Category Archives: News

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Stooking and Spooking and other Farm Activities

Things have been settling down on the Museum’s farm since the summer although the harvest and Halloween events kept the COAM team busy.

The new Farm and Site Manager, Alaric, is settling in well and formulating some exciting plans for the farm, meadows and woodlands for the future.

It has also been quiet, not literally though, on the animal front with no recent comings and goings. The calf is growing up quickly and the lambs are now almost indistinguishable from their mothers.  Daryl the ram has gracefully accepted, if you can use graceful when referring to him, the two ‘trainee rams’ from this year’s lambs. Although still top ram, the trainees are getting noticeably more assertive but accept being put in their place by Daryl.

Goats at Chiltern Open Air Museum

The Old English goats continue in their unpredictably eccentric and often amusing behavior – that is as long as it does not involve horns and walks! They have been enjoying the meadow next to the Toll House since mid-summer. Its fallen tree provides a great climbing frame and the variety of vegetation provides much to munch.

The morning walk from their night time farmyard quarters to their field is now often a rush to get there quickly. This does not however help with the route hedge maintenance leaving more for the staff and volunteers to do.  But it does reduce the time and opportunity for them to misbehave on route.

One of the bigger events of the year for the farm is the Harvest Festival weekend. The 1940s threshing machine was dusted down and carefully prepared by the farm artefacts team for demonstrations of how the harvest was done in the past. The nearly as old Fergusson tractor was set up to provide the power to run the thresher and the recently restored binder linked up to the reverse of the threshing machine.

Farm and Site Manager Job

Visitors who attended one of the two days were able to watch demonstrations of how the threshing was done from the days of steam through to the 1950s. Stooks of wheat prepared in the fields when harvested were fed into the thresher to separate the grain from the straw. The grain is sacked up whilst the straw was deposited into the binder.

Halloween has become the finale of the Museum’s season and is the busiest event of the year with 2000 plus, mainly young visitors descending on the site during a madly exciting few hours.

The evening is a hectic and stressful time for staff and volunteers. However it is worth it for the pleasure it brings to many of our more junior visitors who have a great time enjoying the crafts and experiences of Halloween, as well as many tasty treats whilst also being scarred witless, along with many parents it has to be said, enjoying the scary walks.

The farm team have responsibility for preparing the spooky walks as well as getting the barns ready for activities. The animals also have to be moved to suitable locations where necessary as the object is not to spook them!

So after the excitement of Halloween, a calm of sorts descends on the Museum with only the educational groups of school children continuing to visit for another month or so before the Museum’s final event of the year, the Victorian Christmas on 2/3 December.

It will not be quiet on the farm though as there is much winter work to be done before the Museum fully opens next spring. Hedgelaying will resume as wildlife dictates that this must be a winter activity. There is work to be done in the woodlands including path scrub clearance and maintenance ensuring a safe passage for visitors.

There is also plenty of scrub and tree clearance to be done in other parts of the woods. This is a necessary part of woodland habitat management and will also allow more suitable tree species to be planted where appropriate.

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This type of work is time consuming and cannot easily be done with visitors present. The farm team were recently helped by an enthusiastic group of volunteers from Robert Bosch who swapped their desks for a day in the fresh air to help start the clearance of a large area of scrub. Even with heavy rain stopping play for an hour or so, they achieved a lot which has been a great help.

So when you are warm and dry inside your workplace, school or curled up at home during the day in front of the fire, just bear a thought for the farm team who will be hard at work outside in the cold and wet this winter – loving every minute of it!

Written by Julian Stanton
COAM Farm Volunteer


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2017 New Year’s Resolutions

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The end of a calendar year is often a convenient time to reflect and review your progress, and set New Year’s resolutions, if you are so inclined!

Here are 6 things that I think the Museum should be proud of from last year:

  1. The number of people visiting the Museum each year has risen again, now at a fantastic 54,000 visitors. The most common reason that visitors give us for their visit is family or friends; the Museum is clearly for many people a place to be explored in company.
  1. In 2016, we welcomed 28 new volunteers and have developed ways for our volunteers to feel informed and consulted. Our Young Volunteers Club has also continued to grow, and it is great that we are seeing Young Volunteers wanting to stay on to help after reaching the upper age limit.
  1. Significant maintenance was carried out to a number of historic buildings. These repairs help preserve the buildings and mean that they continue to be authentic representations of their previous lives. It was also great to see the Henley Garage re-erected as a home for the Museum’s historic bicycles.
  1. A number of staff members have done more to raise awareness of our work, for example by sharing examples of best practice from our Museum at national conferences and local forums, on themes of education, fundraising and volunteering.
  1. We are building a network of local corporate supporters; we were delighted to welcome back three different organisations to volunteer for the second year in succession, who helped us to make improvements to our site and prepare for our Halloween Spectacular.
  1. 17,500 school children visited the Museum in 2016; it is encouraging that our formal learning programme is so popular. Last year has also seen some adaptation of some workshops to be suitable for families and uniformed organisations.

All these achievements are to be celebrated, and many more besides, as they demonstrate improvement in the three purposes which are named in the Museum’s mission statement: enjoyment, inspiration and learning.

We should also look for improvements for 2017. Although I’m not really one for setting New Year’s resolutions, it is important to remind ourselves of what we are working towards and why. I believe that we can ask ourselves three questions to make improvements to the things that we do at the Museum:

  1. How relevant are they?
  2. How authentic are they?
  3. How will we present them?

These questions can be asked of anything from choosing the artefacts we display in our buildings, to deciding how we will run events and activities. Personally, I will be asking these questions of the stories that we tell in our historic buildings; there are some really engaging stories of past occupants that we could tell better and ways of life that we could share more widely. I am really looking forward to using this opportunity to work with volunteers, and help them share their passion for this fantastic Museum.

George Hunt
Visitor Services Team Leader

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