live longer than those cooped up permanently.

However, allowing the chickens to roam freely around the whole Museum site or farmyard during the day would not be practical from a health and safety perspective, both for the chickens and the visitors. And rounding them up at night in order to safely house them would be an additional chore for the busy farm team.

The chickens have an important role demonstrating their place in a Chilterns farm of the past. This now rare breed would have been a regular sight across the Chilterns many years ago, so the Museum is pleased to help preserve this breed. And the chickens do help to pay for their upkeep by producing a steady flow of eggs from March to October.

So everyone is pleased that the Dorkings are happy again In their healthy environment and equally as pleased that they had not seen the film ‘Chicken Run’ about chickens that escape a nasty farmer. Otherwise there might have been some very happy foxes around last winter!

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A new reason to say ‘I do’ at Northolt Barn

Wedding ceremony Northolt Barn

Northolt Barn is the larger of our two licensed wedding venues. We can accommodate up to 80 guests for a ceremony and 40 people for a dinner. It’s also my favourite barn, with its rustic interior, dramatic, full-height wooden doors and a beautiful tree just outside. It has a unique atmosphere and is perfect for ceremonies, civil partnerships as well as more intimate parties.

Wedding reception barn

Wedding enquires for 2018 are already flying in. And now, I’m delighted to say, we are adding greater flexibility by offering the option of hiring Northolt Barn as a ceremony-only venue.

Rustic wedding ideas

Perhaps you have the perfect party venue in mind but then find it’s not licenced for weddings or partnerships. Instead of a dreary registry office, you could hold your ceremony in the romantic setting of the barn before moving on to a hotel or venue of your choice for the reception.

wedding flowers at COAM
This would be the perfect solution if, for example, you are set on a more exclusive service for family, but want a bigger celebration afterwards. Did I mention that Northolt Barn is my favourite? To show you its potential for ceremonies or other events, I invited one of our preferred suppliers, Joely who runs Ambience Venue Styling, to come in and help give you some idea of what an amazing venue it can be.

Get married in Northolt Barn

Joely only had a few minutes to set up as the weather was looking a little threatening, but you can see how a few carefully placed touches can make all the difference. The flowers are from On The Green florist just down the road from us in Chalfont St Giles, and they were the perfect touch to soften the rustic edge. Photographs were taken by Helen Light Photography. Full contact details for all of can be found on the wedding suppliers page of our website.

 

Both Northolt Barn and Skippings Barn, our other venue, are licensed for weddings and can also accommodate your celebration party as well as the ceremony. And as you can see from our website, we are also a wonderful museum and you and your guests would have access to this popular attraction for duration of your hire time.

wedding ceremonies in Bucks

Naturally, you can also use our extensive grounds to take your wedding pictures and enjoy the rest of your big day.

Barn weddings in Bucks
We are very excited to offer Northolt Barn for this new service. Please do get in touch if you would like more information.

Caroline Melia
Events and Hospitality Team Leader

Wedding-COAM-2017-8955-600px Wedding-COAM-2017-8968-600px Wedding-COAM-2017-9058-600px Wedding-COAM-2017-9061-600pxFind out more about weddings at the Museum

For further information contact weddings@coam.org.uk or call 01494 871 117

 

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Four and a bit Tractors

The Chiltern Open Air Museum farm is a key part of the Museum’s operation. It’s not just a static display of historic farm buildings and artefacts, but a working example of Chiltern farms of the past.

Ferguson Tractor

Traditional practices are maintained where possible although the farm does not focus on any one particular era. Artefacts are used in the farm’s day to day operation as much as possible and key to this are the tractors. The four sturdy workhorses in all have around 200 years of hard labour between them. And there is the other – more about this later!

Tractors have been the backbone of farm labour for over 100 years, slowly usurping horses and man’s physical labour. The first steam powered tractors appeared in the 1860s and by the end of that century the first petrol tractor was patented. However, it was not until just after the turn of the century that petrol tractors went into production.

Tractor innovation has come a long way in the intervening 100 years. And the next inevitable step is the driverless, computer controlled vehicle for tasks such as ploughing and harvesting and who knows what else.

Innovation is essential, but remembering the past is also important, not just for nostalgia and the pleasure this brings to many, but to help remember how things were done to provide lessons for the future.

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Currently two tractors are regularly used on the farm, a 1950 Ferguson and its junior partner, a 1981 Ford 4600. The Museum also has two Fordson Super Majors. One dates from 1950 and is only used on special occasions such as driving the threshing machine during the Museum’s Harvest Festival event.

The second Fordson, a later model dating from 1961, needs much renovation work before it can play a more active role in the farm’s operation. The project is now underway, although it may be sometime before she is working on the farm again.

The task in hand is being led by volunteer and former agricultural engineer, John Smithson. John’s wealth of experience working with agricultural machinery around the world for many years has been a major plus for the Museum, with his superior knowledge of machinery no longer in regular use. John first became involved with the Museum when he offered advice on renovating the ‘Ransoms’ threshing machine. Having become fully involved with that project, he then stayed on as part of the Museum’s farm artefacts team of volunteers who ‘tinker’ with the farm machinery every Thursday.

Progress has already been made and the engine is running again. But other essential work will take many hours and the team must also continue to progress other projects.

Considering the basic conditions the team have to work in, they do a superb job in keeping the mechanical farm artefacts operational. Volunteer Olly Mazzitelli is adamant that if the team were provided with a new, modern workshop, the tractor renovation would be completed in no time. However, it would take significant funding to provide such a facility and the Museum has other priorities. And of course, it would not be in the spirit of a traditional farm if the conditions did not replicate those that the Chiltern farmers of the past often had to work in!

Developments on how John, Olly and the rest of the Thursday team are progressing with the project, as well as more about the individual tractors, will appear in this blog in the future.

And the other tractor? Well, it has to grow up first, but in the meantime it provides lunchtime entertainment for hard-working volunteers!

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“Volunteer Jane Bland finds time to try out the Museum farm’s latest tractor whilst the Ford takes a rest”

 

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A Journey through the Museum’s Gardens

As well as a wonderful collection of historical rescued Chilterns buildings, the Chiltern Open Air Museum can also boast a variety of traditional small gardens that complement some of these. If you have an interest in gardens or just enjoy viewing them, the coming months are a great opportunity to visit and see the result of the hard work that takes place developing and maintaining them.

Gardens at COAM

There are currently three ‘cottage’ gardens to enjoy. Astleham Manor Cottage is the house you will see directly in front of you as you enter the museum and boasts the most extensive of the cottage gardens. Based on ideas and gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll, who was influential in shaping garden design during the early 20th Century, you firstly come across a formerly styled garden.

Pergolas, rose arches and paving have been used to provide a structured geometric layout with a less formal planting style. Many of the plants are heritage varieties used by Jekyll such as Iris Germanica, Lavandula Angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and Rosa ‘The Garland’.

Moving on past the house you will find a small apple orchard with each tree a different variety, representing those that were grown in the Chilterns including D’Arcy Spice, Golden Harvey and Langley Pippin.  At ground level, wildflowers have been allowed to proliferate amongst the grasses including fritillaries and cowslips.

After leaving the garden most visitors head down towards the village green. On the right you will find Leagrave cottages whose small gardens include shrubs such as jasmine and aquilegia. On turning right past the cottages is the post WWII prefab. This garden is laid out to demonstrate a typical garden of the era which often included neatly mown lawns, formal rose beds and vegetable gardens.

Continuing past the prefab is the museum allotment. Just look for the scarecrow! Traditional varieties of vegetables are grown including leeks, beetroot, courgettes and cucumber which help supply the museum café. Fruit bushes provide produce for jam making and herbs and flowering plants can also be found.

Museum allotment

And continuing on the theme of fruit, almost opposite the allotment to the left hand side of the Nissan Hut is a cherry orchard. Cherries were once extensively grown in the Chilterns, but with the orchards having almost disappeared from the area for economic reasons, many varieties were lost. The museum has acquired over 20 heritage cherry trees in an attempt to help preserve rare varieties including Prestwood Black, Prestwood White and Smokey Dun.

Back on the village green, a garden has yet to be created for the recently completed Haddenham Croft Cottage, but no doubt the gardeners will have something interesting planned for the future. Continuing down the track from the village green you will come to the Victorian Toll House where another cottage garden in keeping with the period has been created.

The garden contains flowering plants including a new border with Shasta daisies and Helianthus, heritage variety crops, fruit bushes and herbs. The vegetable garden has a period cloche in use whilst the fruit is used for jam making. The herb garden has a large variety of plants that would have been used in Victorian times for cooking and medicinal use.

If you visit the Iron Age House, look out for the small garden that is planted with heritage varieties of wheat such as Einkorn, Emmer and Spelt and some herbs including comfrey, rosemary and soapwort.

On your way back towards the museum entrance just before Astleham Manor Cottage is a green building, Maidenhead Pavilion. Here you can buy surplus plants from the gardens that are sold in aid of Friends of the Museum.

The gardens certainly help to enhance the museum buildings. The majority of the hard work needed to both develop and maintain them is provided by a hard working team of volunteers who look after them as if they were their own prized gardens. We hope you enjoy visiting them.

By Julian Stanton
Museum Volunteer

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Easter Traditions

Easter-COAM

My daughter and I love Easter time.  Alex because she gets time off school and me because I love chocolate eggs!

As it is nearly upon us, we were talking about Easter the other day and that set me thinking about what Easter actually is and how its traditions came about?

Easter is a very important time for Christians as it celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Because Jesus died during the Jewish festival of Passover, the early Christians attached Easter to Passover.

I always get confused as to when Easter actually is as the date varies from year to year.  Apparently this is because the date for Passover is based on a lunar (phases of the moon) calendar, so Easter Day can be as early as 22nd March or as late as 25th April.  That’s because Easter Day is the Sunday following the first full moon after the first day of Spring.  Easter Day is always a Sunday as this is the day when Jesus rose from the dead, giving new life to the world,

Where did the name Easter come from?  Well some people believe it comes from the ancient pagan festival of Ostara which celebrated the coming of Spring and new life after the dark of winter.  This festival, which coincided with the time Jesus died and was resurrected, was taken over by the early Christians to celebrate the new life that Jesus gave the world when he rose from the dead.

The run up to Easter is called Lent which represents the 40 days and nights when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert.  As Jesus did not eat or drink during this time, some people give up a favourite food or drink for Lent.  That is why people eat Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday as traditionally it was a way of using up all the fattening ingredients in the house before fasting for Lent.  Clever!  The name Shrove comes from an old English word shriven which means to confess and receive forgiveness for ones sins.  The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday which comes from the tradition of putting a small cross of ash on peoples forehead at Ash Wednesday church services to remind them that they rely on God for forgiveness from their sins.  Easter officially ends 49 days after Easter Day with Pentecost or Whitsun, when Christians remember that God sent his Holy Spirit to help them.

What about the eggs, I hear you say?!  Since pagan times, eggs and chickens have symbolised fertility and new life.  The early Christians took over this meaning to help them remember the new life Jesus brought after he rose from the dead.

As we all know, Easter Eggs are brought by the Easter bunny!  During pagan times, hares and rabbits were a symbol of new life as they have such big litters.  The story of the Easter Bunny really took off in the 19th century and over time has evolved into the Easter Bunny bringing chocolate and toys as well as eggs.

Finally, when tucking into my Easter Day lunch, I’ve often wondered why we eat lamb at Easter?  One reason is that many years ago people believed the devil could take the form of any animal except the lamb.  Others believe that Jesus would have eaten lamb at the last supper.

I hope that you will spend some time at the Museum over the Easter holidays as there is lots going on.  I’m off now to buy some chocolate eggs!

By Gill Whitehead
Museum Volunteer

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Goataly Unimpressed

Crystal, one of the Museum’s two goats was not impressed by a recent blog about goat walking and had other issues she wanted to air.

Goat walking at COAM

“I was not amused by the recent blog about goat walking. It does not exactly put me in a good light and completely misinterprets the purpose of the walk. This and a number of other issues need to be brought to attention of my visiting fans to put the record straight. I feel that I need to personally report these facts as my friend Beverly, who is older than me and not so pretty, is too nice and does not want to upset the Farm Manager Conway.

Let’s firstly put the record straight on walking. We are not taken for a walk; we take the staff and volunteers for a walk. We appreciate how they like to have a look around the Museum site to check out that everything is hunk-dory each morning, so we are happy to go along and escort them. We only allow them to put dog collars on us as it makes them feel like they are walking their dogs.

What is very annoying is that they like to stop and stare into space. So we entertain ourselves by helping to keep the vegetation under control whilst we wait for them to come around. But to allude to us having a second breakfast – what an insult. We are not greedy goats!

And then sometimes we see some vegetation that needs pruning or hay that needs tidying up, but they get annoyed and try and drag us somewhere else. This is when I sometimes have to remind them to behave by giving them a gentle nudge with my horns. And then they get annoyed with me. You would have thought one volunteer had been shot by the way he hoped around just after I touched him. He’d been watching too much football if you ask me!

Sometimes we walk past the sheep. I like to put me head through the fence to give them a cheery good morning. And what happened the other day? A grumpy sheep nipped me on the nose! If she was not pregnant I would have given her a reprimand with my horns. Maybe she is grumpy because she is pregnant.

kid goats at COAM

With lambing in the next month, I guess the Farm Manager Conway will have to move us back from our temporary home, the isolated lambing fold, to our proper home. I mean, would you like to live in a maternity wing! I am not sure why he insists on punishing us by keeping us there at night. We just want to go back to Hill Farm Barn so we can keep an eye on comings and goings and make sure no undesirable characters are around the farm (volunteers excluded).

The only reason we got evicted from our home was because of those stupid film people who did not like us. I mean, they would not give us parts in the drama. What can I say if the critics don’t like it? Goats always add something special to a production, particularly if we can chase the baddies! We always get them. But they would not even let us stay around as extras. Their loss!

Another concern? Why do they shut the Museum during the winter? They say it’s because our fans won’t visit and the staff and volunteers have maintenance to do. Maybe that is why they hide us away so they can sit around drinking tea all-day! People want to come and see us all year round. Do you really think they come to see those old buildings when they can see nice new ones for free where they live.

Anyway, when they finally let you back into the Museum in April to see us, don’t forget we do like a chin rub. You can find us in a field somewhere mowing the grass. We would maintain the hedges as well, but they insist on putting an electric fence around the field to keep our fans out. Don’t forget, I’m the pretty one and Beverly will probably be daydreaming!”

Crystal
Museum Goat

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All quiet on the farm

January arrived with an air of peace and tranquillity about the farm and Museum site. This followed a disrupted December when for a number of weeks much of the site, including the farmyard and barns was taken over by a film production team, actors, extras and the associated entourage involved in a major TV drama.

With the Museum closed to visitors and school groups from December until late February, it is the perfect time for Museum staff and volunteers to get on with tasks, particularly those that would impact on visitors if the Museum was open.

The progress of many tasks would be so much quicker if it was not for visitors wandering around, getting in the way and engaging staff and volunteers in conversation! If only there were not any visitors. So much could be achieved!

Even though there are occasional times when it might be nice not to have to worry about visitors, there is not a member of staff or volunteer who does appreciate and enjoy the interaction. Volunteers give up their time and staff choose to work at the Museum because they get pleasure seeing visitors, whether retired reminiscers, historical enthusiasts, exuberant school children or just those wanting to relax in a wonderful rural environment, enjoy their visit.

The problem is that everyone enjoys engaging with visitors, whether imparting knowledge of the buildings and artefacts, offering directions or advice or just passing the time of day. This can of course slow down the completion of tasks. However, everyone relishes their role in ensuring that visitors have an enjoyable and safe visit.

So whilst it was quiet, the farm team were getting on with the tasks in hand. There was firstly the need to return artefacts removed for filming back to the farm buildings. Fortunately there had been minimal physical impact on the farm site, which was a relief considering the number of people involved as well as the vehicles used.

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A key winter task was to increase grazing available for the farm’s livestock. With pressure on existing grazing space, it was decided to open up Toll House field and other areas where scrub had encroached in recent years.

Volunteers worked hard to remove intrusive scrub, much of it hawthorn and bramble.  These have the habit of fighting back, inflicting minor wounds on any unguarded parts of the body, ripping into clothing and causing just a little cussing!

With the scrub cleared, it will be easier for grass and other meadow plants to re-generate. But it is also important to control scrub re-growth. So bring in Beverly and Crystal, the farm goats who will be the first animals to use the field as they will enjoy munching away at any intrusive re-growth.

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As well as clearing the scrub, a bigger task was to ensure that the hedging and fencing was in a suitable condition to stop the escape artist goats and lambs from testing the boundaries out. One side of the field had a relatively recently planted hedge that was just about ready for laying. This has now been laid and filled with some of the cut scrub to ensure there are no holes for stock to squeeze through whilst the hedge continue to develop its strength.

The next stage of field preparation was to renew stock fencing where the hedge was not a sufficient barrier, particularly for inquisitive lambs. And with this complete, staff and volunteers have moved on to mending or renewing fencing in other fields including the Hidden Meadow, which is also part of the plan to increase stock grazing capacity.

Another more mature hedge was laid in one of the arable fields through December and January. Whilst this work was being completed, the farm’s artefacts team commenced working of the renovation of a Fordson Super Major tractor and a hay sweep, but more on these in separate blogs.

The Museum’s peace and tranquillity was shattered towards the end of February with the visit of Doris. She was an unwelcome visitor that all were pleased to see the back of. Causing havoc across many parts of the Chilterns, storm Doris gate-crashed the Museum inflicting damage on some buildings as she rampaged across the site. Fortunately for the farm team, there does not seem to have been any major damage to farm structures or woodland. So staff and volunteers can continue to focus on the planned activities prior to welcoming all ‘well-behaved’ visitors on 1 April.

By Julian Stanton
Farm Volunteer

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Culture, Crafts and Communities

culture event at COAM

Culture, Crafts and Communities

Visit Chiltern Open Air Museum on 1 April for our By Donation day and discover how our historic buildings evoke memories for different communities living in the Chilterns.

Anna Pool from the Learning Team writes about how all communities find resonance in our wonderful collection of historic buildings from the Chilterns.

Do you ever go abroad and feel like you are at home in the surroundings? It’s funny how certain environments, buildings or objects resonate with our own personal histories and often visitors to COAM experience this. Perhaps it is because we all share a common experience of everyday life as human beings, despite our age, country of origin, mother tongue, religion or any other factors which can be seen diversive.

Certainly when I first took my Mum on a tour around the Museum I was fascinated by how many memories it brought back for her, particularly the 1940s Prefab. We spent a lot of time in there while my Mum relayed many memories of visits to her Aunt’s Prefab home in the 1950s; of washing clothes in a copper boiler just like the one in the kitchen; of listening to the wireless and of course photographs of my mother, as a baby, being pushed in a pram just like the one in the back bedroom. Sometimes it can be a particular object in a building that holds a personal memory. For me it is the highchair in the prefab’s sitting room which evokes special memories for me, as my Mum had kept a similar one which she used for my brother and I back in the 1970s, and I later used with my eldest child who is now 16. Every time I see it I am transported back in time!

It’s not just visitors from Britain that recognise the economic design of our Prefab. While showing a visitor round recently, I was surprised to hear that she had seen many Prefabs still being used as family homes in rural Russia.

Just next to our Prefab is a Nissen Hut, a military type of building of which there are some examples still around in this area. I have been lucky enough to hear many of our visitors recall memories of their own experiences of these unique buildings.

A similar Nissen Hut was used as a synagogue by the Jewish community in Haversham, near Wolverton, Buckinghamshire during WW2 until it was closed in 1947. The South Bucks Jewish community will be joining us on our opening day at COAM and will be holding their Shabbat service between 10 am – 11 am. Visitors are more than welcome to join the service and I hope to hear one or two stories from the group later in the day!

culture round house

While running education workshops I often hear both adults and children describe how they have seen or done something very similar in their home countries. The Iron Age Roundhouse seems to be a magical place of memories where visitors describe how their grandmother in India still grinds grain using a rotary quern and bakes her bread in a clay oven just like the one they see in the roundhouse. Others have walked towards the building declaring that they are ‘back in Africa’ where round homes are still built using wattle and dorb with a thatched roof.

Even during ‘wash day’ workshops I have talked with visitors from Poland and Czechoslovakia who used to help their mother wash their clothes using a wash tub and wash board; and then there is the unmistakable smell of carbolic soap which can transport any of us over a particular age, right back to our childhood!

I am sure that as you are reading this you are thinking of a building or an object that you may have seen from our collection that has special meaning for you. Please do come along on Saturday 1st April, to see some of the stories and memories we have collected from local community groups who will be joining us to support this spectacular event. And if you have not yet visited COAM then I invite you to come along to our opening event and find out which building evokes the most memories for you! To mark the opening of the Museum for the 2017 season the 1st April will also be a ‘by donation day’ for this day only we are waiving standard admission prices and allowing visitors entry to the Museum by paying a donation only.

Look out for the West Indian Story teller performing during the day at 12 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm, as well as craft demonstrations with opportunities to join in from 11 am – 4 pm including traditional weaving, Iron Age cooking, basketry and traditional thatching demonstrations in our Medieval barn.

We look forward to welcoming you to our multi- cultural day of sharing stories on 1 April, the first day of our new 2017 season.

This special multi-cultural event is kindly funded by Arts Council England.

 

 

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