Category Archives: Historic Buildings

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Building the WW1 Nissen Hut

At the start of my last blog, I remarked on the three whole months that had passed since I last wrote something for our website. That blog was written in the early months of this year and published in March. That was six months ago – I appear to be getting worse!

Anyhow, moving swiftly on from my optimistically overestimated number of blog posts, to what the Buildings Team have been getting on with this year, and what I, the Buildings Trainee have been doing to get in the way. Since March, I have unfortunately had a significant amount of time away from the museum due to ill health, however since being back I am hoping to make up for the time that I missed.

The woodcarver, Colin, who I had hoped to meet earlier this year, kindly let me into his workshop last week for an initial visit. During our meeting, he showed me around the studio, introducing me to the projects that he and his team were part way through and also took me out on site for a quick tour around his current live project. As it was only the initial meeting I unfortunately don’t have any photographs to share, but if you are interested in the work of an extraordinary local woodcarver, check out the website www.lillyfee.co.uk

As it was my intention at the end of the last blog to explore the decorative side of conservation work, I have joined Colin and his team on one of their evening woodcarving courses with the intention of following up with some work experience.

Although it doesn’t look like much, this piece is the result of the first hour and a bit working with chisels in an official woodcarving capacity. There is a lot of refining to do, however I’m pretty pleased with the outcome so far…it looks pretty much how it’s supposed to!

Also planned for this year was starting the elm barn in Tewin, using the timber collected from the woods in December. I attended a course, coincidentally alongside previous HLF Building Trainee Sam Rowland-Simms, and had an amazing time putting in to practice some of my slightly rusty framing skills. Lots of photos were taken over the frantic week working among the sprightly Spring lambs in the scorching* sun and the following snow. I also had the opportunity to re-join the course leaders, including Sam, for two days the following week. We spent those two days going over the previous weeks work, correcting any minor issues and starting the remaining cross frames.
*mildly warm, but enough for no sleeves.

I had hoped to return to Tewin to continue assisting with the construction over the summer months, however my illness put the kibosh on that. The barn has since been raised and looks spectacular in the September sunshine. Hopefully, I will be well enough to return to help with the cladding, tiling of the roof etc.

Returning somewhat closer to home, the Nissen Hut project is well under way and construction has commenced. The panels which John, myself and the volunteers have been putting together since the end of last year have started to piece together like a jigsaw…ish.

With each passing day, the Hut has grown in some way or another. This is my first build with the Museum and has been so incredibly exciting to be a part of.

End of day one

Day two

Day three

Day four

Day five

It was also this day that I decided to treat the volunteers…to a table during break for the paper cups of tea. I do know how to spoil the team!

Day six

Day seven

Day eight

Part of the Hut build that I have had more involvement in is the linen windows. We knew from various records that these would contribute to the most accurate representation of the hut, yet none of us were 100% sure on how to do it. So after I researched oiled linen and oilcloth and determined what was useful for this project, the boss and I had a go at making windows.

This image shows the difference in the linen after one coat of a 50% boiled linseed oil and 50% white spirit mixture.

These images show the difference in transparency after two coats of the same mix.

After quite a while drying, the windows were then fitted just in time for out Meet the Tommies event weekend in September at the Museum.

Conclusion of the oilcloth window experiment is that it worked pretty well and lets in a surprising amount of light to the hut. Notes for replacement windows: make the canvas tighter as windows shouldn’t billow!

For the foreseeable future, completing the Nissen Hut will be our primary focus, with urgent maintenance and repairs fitting in as and when they arise.

The woodcarving course continues in to December, so I shall update you with my progress around Christmas time…no idea which Christmas it will be though.

Written by Jess Eyre
HLF Buildings Trainee


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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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Building Project Progress – Jess Eyre

Since my last blog, there have been a few developments on the Building Team. The most challenging of them all being the boss’s two week vacation in the middle of the month, leaving me in the driver’s seat!

Before he left for sunnier climes, headway was made covering the stacks in Glory Mill, as per my last blog, and the cherry-picker has since arrived for the insulation application. Stationed at the top of the cherry-picker is Colin, a stonemason who has worked with the museum for a number of years.

Cherry-picker-200pxIn the last month, I have had the opportunity to go away and work with him on some of his ‘live’ jobs which has been both incredibly interesting and challenging at times.

These external ‘placements’ have included repairing stonework and render on a blind, 14th Century, church doorway and painting the timber on a medieval granary.

I joined Colin and his laborer Kieran on their last day at the granary, so the photographs I was able to get are limited.

They show the lime washed panels, which Colin and Kieran had already completed, and the extent of the timber work to be painted with black linseed oil paint.

Tusmore-Estate-Photo-600pxIn contrast, I have been assisting Colin at the church since his first day on site, so I’ve really had the opportunity to get stuck in and see how his tasks generally evolve.

Church

Cookham-before-200pxAt some point in its past, the church doorway has had a cement render and slurry applied over the soft chalk, or clunch, stone beneath. Where cracks and holes have appeared over the years, moisture has seeped in and created a loss of adhesion with the underlying stone. The telltale sign of this was the hollow sound when we tapped the render, and the slight bulges in places. The ivy growing behind the cement was a big giveaway too!

 

Cookham-15th-Sept---12-Jess-200pxOver a period of four days, we have removed the failed render and started replacing it with lime. Ideally, the entire doorway including archivolt mouldings, jambs, columns and hoodmould, which have been slurried or rendered with cement, would also be reworked in lime. However, the financial constraints that face any church when it comes to work such as this, means only doing what is absolutely necessary. As everything else appears sound, and more damage would be caused removing the cement, we are concentrating on three main areas: the quoins on either side, the right side jamb, and part of the archivolt.

Cookham-6th-Sept---7-200px

Cookham-29th-Sept---1-200pxCookham-6th-Oct-3-200px

Caversham

One of the – many – jobs on the list for the volunteers and I to get started whilst the boss was away, was the new doors for the Caversham toilet block at the top of site.

The original timber doors had rotted in various areas and had been retired before I commenced my trainee programme. Solid wood doors based faithfully on the originals had been skillfully created by a local joiners and were awaiting a lick of green paint and the addition of the brass door furniture. Progress was slower than I expected while we were left to our own devices, although the hinges had been cut and were almost millimeter perfect. Almost!

Things have certainly sped along since the boss returned, and both the doors have nearly had their three coats of paint. Caversham-door-painting---Jess-2-200px Cutting the mortice for the lock took about two days due to the 7” depth, but we are now on the final stretch and even all the brass work has been Brasso’d…and brown sauced.

Photos to follow as and when the doors have been fitted.

By Jess Eyre
HLF Buildings Trainee

Image of Tusmore Estate © Jonathan Thacker

 

 

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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.

Stacks-covered-in-Glory-Mill-600px

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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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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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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