Category Archives: History

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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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Family Christmas Traditions

Family-Christmas-traditions-COAM-600px

Family Christmas Traditions

Oh Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year! A festive time to celebrate with friends and family, by eating turkey, Brussel sprouts and indulging in that all important, warm glass of mulled wine. These are just a couple of things that we associate with the Christmas period, but when did these traditions ‘become’ traditions, and were our ancestors celebrating Christmas in the same way as we are now? Many people have a favourite Christmas tradition, and we at COAM are no exception, so I decided to ask a few people around the office to find out their favourite thing about the joyful season.

Our Education Officer, Cathy, loves going to the Christingle services at Church on Christmas Eve, which involves lighting candles and singing hymns and carols. The Christingle services that Cathy loves today, are named after the Christmas Christingle, which is traditionally an orange, decorated with a candle, ribbon and various fruits and sweets, which each have their own significance. The Orange represents the world, the red ribbon often wrapped around the orange is the blood of Christ, the fruits and sweets pushed into the orange signify the four seasons, while the candle represents hope and Jesus’ light. Christingle means ‘Christ Light’, which is why many candles are usually lit during a Christingle service (whether inside an orange or not)!

Another popular aspect to the Christingle services, is singing Christmas carols and hymns. Lyndsey, the farm and site trainee loves the festive tradition of singing carols, as they bring people together, signifying warmth and support during the darkest time of the year. We call them carols after the French word Carole meaning circle dance, or song of praise and joy. Christmas carols were not of Christian origin, but rather pagan songs to celebrate the seasons. During the Victorian era, the singing of Christmas carols from door to door was revised and many singers would be given offerings of money and food, which is perhaps where the lyric ‘we won’t go until we get some’, comes from in We Wish You A Merry Christmas!

Although many households don’t celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday, many of the traditions are still upheld and celebrated amongst family and friends, but in different ways. Adrian, the Outdoor Learning Officer here at COAM, loves to have a big meal with his family at Christmas, but not in the traditional way you would expect. Originally, wealthy households would eat a goose at Christmas, or even peacock served on its own plumage! Still in keeping with the tradition of eating a feathered friend, Turkey is usually the go to choice for Christmas now. However, Adrian’s family have never been a fan of the traditional roast dinner and instead serve an ‘all day buffet’ to gorge on throughout the day; Christmas is a time for eating after all!

Finally, it was time for me to consider what my own favourite Christmas tradition is, as I have always been the person that wants to start celebrating much earlier than one should! Therefore, my favourite tradition has to be the decorating of the Christmas tree. My home is not complete at Christmas without one, and I absolutely love the fresh, cosy smell of the pine needles. Although the decorating of Christmas trees dates back to the 1600s, it wasn’t until the reign of Queen Victoria that it became as popular as it is today. Victoria’s husband, Albert, liked to decorate a tree to remind him of Christmas when he was a boy growing up in Germany. The use of an evergreen fir tree, signifies hope and undying life, as well as reminding some Christians of the ‘Tree of Life’. For me, there’s nothing better than sticking on a few carols, while decorating the Christmas tree by the warm glow of the fire with family!

Written by Yolanda Cooper
Events and Hospitality Team Leader

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How to play conkers

Conkers

If you take a walk through the Museum’s woodlands you’ll see an abundance of shiny, brown conkers, scattered among the fallen, crunchy autumn leaves near the dell. If I pass these horse chestnut trees with my 5, and 7 year old, they get very excited and begin to fill their pockets with conkers. They enjoy it even more if they get to peel the prickly casing open to uncover the encased conker, and there is further excitement if, there is multiple conkers to be found inside. My husband, an avid conkers player in his youth, has taught this historical game to my children, and they love it.

Conker on woodland floor

The fruit from the horse chestnut tree earned the name conker from the traditional game of conkers, which was played in the autumn months by many generations of children, often in the school playground. The game is played by two players, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string, who take turns striking each other’s conker until one breaks.

According to my good friend, Wikipedia, the first mention of the game is in Robert Southey’s memoirs published in 1821. He describes a similar game but, played with snail shells or hazelnuts. It was only after the 1850s that using horse chestnuts was regularly referred to in certain regions. The game grew in popularity in the 20th century, and spread beyond England. Sadly, the game is not played so often now, due to health and safety concerns in schools.

How to play conkers

Find a nice, firm, undamaged conker and make a hole in the middle using a nail, small screwdriver, or drill. Thread a piece of string about 25cm long through the hole, and tie a knot at the end so that it doesn’t pull through.

How to play conkers

Each player has a conker on a string, and takes turns hitting the opponent’s conker. If it’s not your turn to hit the conker, you must let your conker hang down the full length of the string, keeping completely still, with the string wrapped around your hand. The other player, or striker, wraps his string around his hand in the same way, draws his conker back and releases it to hit his opponent’s conker.

Rules

If a player misses their opponent’s conker they are allowed up to two further goes.

If the strings tangle, the first player to call “strings” gets an extra shot.

If a player hits their opponent’s conker in such a way that it completes a whole circle after being hit – known as ‘round the world’ – the player gets another go.

If a player drops his conker, or it is knocked out of his hand, the other player can shout ‘stamps’ and jump on it; but should its owner first cry ‘no stamps’ then the conker, hopefully, remains intact.

The game continues in turns until, one of the two conkers is completely destroyed.

I found the above rules on www.projectbritain.com however; the game of conkers has different rules in different parts of the country.

Trialing the game

Visitor Services Team Leader, George Hunt and Events and Hospitality Team Leader, Yolanda Cooper decided to have a try at playing conkers.

playing conkers

They learnt that it’s a lot harder to hit a conker on a string than you might think.

playing conkers at COAMhistoric games playing conkersConkers winner

After much giggling, George managed to smash Yolanda’s conker and was crowned champion.

Written by Helen Light
Marketing Officer

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What are the Chilterns?

As our name suggests, this Museum seeks to tell the history of the Chilterns. I was born in Watford, so have some affinity with the Chilterns, but I’m not sure I could succinctly explain to someone what the Chilterns are. I hope this piece gives you some ideas about what makes them special.

The Chilterns are often described as The Chiltern Hills, and it is relatively easy to define this area of higher ground geographically. It stretches roughly from Hitchin in north Hertfordshire to Goring-on-Thames in south Oxfordshire, passing through part of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. To the north-west, there is a clear divide between the rolling escarpment and the Vale of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. To the south and east, the dipslope has a less steep gradient, so the boundary is less distinct, although the River Thames is a helpful guide.

The woodland at COAM

The woodlands at the Museum.

These chalk hills have a somewhat distinctive landscape. In 1965, the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was designated for its natural attractiveness. Two-thirds of the Chilterns AONB are now fields, with woodland covering more than one-fifth. The Chilterns Historic Landscape Characterisation Project has estimated that around two-thirds of the woodland are over 400 years old, and that areas of woodland have grown and receded over several millennia.

We might also consider the administrative boundaries. There are three Chiltern Hundreds, historic divisions of a county that could raise one hundred fighting men (Stoke, Desborough and Burnham), although only the Desborough Hundred was truly located within the Chiltern Hills. Since 1974 we have had the Chiltern District, one of the four local government districts of Buckinghamshire. Clearly though, these administrative areas miss much that this Museum seeks to represent.

The Chilterns are predominantly rural, the two largest towns being High Wycombe and Luton, although there are good number of small market towns and villages. Without this human habitation, there would be nothing special about the Chilterns. Indeed, the earliest known reference to the Chilterns is the word “Cilternsaete”, referring to “the Chiltern dwellers” (7th or 8th century). In terms of the built environment, there are several particularly local characteristics, including the use of brick, timber and clay tiles. Flint was a popular local building material, although unfortunately not yet represented at the Museum, other than a few brick and flint walls.

Wall made of flint at COAM

The wall built outside the Museum’s vicarage from Thame is partly made from flint.

What did the people of the Chilterns do? In a whistle-stop tour, we might get some idea of the specialisms of the Chilterns, which we attempt to communicate at the Museum. In Medieval England, although the Chilterns was one of the two large areas of woodland in the South-East, arable farming was probably more prevalent than woodland activities. From 1600 the market towns flourished with professionals like shoemakers and blacksmiths. The chair making industry appears to have become substantial by about 1800 and cottage industries like lace-making and straw-plaiting reached their peak in the 19th century. Entrepreneurial locals grew apple and soft fruit orchards and watercress beds in the 19th and 20th centuries. As commuting became more practical, as early as the 1850s in some places in the Chilterns, the region became much more suburban in nature.

Blacksmith at work

A blacksmith at work in the forge at the Museum.

The Royal Society of Arts has produced a Heritage Index, to highlight regions’ unique characteristics. As the Chiltern Society are keen to point out, the Chilterns region overall ranks lower than one might expect. We hope that this Museum goes some way to providing a response to this ranking and helping the Chilterns to define themselves. We believe that the people living and working in this area have shaped the landscape and produced a rich heritage which should be shared and preserved.

By George Hunt
Visitor Services Team Leader

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