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Four and a bit Tractors

The Chiltern Open Air Museum farm is a key part of the Museum’s operation. It’s not just a static display of historic farm buildings and artefacts, but a working example of Chiltern farms of the past.

Ferguson Tractor

Traditional practices are maintained where possible although the farm does not focus on any one particular era. Artefacts are used in the farm’s day to day operation as much as possible and key to this are the tractors. The four sturdy workhorses in all have around 200 years of hard labour between them. And there is the other – more about this later!

Tractors have been the backbone of farm labour for over 100 years, slowly usurping horses and man’s physical labour. The first steam powered tractors appeared in the 1860s and by the end of that century the first petrol tractor was patented. However, it was not until just after the turn of the century that petrol tractors went into production.

Tractor innovation has come a long way in the intervening 100 years. And the next inevitable step is the driverless, computer controlled vehicle for tasks such as ploughing and harvesting and who knows what else.

Innovation is essential, but remembering the past is also important, not just for nostalgia and the pleasure this brings to many, but to help remember how things were done to provide lessons for the future.

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Currently two tractors are regularly used on the farm, a 1950 Ferguson and its junior partner, a 1981 Ford 4600. The Museum also has two Fordson Super Majors. One dates from 1950 and is only used on special occasions such as driving the threshing machine during the Museum’s Harvest Festival event.

The second Fordson, a later model dating from 1961, needs much renovation work before it can play a more active role in the farm’s operation. The project is now underway, although it may be sometime before she is working on the farm again.

The task in hand is being led by volunteer and former agricultural engineer, John Smithson. John’s wealth of experience working with agricultural machinery around the world for many years has been a major plus for the Museum, with his superior knowledge of machinery no longer in regular use. John first became involved with the Museum when he offered advice on renovating the ‘Ransoms’ threshing machine. Having become fully involved with that project, he then stayed on as part of the Museum’s farm artefacts team of volunteers who ‘tinker’ with the farm machinery every Thursday.

Progress has already been made and the engine is running again. But other essential work will take many hours and the team must also continue to progress other projects.

Considering the basic conditions the team have to work in, they do a superb job in keeping the mechanical farm artefacts operational. Volunteer Olly Mazzitelli is adamant that if the team were provided with a new, modern workshop, the tractor renovation would be completed in no time. However, it would take significant funding to provide such a facility and the Museum has other priorities. And of course, it would not be in the spirit of a traditional farm if the conditions did not replicate those that the Chiltern farmers of the past often had to work in!

Developments on how John, Olly and the rest of the Thursday team are progressing with the project, as well as more about the individual tractors, will appear in this blog in the future.

And the other tractor? Well, it has to grow up first, but in the meantime it provides lunchtime entertainment for hard-working volunteers!

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“Volunteer Jane Bland finds time to try out the Museum farm’s latest tractor whilst the Ford takes a rest”

 

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A Journey through the Museum’s Gardens

As well as a wonderful collection of historical rescued Chilterns buildings, the Chiltern Open Air Museum can also boast a variety of traditional small gardens that complement some of these. If you have an interest in gardens or just enjoy viewing them, the coming months are a great opportunity to visit and see the result of the hard work that takes place developing and maintaining them.

Gardens at COAM

There are currently three ‘cottage’ gardens to enjoy. Astleham Manor Cottage is the house you will see directly in front of you as you enter the museum and boasts the most extensive of the cottage gardens. Based on ideas and gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll, who was influential in shaping garden design during the early 20th Century, you firstly come across a formerly styled garden.

Pergolas, rose arches and paving have been used to provide a structured geometric layout with a less formal planting style. Many of the plants are heritage varieties used by Jekyll such as Iris Germanica, Lavandula Angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and Rosa ‘The Garland’.

Moving on past the house you will find a small apple orchard with each tree a different variety, representing those that were grown in the Chilterns including D’Arcy Spice, Golden Harvey and Langley Pippin.  At ground level, wildflowers have been allowed to proliferate amongst the grasses including fritillaries and cowslips.

After leaving the garden most visitors head down towards the village green. On the right you will find Leagrave cottages whose small gardens include shrubs such as jasmine and aquilegia. On turning right past the cottages is the post WWII prefab. This garden is laid out to demonstrate a typical garden of the era which often included neatly mown lawns, formal rose beds and vegetable gardens.

Continuing past the prefab is the museum allotment. Just look for the scarecrow! Traditional varieties of vegetables are grown including leeks, beetroot, courgettes and cucumber which help supply the museum café. Fruit bushes provide produce for jam making and herbs and flowering plants can also be found.

Museum allotment

And continuing on the theme of fruit, almost opposite the allotment to the left hand side of the Nissan Hut is a cherry orchard. Cherries were once extensively grown in the Chilterns, but with the orchards having almost disappeared from the area for economic reasons, many varieties were lost. The museum has acquired over 20 heritage cherry trees in an attempt to help preserve rare varieties including Prestwood Black, Prestwood White and Smokey Dun.

Back on the village green, a garden has yet to be created for the recently completed Haddenham Croft Cottage, but no doubt the gardeners will have something interesting planned for the future. Continuing down the track from the village green you will come to the Victorian Toll House where another cottage garden in keeping with the period has been created.

The garden contains flowering plants including a new border with Shasta daisies and Helianthus, heritage variety crops, fruit bushes and herbs. The vegetable garden has a period cloche in use whilst the fruit is used for jam making. The herb garden has a large variety of plants that would have been used in Victorian times for cooking and medicinal use.

If you visit the Iron Age House, look out for the small garden that is planted with heritage varieties of wheat such as Einkorn, Emmer and Spelt and some herbs including comfrey, rosemary and soapwort.

On your way back towards the museum entrance just before Astleham Manor Cottage is a green building, Maidenhead Pavilion. Here you can buy surplus plants from the gardens that are sold in aid of Friends of the Museum.

The gardens certainly help to enhance the museum buildings. The majority of the hard work needed to both develop and maintain them is provided by a hard working team of volunteers who look after them as if they were their own prized gardens. We hope you enjoy visiting them.

By Julian Stanton
Museum Volunteer

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Easter Traditions

Easter-COAM

My daughter and I love Easter time.  Alex because she gets time off school and me because I love chocolate eggs!

As it is nearly upon us, we were talking about Easter the other day and that set me thinking about what Easter actually is and how its traditions came about?

Easter is a very important time for Christians as it celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Because Jesus died during the Jewish festival of Passover, the early Christians attached Easter to Passover.

I always get confused as to when Easter actually is as the date varies from year to year.  Apparently this is because the date for Passover is based on a lunar (phases of the moon) calendar, so Easter Day can be as early as 22nd March or as late as 25th April.  That’s because Easter Day is the Sunday following the first full moon after the first day of Spring.  Easter Day is always a Sunday as this is the day when Jesus rose from the dead, giving new life to the world,

Where did the name Easter come from?  Well some people believe it comes from the ancient pagan festival of Ostara which celebrated the coming of Spring and new life after the dark of winter.  This festival, which coincided with the time Jesus died and was resurrected, was taken over by the early Christians to celebrate the new life that Jesus gave the world when he rose from the dead.

The run up to Easter is called Lent which represents the 40 days and nights when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert.  As Jesus did not eat or drink during this time, some people give up a favourite food or drink for Lent.  That is why people eat Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday as traditionally it was a way of using up all the fattening ingredients in the house before fasting for Lent.  Clever!  The name Shrove comes from an old English word shriven which means to confess and receive forgiveness for ones sins.  The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday which comes from the tradition of putting a small cross of ash on peoples forehead at Ash Wednesday church services to remind them that they rely on God for forgiveness from their sins.  Easter officially ends 49 days after Easter Day with Pentecost or Whitsun, when Christians remember that God sent his Holy Spirit to help them.

What about the eggs, I hear you say?!  Since pagan times, eggs and chickens have symbolised fertility and new life.  The early Christians took over this meaning to help them remember the new life Jesus brought after he rose from the dead.

As we all know, Easter Eggs are brought by the Easter bunny!  During pagan times, hares and rabbits were a symbol of new life as they have such big litters.  The story of the Easter Bunny really took off in the 19th century and over time has evolved into the Easter Bunny bringing chocolate and toys as well as eggs.

Finally, when tucking into my Easter Day lunch, I’ve often wondered why we eat lamb at Easter?  One reason is that many years ago people believed the devil could take the form of any animal except the lamb.  Others believe that Jesus would have eaten lamb at the last supper.

I hope that you will spend some time at the Museum over the Easter holidays as there is lots going on.  I’m off now to buy some chocolate eggs!

By Gill Whitehead
Museum Volunteer

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Goataly Unimpressed

Crystal, one of the Museum’s two goats was not impressed by a recent blog about goat walking and had other issues she wanted to air.

Goat walking at COAM

“I was not amused by the recent blog about goat walking. It does not exactly put me in a good light and completely misinterprets the purpose of the walk. This and a number of other issues need to be brought to attention of my visiting fans to put the record straight. I feel that I need to personally report these facts as my friend Beverly, who is older than me and not so pretty, is too nice and does not want to upset the Farm Manager Conway.

Let’s firstly put the record straight on walking. We are not taken for a walk; we take the staff and volunteers for a walk. We appreciate how they like to have a look around the Museum site to check out that everything is hunk-dory each morning, so we are happy to go along and escort them. We only allow them to put dog collars on us as it makes them feel like they are walking their dogs.

What is very annoying is that they like to stop and stare into space. So we entertain ourselves by helping to keep the vegetation under control whilst we wait for them to come around. But to allude to us having a second breakfast – what an insult. We are not greedy goats!

And then sometimes we see some vegetation that needs pruning or hay that needs tidying up, but they get annoyed and try and drag us somewhere else. This is when I sometimes have to remind them to behave by giving them a gentle nudge with my horns. And then they get annoyed with me. You would have thought one volunteer had been shot by the way he hoped around just after I touched him. He’d been watching too much football if you ask me!

Sometimes we walk past the sheep. I like to put me head through the fence to give them a cheery good morning. And what happened the other day? A grumpy sheep nipped me on the nose! If she was not pregnant I would have given her a reprimand with my horns. Maybe she is grumpy because she is pregnant.

kid goats at COAM

With lambing in the next month, I guess the Farm Manager Conway will have to move us back from our temporary home, the isolated lambing fold, to our proper home. I mean, would you like to live in a maternity wing! I am not sure why he insists on punishing us by keeping us there at night. We just want to go back to Hill Farm Barn so we can keep an eye on comings and goings and make sure no undesirable characters are around the farm (volunteers excluded).

The only reason we got evicted from our home was because of those stupid film people who did not like us. I mean, they would not give us parts in the drama. What can I say if the critics don’t like it? Goats always add something special to a production, particularly if we can chase the baddies! We always get them. But they would not even let us stay around as extras. Their loss!

Another concern? Why do they shut the Museum during the winter? They say it’s because our fans won’t visit and the staff and volunteers have maintenance to do. Maybe that is why they hide us away so they can sit around drinking tea all-day! People want to come and see us all year round. Do you really think they come to see those old buildings when they can see nice new ones for free where they live.

Anyway, when they finally let you back into the Museum in April to see us, don’t forget we do like a chin rub. You can find us in a field somewhere mowing the grass. We would maintain the hedges as well, but they insist on putting an electric fence around the field to keep our fans out. Don’t forget, I’m the pretty one and Beverly will probably be daydreaming!”

Crystal
Museum Goat

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All quiet on the farm

January arrived with an air of peace and tranquillity about the farm and Museum site. This followed a disrupted December when for a number of weeks much of the site, including the farmyard and barns was taken over by a film production team, actors, extras and the associated entourage involved in a major TV drama.

With the Museum closed to visitors and school groups from December until late February, it is the perfect time for Museum staff and volunteers to get on with tasks, particularly those that would impact on visitors if the Museum was open.

The progress of many tasks would be so much quicker if it was not for visitors wandering around, getting in the way and engaging staff and volunteers in conversation! If only there were not any visitors. So much could be achieved!

Even though there are occasional times when it might be nice not to have to worry about visitors, there is not a member of staff or volunteer who does appreciate and enjoy the interaction. Volunteers give up their time and staff choose to work at the Museum because they get pleasure seeing visitors, whether retired reminiscers, historical enthusiasts, exuberant school children or just those wanting to relax in a wonderful rural environment, enjoy their visit.

The problem is that everyone enjoys engaging with visitors, whether imparting knowledge of the buildings and artefacts, offering directions or advice or just passing the time of day. This can of course slow down the completion of tasks. However, everyone relishes their role in ensuring that visitors have an enjoyable and safe visit.

So whilst it was quiet, the farm team were getting on with the tasks in hand. There was firstly the need to return artefacts removed for filming back to the farm buildings. Fortunately there had been minimal physical impact on the farm site, which was a relief considering the number of people involved as well as the vehicles used.

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A key winter task was to increase grazing available for the farm’s livestock. With pressure on existing grazing space, it was decided to open up Toll House field and other areas where scrub had encroached in recent years.

Volunteers worked hard to remove intrusive scrub, much of it hawthorn and bramble.  These have the habit of fighting back, inflicting minor wounds on any unguarded parts of the body, ripping into clothing and causing just a little cussing!

With the scrub cleared, it will be easier for grass and other meadow plants to re-generate. But it is also important to control scrub re-growth. So bring in Beverly and Crystal, the farm goats who will be the first animals to use the field as they will enjoy munching away at any intrusive re-growth.

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As well as clearing the scrub, a bigger task was to ensure that the hedging and fencing was in a suitable condition to stop the escape artist goats and lambs from testing the boundaries out. One side of the field had a relatively recently planted hedge that was just about ready for laying. This has now been laid and filled with some of the cut scrub to ensure there are no holes for stock to squeeze through whilst the hedge continue to develop its strength.

The next stage of field preparation was to renew stock fencing where the hedge was not a sufficient barrier, particularly for inquisitive lambs. And with this complete, staff and volunteers have moved on to mending or renewing fencing in other fields including the Hidden Meadow, which is also part of the plan to increase stock grazing capacity.

Another more mature hedge was laid in one of the arable fields through December and January. Whilst this work was being completed, the farm’s artefacts team commenced working of the renovation of a Fordson Super Major tractor and a hay sweep, but more on these in separate blogs.

The Museum’s peace and tranquillity was shattered towards the end of February with the visit of Doris. She was an unwelcome visitor that all were pleased to see the back of. Causing havoc across many parts of the Chilterns, storm Doris gate-crashed the Museum inflicting damage on some buildings as she rampaged across the site. Fortunately for the farm team, there does not seem to have been any major damage to farm structures or woodland. So staff and volunteers can continue to focus on the planned activities prior to welcoming all ‘well-behaved’ visitors on 1 April.

By Julian Stanton
Farm Volunteer

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Culture, Crafts and Communities

culture event at COAM

Culture, Crafts and Communities

Visit Chiltern Open Air Museum on 1 April for our By Donation day and discover how our historic buildings evoke memories for different communities living in the Chilterns.

Anna Pool from the Learning Team writes about how all communities find resonance in our wonderful collection of historic buildings from the Chilterns.

Do you ever go abroad and feel like you are at home in the surroundings? It’s funny how certain environments, buildings or objects resonate with our own personal histories and often visitors to COAM experience this. Perhaps it is because we all share a common experience of everyday life as human beings, despite our age, country of origin, mother tongue, religion or any other factors which can be seen diversive.

Certainly when I first took my Mum on a tour around the Museum I was fascinated by how many memories it brought back for her, particularly the 1940s Prefab. We spent a lot of time in there while my Mum relayed many memories of visits to her Aunt’s Prefab home in the 1950s; of washing clothes in a copper boiler just like the one in the kitchen; of listening to the wireless and of course photographs of my mother, as a baby, being pushed in a pram just like the one in the back bedroom. Sometimes it can be a particular object in a building that holds a personal memory. For me it is the highchair in the prefab’s sitting room which evokes special memories for me, as my Mum had kept a similar one which she used for my brother and I back in the 1970s, and I later used with my eldest child who is now 16. Every time I see it I am transported back in time!

It’s not just visitors from Britain that recognise the economic design of our Prefab. While showing a visitor round recently, I was surprised to hear that she had seen many Prefabs still being used as family homes in rural Russia.

Just next to our Prefab is a Nissen Hut, a military type of building of which there are some examples still around in this area. I have been lucky enough to hear many of our visitors recall memories of their own experiences of these unique buildings.

A similar Nissen Hut was used as a synagogue by the Jewish community in Haversham, near Wolverton, Buckinghamshire during WW2 until it was closed in 1947. The South Bucks Jewish community will be joining us on our opening day at COAM and will be holding their Shabbat service between 10 am – 11 am. Visitors are more than welcome to join the service and I hope to hear one or two stories from the group later in the day!

culture round house

While running education workshops I often hear both adults and children describe how they have seen or done something very similar in their home countries. The Iron Age Roundhouse seems to be a magical place of memories where visitors describe how their grandmother in India still grinds grain using a rotary quern and bakes her bread in a clay oven just like the one they see in the roundhouse. Others have walked towards the building declaring that they are ‘back in Africa’ where round homes are still built using wattle and dorb with a thatched roof.

Even during ‘wash day’ workshops I have talked with visitors from Poland and Czechoslovakia who used to help their mother wash their clothes using a wash tub and wash board; and then there is the unmistakable smell of carbolic soap which can transport any of us over a particular age, right back to our childhood!

I am sure that as you are reading this you are thinking of a building or an object that you may have seen from our collection that has special meaning for you. Please do come along on Saturday 1st April, to see some of the stories and memories we have collected from local community groups who will be joining us to support this spectacular event. And if you have not yet visited COAM then I invite you to come along to our opening event and find out which building evokes the most memories for you! To mark the opening of the Museum for the 2017 season the 1st April will also be a ‘by donation day’ for this day only we are waiving standard admission prices and allowing visitors entry to the Museum by paying a donation only.

Look out for the West Indian Story teller performing during the day at 12 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm, as well as craft demonstrations with opportunities to join in from 11 am – 4 pm including traditional weaving, Iron Age cooking, basketry and traditional thatching demonstrations in our Medieval barn.

We look forward to welcoming you to our multi- cultural day of sharing stories on 1 April, the first day of our new 2017 season.

This special multi-cultural event is kindly funded by Arts Council England.

 

 

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André the Giant

Andre the Giant

Scenes from Sky Art’s film André the Giant filmed at COAM

Chiltern Open Air Museum recently played host to a Sky Arts film about Samuel Beckett and the famous wrestler André the Giant. The film featured ‘Shameless’ star actor David Threlfall and aired recently on Sky Arts; if you missed it, it’s still available on catch up.

The filmmakers used the Museum’s rescued Haddenham Cottage and the beautiful Chilterns landscapes at the Museum to represent the French countryside where Samuel Beckett lived later in his life and commissioned a cottage to be built. The story is about André, the son of the French builder working on Beckett’s cottage: André, who has gigantism, is unable to go to school on the bus with other children so Beckett drives him to school each day in his truck.

The school scenes take place outside the Museum’s cast-iron Edwardian toilets and Astleham Cottage, which represent the French school in the story. Haddenham Cottage, which visitors to the Museum may recognise as the white cottage made from ‘wychert’ (a unique local building material), features in the first scene of this short film where Becket and André’s father are in the living room watching television. The Museum’s Victorian forge also makes an appearance as the home of André and his father, and some lovely night scenes showing the forge lit up were actually filmed early on Bonfire night, narrowly avoiding the sound of fireworks in the background!


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The Future of Volunteering

 The future of volunteering

The Future of Volunteering?

Some voluntary organisations have recently argued that there is a financial imperative to embrace new ways of volunteering. It is true that many Museums, assuming they receive any regular funding at all, are seeing cuts to their funding. If you presume that volunteers only create economic value, you could argue that volunteers may be a way to “save you money”. At Chiltern Open Air Museum we engage volunteers to “add value” to the Museum experience. This draws on the argument that volunteers produce value that is not simply economic; they produce private and social value (less tangible benefits for themselves, the organisation and society more widely). When volunteering focuses on the additional benefits of volunteering, rather than seeing it as a means to reduce costs, we make best use of volunteers’ enthusiasm, skills and knowledge.

One of these news ways of volunteering is microvolunteering, defined by Institute for Volunteering Research as “bite-size volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete.” Although some organisations argue that there are clear benefits to microvolunteering, I believe that it has some critical flaws. It is suggested that the short duration and repetitive nature of microvolunteering allows organisations to target the demographics missing from their volunteer base, for example allowing parents with limited free time to volunteer. Unfortunately, this assumes that volunteering is the best use of time for those people who don’t currently volunteer. With Museums trialing new engagement strategies (see for example the Natural History Museum, who are advertising “visiteering” – a portmanteau of “visiting” and “volunteering”), I believe that they are eroding the foundations of both those activities.

The concept of “gamification” also emerges in microvolunteering: the idea that engagement can be encouraged by applying game design techniques. For example the Natural History Museum advertises: “You will be set a challenge relating to the collections”. This builds on the trend for phrasing activities as competitions, and emphasising the instant gratification that occurs with the successful completion of the “challenge”. By phrasing volunteering as “a game” or “a challenge” we are excluding those volunteers whose motivations are not aligned with this way of thinking, like those who are volunteering for social reasons or out of a sense of charity. At Chiltern Open Air Museum, we have found that value is created by consulting and working with volunteers and integrating them into a community.

It is argued that the “many hands make light work” principle applies: is it better for 100 people to give 5 minutes of their time, or for one person to volunteer for a day? When volunteering focuses on longer term aims, the relationship between the volunteer and the organisation is strengthened, and the volunteer is enabled to develop skills which cannot be cultivated when the focus is short term. While the economic value of the two situations above might be roughly equivalent, I would argue that the private and social value are much higher when the length of volunteering is increased: expertise and confidence take time to grow.

We need to become advocates of volunteering best practice before people’s expectation of volunteering is significantly altered by this trend towards microvolunteering and gamification. If we allow people to see volunteering as bite-size, informal and challenging, this does not bode well for the time when the “missing demographics” become our “core demographic”. We must ensure that volunteering opportunities have value and that the experience is meaningful.

George Hunt
Visitor Services Team Leader


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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 Pleasure of Volunteering

The Pleasure of Volunteering – A New Volunteer’s Endorsement

It’s a bitterly cold winter’s day. The sky is grey and the increasingly heavy rain is threatening to turn to snow.  The icy wind’s tentacles feel their way through every gap in my clothing. I am working alone.

A relatively new volunteer on the Museum farm, I am working at the side of a field today, adding the binders to a nearly completed laid hedge. My hands in my saturated work gloves are cold and the rain is creeping through those not so waterproof parts of my old rain jacket.

One year previously I would have been sat in my warm and dry office feeling pity for the wet and cold workmen on the building site opposite. But today I am happy. In fact, I am far happier than I was in my office going about my stressful managerial role. I am enjoying myself in these inhospitable conditions. Thank you Fate that gave me the early retirement opportunity to stand here on such miserable day!

So what attracted me as a volunteer and why am I happy to be wet and cold in a muddy field today? I had previously worked with another voluntary group that occasionally helped the Museum farm with specific projects. This gave me an insight into the Museum and its people. I had noticed the enthusiasm and dedication of the staff and other volunteers and their welcoming nature, and thought that one day I would like to become a regular volunteer.

The opportunity came and I took it. Over six months on, I am thoroughly enjoying my small role and remain enthused by the positive environment. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. There are no targets or expectations other than your own. You can dedicate as little or as much time as you want. Of course volunteers want to do a good job and be effective in their own way. One word of warning though – it’s addictive!

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Volunteers can choose to bring their own skill sets to their role. They often volunteer in areas they have an interest in such as building construction or gardening. Others, as I have chosen, do something completely different to their skills and interests. And what is so encouraging is that the staff and other volunteers give you the time, patience and encouragement to help you learn new skills.

Working in a cold wet field on my own today is entirely my choice. The task needed completing and the farm is short of volunteers today. So I just get on with it. But I am not unusual. Far from it. The Museum has many volunteers working on the farm, maintaining the Museum’s buildings and gardens that will also be out working in all conditions to help run and maintain the Museum – and enjoying it!

Although there is no pressure, volunteers are very committed to the Museum and are usually more than happy doing something they might not really want to do. And when it’s done, they feel great!

Volunteering is critical for the successful operation of the Museum. Without volunteers there would probably be no Museum as funding would not cover the value volunteers bring. And this value cannot be brought. As well as skills and experience some volunteers bring, others just bring enthusiasm, dedication and determination.

So it is a win, win situation. Volunteers get to do something worthwhile which they enjoy and the Museum gets the additional resource it needs to maintain an enjoyable visitor experience.

So if you are interested in volunteering, to get an idea of the opportunities, visit https://www.coam.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/ Maybe you will be joining me in the rain one winter – or on dry and sunny summers day!