Category Archives: Buildings

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A Buildings Team update

When I started at the museum, I had hoped to write a blog every month or so to let you all know what I/we were up to. This was seemingly quite optimistic as it has been about three months since my last post!

Here is a little bit of what I have been up to recently and since my last update…

Previously, I told you all about the doors to our Edwardian public conveniences, Caversham. These have since been fitted and I have encouraged all of the volunteers to go and gaze over the fabulous paint job. I don’t think they have gazed quite as I had imagined, but the doors are in, they work…mostly…and the rest of Caversham is hopefully going to get a new coat of paint later this spring.

I have also gone and completed my Asbestos Awareness training. This will prove to be invaluable when working with our old buildings, and also after I leave the museum, as asbestos was such a widely used material in pre-1919 buildings and continued to be used in construction up until the end of 1999.

Chapel Studio:

Since starting at the museum I have put some thought in to what I want out of my time here and what I have to offer the team. Having been very focused on more of the structural side of heritage buildings, I decided to take a look at some of the decorative disciplines within the industry.

From the end of November, and every Tuesday for the following 3 weeks, I spent the day with the team at Chapel Studio in Hunton Bridge. From my first day I was well looked after, fed chocolate whilst listening to Christmas songs, and introduced to the techniques and methodology used in making stained/leaded glass windows.

To start with I was offered the use of the clear glass. Given the prices of some of the coloured pieces, I was more than happy to stay away from those for a bit!

Step one was to create a template. I was advised to include both straight lines and curved lines to get used to using the cutters and this is the product of that lesson.

I had to amend the initial design slightly as I had neglected to take the thickness of the lead into consideration.

Step two was to select my glass and cut it. Although all of the glass I chose was clear and not coloured, I spent time choosing different thicknesses and textures. I ended up with a piece of frosted glass, some thick, modern, flat glass with a green edge, pieces with an embossed pattern on one side, and some very thin, delicate fragments with small air bubbles in.

After cutting the glass, the third step was to start leading the lights. This was a bit trickier than I had imagined and really showed the accuracy, or inaccuracy, of my cutting skills.

Once the lead had been fitted to the glass, and I was happy that it represented the template precisely, they were soldered in to place. This, obviously, is a vital part to get right as the risk is of the panel falling to bits under its own weight. I’m proud to say that this was executed almost perfectly! Although they could all have done it a lot quicker than me.

After four days with the team, this was my finished product. I am very pleased with how it turned out and especially how much I leaned in those few days. The very specific and different stages that make up a leaded glass panel was interesting to discover and the labour that is required to make from new but also restore existing windows was not something I had really appreciated. At some point soon I hope to return to learn some more about the techniques and methods used for painting the details on to glass panels.

Elm Barn:

Just after my final day at the studio in Hunton Bridge, I returned to the more structural side of heritage buildings and made my way to a woodland just to the South of Cambridge. Here I helped a team of four collect the last few elm logs for the building of a timber barn. This was hard work to say the least and I was grateful for the buckets of tea that were supplied.

After a morning collecting timber, we headed back towards Welwyn Garden City where the brick plinth for the barn was in the final stages. Here our logs were added to the huge piles of previously acquired elm and larger pieces of oak, all of which are to be converted towards the end of February for use building the barn.

The main reason for my attendance here was to have a go at bricklaying and help with the brick plinth. I laid a few bricks while I was there and some of the other members of the team continued to mix lime while the sun set.

Nissen Hut:

Here at the museum, we have continued to make some headway with our current project, the new Nissen Hut.

Before Christmas the templates for our panels were being made in the workshop, and this year already we have stormed through 11 of the 16 floor panels. As with some of the previous projects, I have enjoyed drawing pictures on our whiteboard to try and keep all of the volunteers up to speed with the current part of the project. Here is my attempt at illustrating the many components of the floor panels…there is quite a lot missing still but I ran out of space.

Each semi-circular end of the hut is made up of five main sections: the central part of which contains the door, the sections containing the windows which flank the door, and the smaller panels on the outside edge. These outside edge panels, four all together, have now been completed.

For the 16 floor panels, each of them over 8’ long and over 4’ wide, we have had to individually prepare each floorboard. By this I mean we have had to:

  1. Remove excess sawdust, residue and resin from both sides – this can affect the machinery that we send the boards through and also give inaccurate readings for measurements if not removed.
  2. Check that each board is over 1” thick along the majority of the length – as the boards need to have a smooth, planed side, they need to be over an inch so that they can be planed to the same thickness.
  3. Cut each board to 5¾”wide – each panel consists of nine boards, 8 of which are this width.
  4. Check the grain for direction of cupping and determine the topside of each board – the boards are being placed on the panels so that any distortion lifts in the centre, rather than at the edges.
  5. Send the board through the planer/thicknesser, topside up – this gives a smooth top surface and makes all the boards the same/correct thickness.
  6. Create the tongue and groove – this entails sending the boards through the machine three times.
  7. Fit the boards to the panels.

For the 16 panels, this process has to be completed for each of the 144 floorboards!

Once the floor panels are finished, there are six more panels for the end walls to be completed, the ribs still need to be modified, the brick piers have to be built, and quite a few more bits and pieces….more to follow in later updates.

Over the next couple of months, I hope to explore the decorative side slightly more by visiting a local wood carver. I have also booked a week to help construct the elm barn by Welwyn Garden City, and I am looking at further framing courses at the Weald & Downland museum to broaden my understanding. The Nissen Hut is due to be finished and opened this year so I will be continuing to help with that along with the scheduled maintenance on the other buildings.

Hopefully, in there somewhere, I can get back to send you all another update of where we’re at…

Written by Jess Eyre
HLF Buildings Trainee


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10 things that you might not know about COAM

Amersham prefab at COAM

10 things that you might not know about Chiltern Open Air Museum

  • The Museum has seen an increase of over 90% in visitors over the last 4 years!
  • Over 21,000 school children visited the Museum for school workshops in 2017.
  • The Museum has over 200 active volunteers and we couldn’t run without them.
  • The Museum has 14 buildings in store waiting to be reconstructed on the site, we just need to raise the funds so that we can do this.
  • The 14 buildings in store are all stored flat packed within Glory Mill, which is one of our historic buildings. It’s like our own historic Ikea!
  • The Museum is a charity and any profits go back into the Museum so that we can continue the valuable conservation work that we do.
  • The Museum currently only has 7 full-time members of staff, 8 part-time members of staff and 2 Heritage Lottery Funded trainees. Due to the increase in visitor numbers mentioned in point 1, this will be changing for 2018 so keep an eye on our vacancies page if you’re interested in joining our team.
  • The Museum’s farm was used for filming in series 2 of Downton Abbey.
  • The Museum has been used for filming 35 TV programs/dramas/films since 2011.
  • Our buildings are named after the place that they were rescued from.

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Introduction

Jess-300pxAllow me to introduce myself, I am Jess, the third and final Heritage Lottery Funded Buildings Trainee to walk through the COAM gates.

I am only about a month into my Traineeship, so have almost the full 18 months to look forward to and I’m excited at the prospect of what I will learn in that time. In these first few weeks, while I find my feet, I am under the watchful eye and expert tutelage of the Buildings Manager, John. He and the Buildings Team volunteers have all made me feel very welcome and been very patient with me.

As this is my first blog post, I will let you know a bit about me as well as what I’ve been doing on site these past few weeks.

Firstly, I’ve moved down from Milton Keynes to begin this traineeship. Not too far in terms of distance, but I do feel a long way from the grid system and concrete cows at times.

My previous relevant building experience includes six months spent at the Tywi Centre, South Wales in 2015, where I learnt basic carpentry, lime plastering/rendering/science, and dry stone walling. I found during this time that I was particularly keen on working with timber and subsequently took myself on multiple framing courses, which I loved and which taught me so much about the possibilities of working with this material. I have also undertaken brief introductions to blacksmithing and other metal work/welding, although these further confirmed my interest in timber and trees.

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After moving back to MK slightly earlier than planned, I found historical building work pretty thin on the ground for my basic skill level. As a result, and in an attempt to keep up to speed with the industry, I started an MSc in Historic Conservation. This has been put on hold whilst I complete my training here and I will resume immediately after completion in January 2019. So a busy couple of years ahead!

 

Getting back to the work here at COAM, there have been a few little projects on the go, including a general workshop tidy. It was here that I put my hard earned Fine Art degree to good use with the creation of a rather spiffing shadow board!

The Buildings Team have also been busy covering the rest of the workshop in Glory Mill with tarpaulin. Glory Mill is a Museum building used as a workshop and as a storage facility for the collection of historic buildings that are waiting to be reconstructed at the Museum. There are about 15 buildings stored flat pack style all waiting for funds so that they can be reconstructed on the Museum site.

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This tarp is to protect the contents of our Aladdin’s Cave from the effects and over-spill of spray-on foam insulation. The front of the workshop has already been treated by my predecessor Sam, John, and some volunteers, and the rest is penciled in for very soon.

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I’ve taken a photo, for anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, of the line in the ceiling where the existing foam meets the bare corrugated ceiling.

In other news, I have also made a small wooden box which has been used to house an external RCD socket. I have taken an exciting number of photos of the building process as it was my very first project…

 

 

 

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…if you’re still here, thank you for taking the time to read my first blog. If you’re on site and see me around, pop over and say hello (the orange hair means you can’t miss me!) and I look forward to showing you lots of photos again next time.

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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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The Art of Yealming

Master thatchers at COAM

The Art of Yealming

Master thatcher’s Mark and Roger have done a fine job transforming Leagrave cottage with a new coat of longstraw thatch. I had the opportunity to have a go at thatching I started on the ground, trying my hand at the art of yealming. This is a job a great many of the building volunteers shudder at the thought of, having yealmed some of the thatch for Marsworth.

For those not knowledgeable in longstraw terminology (and there is a lot of it, often particular to each region), the yealm is a bundle of straw about 13cm deep and as wide as the thatcher can happily handle – this makes up the basic unit for longstraw thatch that the thatcher fixes to the roof in courses.

Before I started yealming, Mark had already made up a large yealming bed of straw, dampened it, and placed a board on top to keep it a little compressed. From the bed, I pulled out handfuls of straw and placed them in front of the bed so that most of the stems were going in the same direction to make a smaller pile of straw about 10cm high.

The art of yealming

Mark and Roger sitting down on the job in front of a yealming bed

You want most of the ears on one side and the butts on the other but a slight mix is inevitable. Starting from one side of the smaller bed, I separated as much of the straw as I needed to make a yealm, and brushed the back of my hands through it to take out some of the smaller stems and leaves and make doubly sure the majority of the stems were going in the right direction.

When I was happy with how it looked, I picked up the yealm fairly loosely and gave it a tap on the ground so the end of mostly butts started at the same place. This is very important as this is the end that will be exposed on the roof and what you want to achieve is a smooth hole-free surface of thatch.  Any stems that don’t drop to the bottom when tapping the yealm you can picture as holes in the coat of thatch – not what you want at all!

The yealm is then stacked up into piles of four or five, which is called a bundle, and tied up ready to be taken up to the roof. Piling them up in different directions is enough to prevent the yealms from merging.

Bundle of Yealm

A tied bundle of four yealms

Straw is unlike most other building materials I can think of so it really took a while for me to understand what it was I was aiming for when preparing and fixing it in place. I only really understood the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ yealm once I had compared fixing one of my early yealm attempts to fixing one of my later ones where I knew what I was doing. One was a patchy mess, with many holes; the other seamlessly (almost) blended with the thatch already in place. Essentially the work had been done properly on the ground so that I didn’t have to play around with the straw as much on the roof. It all sounds quite simple but, like any craft, takes a while to get a feel for and many a year to master.

Written By Sam Rowland-Simms
HLF Buildings Trainee at COAM

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The Ansome Ransome

Pink Percy the Thresher

The day was cool the sun was bright
When Keith came thundering up the site
Upon the Fordson clean and blue
It shone, it gleamed, it looked like new!

Fordson tractor at COAM

 

Out of the Mill up to the Farm
(Trying not to do much harm)
Into the yard no bumps or squeals-
Mind the paint on orange wheels!

Stalled to a stop with a little bound
Keith on top looked proudly round.
Volunteers gather with grins of pleasure
The Fordson tractor looks a treasure!

But serious work is close at hand
To tax the skill of this happy band
It’s Harvest Festival this weekend
And Management thoughts are wont to bend
On something special for people to view:
A ‘Ransome Thresher’ with working crew.

The barn doors open wide and clear
(Someone raised a little cheer)
As “Perce” the thresher slowly drew
Into the yard all bright and new.

Ransomes thresher at Chiltern Open Air Museum

 

It’s many a year since he cropped a field
Of corn or barley at harvest yield
With fans and shuffles and bags for feeds
And acolytes to serve his needs.

A goodly vision in Pink and Red
With “RANSOMES” bold, across his head
But now he stands both proud and tall
Ready again to give his all.

Keith manoeuvres into line
Main drive is fixed – it’s almost time
Into Gear!  Engage the drive!

Pink Perce the Thresher comes alive!
The wheels start moving belts rotate
(Why are some in figure eight?)
Big ends move upon a shaft
Working ‘Shuffles’ fore and aft.

Jogging cranks and drums and fans,
(Mind your clothing, watch your hands)
This machine is fairly old
Wasn’t meant for fingers bold!

But stand afar and watch it act
Fans and ‘Walkers’ hum and clack
Awner, Chubber, Shoes and Riddle
Move about down in the middle.

The whole machine does move and sway.
Said Chris and John: “That makes our day-
To see the work of two long years
Swept along without its fears.”

So Visitor, when first you gaze
Upon Pink Perce, you’ll be amaze-d
Let child and adult look with awe
‘Pon this machine from days of yore.

By Bryn the Bard
Museum Volunteer

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How to fold a cabin

The building team have just returned from a tough two weeks dismantling not one, but two buildings – another Nissen hut, this one to hopefully be used by catering, and a folding portable cabin, to be used by the Education team.

The Nissen Hut

New nissen hut

The Nissen hut came apart willingly enough – starting with prising off the interior fibreboard and exterior corrugated sheets to reveal the ribs beneath.

inside our new nissen hut

nisen hut frame

The ribs and purlins unbolted nicely with the help of a bit of WD40.

The Folding Cabin

The folding cabin on the other hand started as something of an unknown quantity – we knew that the left and right sides folded into the central area and worked out the rest from there.

Folding cabin

Here you can see the left and right sides and the central compartment into which everything folds up.

side of folding cabin

For each side, the roof was slightly lifted in order to lower the end wall.

Then both the end wall and the floor were hoisted up together.

Where the four of us were confronted with this sign…

Folding floor sign

 

 

The side walls swung in easily and the roof slowly lowered back down

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With the four lifting lugs revealed, next came the slightly daunting task of lifting the cabin.

Inside the folding cabin

Chains were hooked on to the lifting lugs which and lifted up through a hatch in the roof to the loader crane hook above.

 

 

We all watched apprehensively as the chains snapped taut and the cabin slowly became airborne.

Fortunately it stayed together long enough to be set down on the truck and transported back to COAM!

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Another ‘bodge job’

Bodgers Hut

The bodgers hut

Chiltern Open Air Museum prides itself re-constructing local historical buildings for preservation as well as the occasional construction of replicas of buildings long lost. Experts and enthusiasts dedicate many hours, days and even years of hard, painstaking work to ensure all projects adhere to the highest quality standards the building works require. So any utterance about ‘a bodge job’ might not be too well received.

But this might not always be the case in some parts of the Museum. In fact, a new project, due for completion in 2017, could be referred to as a ‘bodge job’ as it requires the erection of a new bodgers hut.

Visitors may have spotted in the woods, close to Aborfield Barn, a now rather sad looking construction which resembles a semi-derelict shelter of some type. This in fact is the remains of a previous ‘bodge job’ completed some years ago as a recreation of a typical bodgers hut.

‘Bodge job’ has become a rather pejorative term expressing a hurried and carelessly completed job. But where it originates from is not exactly clear as the word ‘bodge’ has a number of originations. Any pejorative associations of are unlikely to have originated from the Chiltern bodgers who were important to the High Wycombe furniture industry of yesteryear.

So who were these bodgers and why the hut? Bodgers were highly-skilled itinerant workers who played a vital part in the local furniture trade using their pole lathing skills to produce furniture components such as chair legs, rungs and stretchers. There activities were conducted in the beech woods around High Wycombe using timber directly from source that was worked with to produce these components. The crafted items would be left in the woods for seasoning before being sent to chair makers.

Bodgers huts were temporary constructions that were used by bodgers for shelter. Often simple lean-to type constructions using trees for support, these huts would use lengths of timber lashed together with a thatched roof using available material including bracken and straw. They might be open or closed structures to keep out animals.

Bodgers, which became all but redundant around the middle of the last century, would move around the woodlands to where they could source their timber and hence the temporary nature of their shelter requirements.

The bodgers hut at the Museum was constructed to allow demonstrations of pole lathing as well as being used as shelter for volunteers engaged in making hurdles that are used around the farm. But the hut is now in a sorry state of repair and will be taken down and replaced by a new simple structure using materials sourced from the Museum’s own woodland.

So it is hoped that once the hut is completed, occasional displays of pole lathing, as practiced by the bodgers of yesteryear, can once again feature.

Written by Farm Volunteer Julian Stanton

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A poem about Henton Mission Room

Henton Mission Room

Henton Mission.

I am Henton, proud and smart,
Recently dressed with the painters art,
Prim and proper, I can be seen,
Suitably placed on the edge of the green.

Where:
I watch the visitors passing by,
Some, they come inside,
Especially when the music plays:
Oh Lord, with me Abide.’

I’m always prim and proper,
As a mission house should be,
With flowers upon the altar,
And cushions for the knee.

Aunt Leagrave, she sits next to me,
We often have a chat,
On how the seasons going,
It’s generally this and that.

She’s getting rather elderly,
And slightly down at heel,
She’s forever asking builders,
To improve her sex appeal.

No doubt another face lift,
Will come along in time,
But she’ll never have an overcoat,
That’s half as smart as mine!

The other side is Garston,
Separated by the hedge,
I cannot stand his smoking,
It puts my teeth on edge!

The nasty smuts they fly aloft,
Along with a horrible smell,
They drop all over my nice new coat,
(But I dare not ring my bell).

He’s quite a noisy neighbour,
Not genteel at all,
Smokes and pants throughout the day,
(Then peers around the wall!)

I generally just ignore him,
With his crass and brutish ways,
But just to say when speak I must:
‘How are you these fine days?’

But when the nights start drawing in,
And season’s end is nigh,
The harvest starts to gather in
The barley, wheat and rye.

That’s the time that I like best,
The time I primp and preen,
The time when all is gathered in,
And harvest bounty seen.

The loaves and stoups, the fruit and flowers,
The product of the land,
The means and ways to feed us,
By some bountiful Great Hand.

The floor is swept, the organ plays,
Come children, squire and spouse,
They’ll still be plenty left to feed,
The resident harvest mouse.

After Harvest things are quiet,
Visitor numbers fall,
Jack Frost is nipping at the toes,
At the approach of Winter’s thrall.

There’s only two more things to pass,
Before New Year is seen,
The civilised sounds of Christmas –
And:  Bloomin Hallowe’en!

Bryn the Bard
Museum Volunteer

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Leavesden Apple Store

Leavesdon-Apple-Store

This is Leavesden apple store being dismantled in March 1994, in its original home in the grounds of Leavesden Mental Hospital. It was originally constructed in 1904 as a ‘steeping room’ for disinfecting badly soiled clothing and bedding. It was later filled with shelves and used as an apple store. It was donated to the Museum by the Horizon NHS trust when the hospital site was due to be demolished and redeveloped.

The Leavesden Hospital was built between October 1868 and October 1870. It was one of two asylums built by the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The second was at Caterham in Surrey. Leavesden Hospital occupied a site of 76 acres. It consisted of fifteen main buildings, including a chapel. There were eleven three-story ward blocks each accommodating 160 patients, five male blocks and six female blocks. The hospital was designed to be self-sufficient, with its own bakery, kitchens and workshops, and laundry.

Repair works began at the Museum in 1994 and it was completed on the 10th September, 1997. It was officially opened on 19th October, 1997 by Roy Thomas. The building is now surrounded by an apple orchard which is quite fitting considering its past use.

Leavesden Apple Store

This is Leavesden Apple Store now at Chiltern Open Air Museum.

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