The Museum’s Association code of ethics for museums
The Museum’s Association is the largest association representing museums and galleries in the United Kingdom. As part of this, they have produced guidelines for best museum practice since 1977. At the end of April I attended the London launch of their new Code of Ethics for Museums at the Wellcome collection. One of the claimed benefits of the new code is that it is more accessible than previous versions. I would like to take this opportunity to recommend that anyone involved in museums should read it (it’s available online here: http://www.museumsassociation.org/ethics/code-of-ethics) and take some time to think about how it might affect them.
What is a Code of Ethics and why do museums need one? The code “sets out the key ethical principles and the supporting actions that museums should take”. There is lots that all museums do that deserve ethical reflection, but it is also clear that we must make meaningful decisions out of that reflection. The Code is set out on three key themes: Public engagement & public benefit; Stewardship of collections and Individual & institutional integrity.
The role of museums to work with the public was a key message, and I think that we at Chiltern Open Air Museum do a great job of this. Di Lees, Imperial War Museum Director who was on the discussion panel, talked of the responsibility of museum staff, volunteers and partners to be “public servants” and I like the image that this draws. We would be nothing without our audience!
The Museum Association’s director, Sharon Heal, championed “everyday ethics”. Ethics are not just for big decisions about whether to accept funding from oil companies or whether to purchase antiquities from war-torn countries. Ethics are about how we treat our Museum site, the buildings that we have erected and in storage, the artefacts that bring our buildings to life and anyone that we come into contact with while we are here.
However, as I quickly learnt, it is rare that there is a black and white ethical question, so knowing where to draw the line can be very tricky. While museums were encouraged to make pre-emptive policies, to prevent knee-jerk reactions to sticky ethical dilemmas which might polarise opinions, we must not be afraid to engage in debate. While I hope we won’t see protesters at COAM, I hope that some of what we do makes people stop and ask questions!
Visitor Services Team Leader
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!
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.
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.
Me and the green oak frame (primary timbers completed) at the Weald and Downland Museum
The completed Elm Barn Cross Frame 1 laid out in the sun
HLF Buildings Trainee
Currently grazing on the green outside Leagrave Cottages can be seen a contented flock of Oxford Down sheep. These are the lambs born last year, now looking quite grown up.
I am quickly learning the amount of effort that goes into such a peaceful, quintessentially English scene! Some of the tasks I have helped with so far include twice-daily feeding, moving hay bales from the farmyard up to the main sheep fields every week, and separating the pregnant ewes away from the others out into the Cherry Orchard, to make it easier to increase their food – unborn lambs do a lot of growing in the last six weeks before birth and it’s important to keep up the condition of the ewes as much as possible prior to lambing.
One of the bigger jobs we have carried out this month in readiness for the new lambing season was to move the Lambing Fold, from where it has been down by the Prefab to a new position in the field behind Rossway Granary. Historically used as part of a traditional ‘fold’ system – where sheep were kept in a series of temporary pens and grazed on arable crops as part of a rotation, helping to manure the fields as they did so – the Lambing Fold is essentially a yard with small enclosures around two sides. The pregnant ewes are brought down to the yard area when close to lambing and any that give birth are moved into one of the pens. These ‘mothering pens’ provide the newborn lambs shelter for their first few days to help them build up strength, and a safe space to allow mother and lamb to bond so that they can find each other again when let out with the rest of the flock. As well as providing protection from the elements, the Lambing Fold enables the shepherd to keep a closer eye on things and deal more comfortably and quickly with any difficulties when they arise.
The Lambing Fold here at COAM is essentially a timber frame, roofed with thatched wooden hurdles. It is moved every two years to avoid a build-up of parasites and diseases, which could be disastrous to a new-born lamb. With the roof hurdles removed, the timber frames for each section of pens could be dug up and rolled one at a time onto a trailer, taken to the new site and rolled back off the trailer. Once each section had been moved into its new position, it was dug in to provide a good foundation, and then attached to its neighbours.
Next we had to get the roof hurdles back up and tied into position on the roof; this was a mucky job as some of the hurdles still had patches of the old, rotting, straw thatch on – slimy! Once the frame was secure, we could get out the ladders and start thatching with straw to make a good, waterproof roof.
Using a rough long-straw thatching technique which feels essentially like sewing bundles of straw in rows on to the hurdles, this is a lovely job when the sun’s shining, up on the roof with views across the farm and valley below. Before lambing is due to start we will finish the structure off with a thick wall made of hurdles and straw to keep out those chilly April winds.
HLF Site and Farm Trainee
Hello, my name is Lyndsey and I will be taking over from Rachael Maytum as the new Heritage Lottery Funded Farm and Site Trainee at Chiltern Open Air Museum. Rachael has completed her eighteen month placement here now and it has been lovely being able to spend the last couple of weeks with her showing me the ropes. I’m sure we will still see her from time to time as she will be popping in to check up on everyone and catch up with all the animals.
I started at the beginning of January and have been gradually finding my way around, meeting all the staff and volunteers and, of course, all the livestock. Last year’s lambs seem especially friendly – at teatime when you are carrying a bucket anyway…
Rachael has been passing on her skills at hedge-laying and I have learnt a lot already from assisting with laying the hedges behind Astleham Paddock and Haddenham Croft Cottage. It’s a very satisfying process, working with each individual stem to find the best way to weave it in to the hedge. The hedges here are all intended to be stockproof, as they would have been in the past, so we have to make sure the bottom of the hedge is dense and wide enough to prevent a determined sheep pushing easily through it!
During the next eighteen months working on the COAM farm I am particularly interested in learning all the ins and outs of managing grassland and how this ties in with livestock husbandry and growing and cropping hay. My working background is in wildlife conservation and I am also keen to learn more about the way landscape management and social history are intertwined and affect each other; how we use the environment around us has always impacted on our culture and prosperity, and it is fascinating to see how changes in fortune likewise results in changes to the ways in which a working farm is managed.
Everyone at COAM has been very welcoming and supportive in helping me find my feet over these first few days and I am sure I will enjoy working here. Once we open to the public, do pop down to the farm and say hello! I look forward to meeting you.
Written by Rachael Maytum
During the summer and early autumn months our livestock are able to feed on the lush grass in our fields, the wildflowers in the meadow or forage crops in the arable fields but now winter is upon us, hay becomes a very important part of the animal’s diet. As I wrote in a previous blog article, the farm team work hard in the summer to make hay bales to feed our livestock through the winter.
An alternative to building a hay stack using bales is to construct what is known as a hay rick. Hay ricks were once a common sight in the Chilterns as a form of storing hay, protecting the crop from being destroyed by wet weather and used over the winter months to keep livestock fed through the winter. However, by the twentieth century, due to more economical farming methods, the construction of hay ricks died out. Here at Chiltern Open Air Museum, this dying countryside craft has been recreated and visitors are able to see the hay ricks we’ve constructed in the last couple of years.
As you enter the museum opposite Astleham Manor Cottage, visitors this year will have noticed our most recent hay rick.
The photo above shows the farm team busy pitching up loose hay from a trailer onto a compacted loose hay stack using hay forks in September 2014.
Throughout the winter, we set to thatching the roof using primarily rye straw grown in our own fields, but also wheat straw too. This also involved a significant amount of time spent yealming which is basically neatening and straightening the longstraw into tight, manageable bundles for handling on the rick.
We also needed to make lots of hazel spars (like hairpins effectively), liggers and pegs to hold and tie the thatch in place which is material coppiced from our own woodland.
The finished hayrick from Winter 2014/2015.
The rick in the lambing fold constructed in 2013 is being used as feed for the livestock this winter. It’s amazing how well the hay can be preserved once thatched.
Hay Making at the Museum: Experiences of a Farm and Site Trainee
Last week, everyone on the farm team gave a big sigh of relief that hay making had been accomplished for another year with the completion of an impressively sized hay stack located in the rick yard behind Hill Farm Barn.
It’s an important part of the farming year at the museum because all the hay that is produced here is used as feed for the horses, sheep, cows and goats which will help see them through the winter until the grass starts to grow again in the spring.
We started hay making in June this year. This involved cutting the long grass and wild flowers in the fields on days in periods of warm, dry weather. In the preceeding few days, the hay needs to be turned and raked a couple of times each day if possible to help with the drying process. A tedder is used to turn, rake and gather the hay into rows called windrows.
This video shows me using the tedder and gives you an idea of how it works:
Rain showers were forecast mid haymaking so we had to transfer the drying hay from their rows into lots of individual mounds called cocks. This saves all of the hay getting wet. Once the rain has cleared, the cocks are spread out into rows again. This is all done by hand using hay forks and is very hard work, especially on a hot summer’s day! Once the hay is dry, a baler is used to produce the hay bales.
The hay bales are then picked up using a tractor and flat eight grab on the front loader and positioned strategically onto a trailer.
Here is a video of me using a flat eight grab for the first time:
It felt like I was playing a giant arcade game using the flat eight grab, I really enjoyed it! It proved quite tricky to get the hang of at first because there are a lot of things you have to think about and do all at once. Once the trailer has been transported down to the farm, the team then set to building a hay stack by hand.
I’m really pleased that I’ve had the chance to be a part of every stage of the hay making process this year, especially since it has allowed me to gain experience in using a range of different tractor mounted implements.
Written by Rachael Maytum
Heritage Lottery Funded Farm and Site Trainee
(photos taken by Rachael Maytum)
During the early part of the summer I went on placement with Owlsworth IJP who are a company who specialise in caring for traditional buildings through conservation and restoration….a subject very close to my heart. I was lucky enough to work on two separate buildings which were very different from one another, this allowed me to gain experience in a range of techniques.
In the photo above I am working on a ‘Herringbone’ brick panel within an early 20th century sundial garden. The original mortar having failed was raked out and replaced with a new mix of lime mortar that I am working on here.
I also re-pointed part of this early 20th century chimney.
I learnt that the mortar used for this work had to be very carefully mixed, taking into consideration colour, strength and durability. The colour had to match mortars previously used in the construction and the strength of the mix needed to be strong enough to withstand all weather conditions but not be stronger than the brick itself.
The second building I worked on was a church nestled in the Hampshire countryside which was in need of stone and flint conservation. The mortar used was tailored for each individual repair.
Here (below) I am using lime mortar to repair a flint wall of the church, adding occasional replacement flints. Conserving the stone required a different approach, in areas where disintegration had occurred I learnt a mixture using the dust from the stone could be used as a patch along with a fine wash coat over the top. All in all a great experience where I learnt a great deal.
Written by Kirsty Bone Heritage Lottery Funded Buildings Trainee
As soon as you walk out through the double doors of the Blythe Road Ticket Office, you are welcomed by a beautiful garden surrounding Astleham Manor Cottage. This garden was inspired by the work of Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), garden designer and horticulturalist.
An array of pinks- Astleham Manor Garden in June 2015.
Astleham Manor Garden in June 2015.
It’s at this time of year that the garden really comes to life and this is what largely inspired me to visit a garden created by Jekyll in 1908 at The Manor House in the village of Upton Grey, Hampshire. At the time it was home to Charles Holme who was a well-known figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Restored by the current owners of the Manor House, it is open to visitors for a couple of months each year (http://www.gertrudejekyllgarden.co.uk/).
The Manor House, Upton Grey, Hampshire.
The gardens at Chiltern Open Air Museum are predominantly managed by a dedicated team of volunteers, although part of my role as Farm and Site Assistant (an 18-month traineeship funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund) involves some garden-based activities and I’m learning as I go along. The point I want to make is, you don’t have to know anything about flowers and gardening to enjoy them, you can just appreciate these gardens for what they are- masterpieces of living beauty.
A rose pergola and sunken garden bordered by hedgerows- The Manor House Upton Grey, Hampshire, July 2015. Designed by Gertrude Jekyll in 1908 and restored by the current owners, Rosamund and John Wallinger since 1984.
I think my favourite part of Jekyll’s garden is the use of dry stone walls because I love the freedom that the plants have to grow through the gaps in the stone and it just has a very warm and natural feel to it.
Hemerocallis fulva. The Manor House Garden, Upton Grey, July 2015.
Eryngium sp. The Manor House Garden, Upton Grey. July 2015.
The pond in the Wild Garden, The Manor House, Upton Grey, July 2015.
Writing and all photos by Rachael Maytum.