Category Archives: Buildings

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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

the-floor-of-the-folding-cabin-600px

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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The Nissen Hut

We were overwhelmed with the support that we received during our social media campaign to find us a WWI Nissen Hut. Infact we found 2! We’re in the process of seeking funds to re-erect our newest additions, which we hope to rebuild and interpret respectively as a WWI Nissen Hut and WWII-style NAAFI during the next two years. Our mission is to rescue and re-erect threatened buildings, and each one is meticulously photographed and documented before being carefully transported here to the heart of the Chilterns, repaired, and re-erected. The new Nissen Hut will primarily be used as a much-needed education space for schools and the local community, and will have a WWI theme to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. The first of the two Nissen Huts has now been moved to the Museum and the buildings team are busy evaluating and planning the work that needs to be done on it so that it can be rebuilt at the Museum.

Our Heritage Lottery Buildings Trainee Sam Rowland-Simms tells us a bit more about Nissen Huts and the process the buildings team are going through in order to rebuild them at the Museum.

Rebuilding a Nissen Hut

The Nissen hut is an iconic building design, famed for its simple and versatile structure, made up of a series of curved metal ribs and covered in sheets of corrugated iron or steel. You might then imagine that it would be a simple job to re-erect one but, oh, you would be very wrong.

WWI Nissen Hut

Picture above is of a WWI Nissen Hut courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

That said, right from the outset it would seem we have been intent on making it as difficult as possible for ourselves! Firstly we decided to opt for an early WWI design, to coincide with the centenary of the war, rather than a later WWII design. The difference being that the WWI design is semi-circular in profile while the later designs had a curved profile that extended past a semi-circle. The ribs we got hold of, though, are of the WWII variety so will need to be cut down to the right size. They will also need to have new holes drilled for the 135 hook bolts that attach the ribs to the purlins, that Museum blacksmith Brian has lovingly made.

A second issue is that the ribs of the WW1 design are of a smaller radius. Rather than re-bend our ribs, we have adapted the drawings for the larger radius and from this created a new list of materials that we will need.

Nissen Hut Parts

Picture above shows the component parts of the Nissen Hut that we hope to soon have. Pictures courtesy of the Imperial World War Museum.

Only when we have the materials list and new adapted drawings, can we start putting the hut together. Tasks to carry out include building the brick piers, erecting the ribs and bolting on the purlins and sheeting, cutting and fixing into place all the timber parts including the floor panels and the interior cladding and making new doors and windows.

So all in all not a simple job, but also one, through our own meddling, we haven’t made any easier!

Sam Rowland-Simms
HLF Buildings Trainee

If you would like to make a donation towards rebuilding our Nissen Hut you can do so by clicking the donate button on the right hand side or by contacting Richard Berman funding@coam.org.uk 01494 871 117.

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40 Artefacts for 40 Years: Artefact 3 – Iron Age House

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This July the Museum will be celebrating 40 years since it was founded in 1976.

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Chiltern Open Air Museum Celebrates 40 years

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Chiltern Open Air Museum celebrates 40 years

 

Building the Iron Age HouseThe Iron Age roundhouse being built at the Museum.

 

The Chiltern Society and Chiltern Open Air Museum have a shared history. The idea for the Museum was born on 11th June 1973 when at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Chiltern Society one member, John Willson, reported enthusiastically on a visit he had made to the Weald & Downland Museum at Singleton.

 

It was suggested that the Society should consider starting an open air museum, similar to the one in Sussex, of old vernacular buildings: the past houses and workplaces of ordinary people – which would otherwise be demolished and disappear from the landscape entirely. The aims of the Museum would be educational as well as recreational: it would, the Society hoped, foster public interest in the architectural heritage of the Chiltern Hills so that they would come to recognise the importance of the buildings and become aware of the need to protect others like them in the future. Buildings selected for inclusion in the Museum would be typical of the domestic, agricultural and industrial ones found in the area, dating back to the earliest ones known, and would be used to demonstrate methods and materials through the ages as well as housing exhibits of agricultural implements, domestic equipment, furniture and local crafts to give a total picture of life in the past.

 

It was agreed that this scheme, although worthwhile, could only be contemplated if the right conditions prevailed; in particular, donation of suitable land where the buildings could be re-erected, and a person willing to donate a great deal of time and energy to establishing and operating the scheme. The idea was passed to the Historic Works and Buildings Group (HW&BG) for further consideration.

 

Members of the Society began to search for a suitable site and buildings whilst the Executive Committee visited and researched other open air museums (including Weald and Downland Museum, Avoncroft Museum of Buildings, Museum of East Anglian Life, Museum at St Fagans and various other smaller projects). Staff at the Museum at St Fagans told them in no uncertain terms that they would be mad to go ahead!

 

After much searching the team heard that Chiltern District Council had proposed the creation of a Country Park at Newland Park and that there might be a role there for a museum which would be managed by the Chiltern Society, through a charitable trust, with day-to-day management provided by a small committee of permanent staff employed by the trust.  Any profit made would be ploughed back into the Museum.

 

The Council soon abandoned the idea of a Country Park but the Society opted to continue the proposed Museum on its own. Work went ahead on every front, and it is quite amazing how much was done on a volunteer basis by people then who were also holding down jobs and looking after families (this dedicated volunteer support would continue long into the future).

 

The first rescued buildings were two barns at Hill Farm, Chalfont St Peter. The complex was surrounded by a housing estate but the buildings were listed (which had been overlooked by the developers and Planning Authority). Listed Building Consent was given in March 1976 for demolition of the farmhouse and two barns, on condition that they were moved to the Museum. Two medieval merchant’s houses on Watford High Street, threatened by an inner ring road, were also donated and were quickly followed by a granary at Rossway Home Farm, Berkhamsted (dismantling started with a little help from boys at Berkhamstead School). St Julian’s Tithe Barn from St. Albans, dismantled many years before and stored in the gaol there, was also donated to the Museum (which had to load and transport it). Permission was given to store all of these buildings at Newland Park, until the Museum had a lease and was listed as an entity on the understanding that if the project disintegrated everything would be discreetly cleared away!

 

By June 1976 the County Planning sub-committee, Chiltern District Council and the College had all approved the plans and fundraising began and on 20th November 1976, after 3 ½ years of labour, the first meeting was held of Chiltern Open Air Museum Ltd. On 21st October 1978, the Museum was officially ‘launched’ at a party to the press at the Mermaid Theatre.

 

1978 and 1979 were busy years and building work was intense, despite the fact that the Museum still had no lease: by October official permission to erect buildings, although again at the Museum’s own risk, had been received! Elliotts Furniture Factory was dismantled and moved; Wing Granary was moved in August 1978; the Watford Buildings were coming down; Rossway Granary was dismantled and re-erection commenced; Didcot Cartshed was being re-erected as the Museum’s workshop; a contract was awarded for the re-erection of Arborfield Barn and Manshead Archaeological Society started work on the first Iron Age House. Trees were planted; plans drawn up for the car-park and footpath diversion and plans were afoot for massive fundraising activity to supplement the small-scale operations carried out by volunteers and supporters. Most notably, the Museum’s first major grant was received: £15,000 from the Meaker Trust, which funded the re-erection of medieval Arborfield Barn.

 

Transporting Wing GranaryWing Granary being transported to Chiltern Open Air Museum.

 

During 1979 the Museum opened exclusively to members of the Chiltern Society on several days, which were well attended and boosted everyone’s confidence for the future. On the 3rd May 1981, with a field for a car park and a footpath running right through the site, with a small shop in the ticket office caravan and teas served from another caravan, with Wing Granary, Didcot Workshop and the Iron Age House completed and work well advanced on Rossway Granary and Arborfield Barn, the Museum opened on a pouring-wet Sunday afternoon and 95 people braved the elements to support it. We were in business!

 

Since then a number of other buildings have been acquired, rescued from the threat of demolition and saved for future generations.  The Museum now incorporates 33 buildings, with 15 more still in store awaiting the funding to re-erect them (each will cost at least half a million pounds) and the 45-acre site has been further developed with the creation of a working Victorian farm and the addition of rare-breed livestock; hedges laid in the traditional local style; apple and cherry orchards and heritage crops.  A newly-refurbished Tea Room and adventure playground inspired by the historic buildings provide refreshment and entertainment for visitors, and activities to enthuse visiting families include opportunities to dress up, play with historic toys and games and even recreate the Museum’s buildings through lovingly-created scale models. On 2nd – 3rd July the Museum will be holding a small event to proudly celebrate the fortieth anniversary since its incorporation in 1976, and visitors are welcome to attend and help us celebrate.

 

Today the Museum, now employing 10 full-time and 6 part-time staff, is going from strength to strength.  Around 50,000 visitors are welcomed annually, with one third of these being schoolchildren enjoying an award-winning, immersive education programme. The Museum won ‘Gold’ in the Best Small Visitor attraction in the South East and ‘Bronze’ for the Best Small Visitor Attraction in England in 2013 and 2014.  A community hub, it is also supported by over 200 volunteers who in 2015 contributed 27,000 hours to the Museum. Museum staff and volunteers remain immensely grateful to the members of the Chiltern Society, who have continued to assist with its conservation work throughout the last 40 years through project funding, advice and support and, in thanks, are delighted to welcome Society members to visit the Museum with a two-for-one discount.

 

 


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Timber Framing Courses

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Timber Framing

 

I have been fortunate enough to recently attend two timber framing courses. The first was at the Weald and Downland museum in West Sussex. It dealt with the primary timbers of a green oak timber frame, using historic methods and tools to mark out, cut and fit the timbers. The essential tools for creating the joints were the chisel, mallet, saw and T-auger.

 

On the second course, near Datchworth Hertfordshire, started on the construction of a three-bay barn, made of Elm from the local area, to show that this type of timber is worth still looking into despite Dutch Elms disease. Although we didn’t just use traditional tools on this project (it was refreshing to have a tape measure again!), the techniques employed were very similar and the principles were the same.

 

On both courses we dealt with one frame at a time, either a cross-frame that goes across the building or a side-frame that goes along, the timbers of which would be laid out horizontally on saw-horses to be worked on. Certain timbers like the posts and tie beams would be in both layouts. These are called the primary timbers and because they need to be correct in two planes they are the most important to get right.

 

The main type of joint used was the mortice and tenon joint – the protruding tenon slotting into the chiselled out mortice. It is useful here to be aware of the most important areas of the joint. The end of the tenon for example is not the most crucial part of the joint. It will be concealed in the mortice and isn’t supporting any weight. So as long as the length and thickness is about right, you needn’t get too hung up on the aesthetics of it. Though that’s not me making an excuse for lazy workmanship!

 

MorticeMortice

 

TennonTenon

 

On the other hand, the shoulders of the tenon, the areas either side of the protruding part, will be taking the load and visible from the outside. It is therefore really important these surfaces are flat and level and well worth taking a bit of time over. You are rewarded for your careful chiselling and cutting with a satisfying thud when two well-fitting members slot together.

 

Joint-fittingTightly fitting joint being pulled together by a pin

 

The mortice and tenon are then secured together with an oak peg being driven through. Here a clever technique called draw-boring is used to make a nice tight fit. Rather than making one long aligned peg-hole through both the mortice and the tenon, the peg hole through the tenon is offset by the width of a pound coin in the direction of the shoulders, relative to the mortice. When the peg is driven in, it has to bend in order to pass through and this pulls the mortice and tenon together. You can do this by eye, marking out the centre of the hole on the tenon and then offsetting it, or you can use the wonderfully named offset-pricker, a tool made for the job. Seeing them pull together when a pin is put through is almost as satisfying as the initial thud.

 

Sam-timber-frame-course

Me and the green oak frame (primary timbers completed) at the Weald and Downland Museum

 

Elm-frame

The completed Elm Barn Cross Frame 1 laid out in the sun

 

Sam Rowland-Simms
HLF Buildings Trainee


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