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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!

 


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Summer Nights to Brighten the Winter Gloom

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Taking a look back at our 2016 wedding season there are some amazing photographs of how wonderful our site looks when it’s alive at night.

In the darkness and gloom of winter looking back at our summer season is a good reminder of how magical evenings can be….when the darkness doesn’t descend at 4.30pm.

 

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In addition to our weddings we run several events that allow you to roam the Museum in the evening. Our Enchanted Museum Event is one of them, and we will be running this very special event again on the 13th May 2017. The event has a magical theme and gives visitors the chance to explore the Museum in the evening until 8.30pm.

 

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The unique and different ways that the Museum’s buildings can be used and decorated is fantastic, and the addition of tents, tipis and marquees offers lots of ways to personalise the space.

I’m very excited to be joining the amazing team at COAM as their new Events and Hospitality Team Leader. It’s been a pleasure to look though all these wonderful photographs of the site and I am very much look forward to making all the events and weddings this year as successful as they have been.

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Should you have any enquires about weddings, we are currently taking bookings for 2018 onwards. We are always delighted to host such a special occasion.

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Caroline Melia
Events and Hospitality Team Leader

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Goataly unpredictable

Goats at COAM

 

One of the pleasures for staff and volunteers alike at the Chiltern Open Air Museum farm, advises Farm Manager Conway Rowland, is taking the Old English Goats, Beverly and Crystal for their morning walk. Well that was what I was told as a rookie volunteer some months ago.  I guess he would say that to encourage volunteers to take their turn!

Goats were a feature of many traditional Chiltern farms of yesteryear supplying milk, cheese and the occasional meal. The Museum previously had rescue goats of varying varieties and behaviours. But a little after these had one by one passed on to cause trouble in a higher place than they had previously been able to reach, a decision was made to acquire two new goats.

But not any old goats. They had to be Old English, a breed that had been doing their job well for 5000 years only to be ousted from the late 1800s by higher yielding foreign goats from Switzerland, India and the Middle East and interbreeding became rife in the desire to improve goat productivity.

With low numbers of this traditional breed remaining, it was only right that the Museum’s goats, which arrived late in 2015, should be the Old English breed.

Visitors may see Beverly and Crystal in their night time pen outside of Hill Farm Barn, but more likely in one of the fields around the farm during Museum opening hours – assuming they have not escaped! So at sometime around 9-10.00am, someone has to escort the two young ladies on their daily walk from their pen to the field.

Goat Walking at COAM

With dog collars and leads secured, the walker is ready to depart on a circuitous route to what has in effect become a second breakfast opportunity for the goats, who have already demolished their buckets of dry food. The walk, at a relaxed pace (or not), gives the chance for Beverly and Crystal to enjoy, for much of the year, the nutritious hedgerow greenery including hawthorn, nettles and brambles. And even better, the late summer feast of sumptuous fresh blackberries and rosehips.

In fact just about anything goes, preferably from the most awkward place to get at and where the other goat and the walker do not desire to be dragged. Being dragged around is part of the fun of goat walking, particularly when Beverly wants to go one way and Crystal the other!

And watch out the goat walker who disagrees with Crystal. Those horns hurt! If she is in a mood and does not get her own way, a quick butt aimed at the offending goat walker can be delivered. So the walker must alert to deflect the offending horns and deliver a gentle reminder about who is (or thinks they are) the real boss.

Although Crystal’s behaviour is much better as she is maturing, a tactic of keeping Beverly between yourself and Crystal can be a good idea. And no, the reason is not to let Beverly be the recipient of a butt. Crystal would not dare as the smaller Beverly is the dominant goat. However, this tactic can have its problems when the larger Crystal decides to climb over Beverly to get at some tasty treat and the leads get tangled up. Trying to untangle two goats from yourself with absolutely no cooperation from the goats can be interesting!

goat walking at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Both Crystal and Beverly are friendly, gentle goats that on occasion can display nothing worse than a petulant child might. Well they are still ‘kids’ at heart! If they have had a late start to the day and should you come across them on their daily walk, do not be concerned. Well only for the walker!

Please visit them in their field. They both enjoy attention and a good chin rub can make you a friend. But watch out for the electric fence. It’s the only way to keep them from escaping. And please, do not feed them yourself, whether voluntary or involuntary!

And the evening’s walk. Nothing more than a sprint back to their pen where their supper awaits them.

By Julian Stanton
Museum Volunteer

 

 

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The Ansome Ransome

Pink Percy the Thresher

The day was cool the sun was bright
When Keith came thundering up the site
Upon the Fordson clean and blue
It shone, it gleamed, it looked like new!

Fordson tractor at COAM

 

Out of the Mill up to the Farm
(Trying not to do much harm)
Into the yard no bumps or squeals-
Mind the paint on orange wheels!

Stalled to a stop with a little bound
Keith on top looked proudly round.
Volunteers gather with grins of pleasure
The Fordson tractor looks a treasure!

But serious work is close at hand
To tax the skill of this happy band
It’s Harvest Festival this weekend
And Management thoughts are wont to bend
On something special for people to view:
A ‘Ransome Thresher’ with working crew.

The barn doors open wide and clear
(Someone raised a little cheer)
As “Perce” the thresher slowly drew
Into the yard all bright and new.

Ransomes thresher at Chiltern Open Air Museum

 

It’s many a year since he cropped a field
Of corn or barley at harvest yield
With fans and shuffles and bags for feeds
And acolytes to serve his needs.

A goodly vision in Pink and Red
With “RANSOMES” bold, across his head
But now he stands both proud and tall
Ready again to give his all.

Keith manoeuvres into line
Main drive is fixed – it’s almost time
Into Gear!  Engage the drive!

Pink Perce the Thresher comes alive!
The wheels start moving belts rotate
(Why are some in figure eight?)
Big ends move upon a shaft
Working ‘Shuffles’ fore and aft.

Jogging cranks and drums and fans,
(Mind your clothing, watch your hands)
This machine is fairly old
Wasn’t meant for fingers bold!

But stand afar and watch it act
Fans and ‘Walkers’ hum and clack
Awner, Chubber, Shoes and Riddle
Move about down in the middle.

The whole machine does move and sway.
Said Chris and John: “That makes our day-
To see the work of two long years
Swept along without its fears.”

So Visitor, when first you gaze
Upon Pink Perce, you’ll be amaze-d
Let child and adult look with awe
‘Pon this machine from days of yore.

By Bryn the Bard
Museum Volunteer

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December on the COAM farm

Although the Museum was closed to visitors much of December, it was not a quiet month on the farm – far from it!

Like the rest of the Museum, the farm can usually enjoy some respite during the winter months, taking the opportunity to catch up with outstanding tasks, do some housekeeping and plan and prepare for the season ahead.

The goats, sheep, cows, horses and chickens still needed looking after and this meant that farm staff and volunteers had to come in every day of the Christmas holidays to feed and care for them all.

Cows at Chiltern Open Air Museum

 

Then there are the winter tasks that need to get under way in December such as hedgelaying. On many Chiltern farms of yesteryear, hedgelaying was an important task before the advent of wire fencing to keep boundaries maintained and stock in the fields. The winter months provided a little more time for the farmer and farm workers to complete this time consuming work. It is also the best time of year to avoid disturbing nesting birds (today hedgelaying must not take place from March until September).

So December is a great time to get on with this important job at the Museum and the farm’s volunteers have certainly spent some profitable time doing this, completing one side of an arable field. Good going in light of other disruptions!

Hedgelaying is not a quick and easy task and requires skill and patience. One of the characteristics of the Museum is the willingness of staff, assisted by experienced volunteers, to teach skills to new volunteers. So all members of the farm team and other Museum volunteers get the chance to take part in this popular activity.

Hedge and tree maintenance tasks including coppicing, are also best done during winter. This activity provides stakes and binders for hedgelaying, materials for hurdle making and logs for the Museum’s buildings’ fires.

The Museum also can benefit from skills brought along by volunteers. Farm volunteer, Steve Davis, who works in an unrelated full-time job, takes annual leave to come and help with tree maintenance. Steve has invested his own time and money in chainsaw use management.  His help significantly benefits the farm team in completing work that would take much time and effort using traditional hand tools or valuable funds if contractors were needed.

During December the farm was to experience major disruption. On a minor note, the chickens were confined to quarters for a month as a precaution due a new strain of avian flu that put all birds at risk across the UK. Not a major disruption, but the chickens were mighty put out by being shut away!

Goats at Chiltern Open Air Museum

 

Also not so happy were Beverly and Crystal the Old English goats. They were evicted from their home in one of Hill Farm Barn’s outer buildings. The two goats like to keep an eye on comings and goings around the farm from their prominent home, but they had to spend much of December in temporary accommodation in the more isolated lambing folds.

This was because of three weeks of preparation and filming that took place on and around the farm for a major TV drama. Farm buildings including Hill Farm Barn, were required as set locations. And the production company did not want Beverly or Crystal to have starring roles – their loss!

Few of the artefacts housed in Hill Farm Barn or around the farmyard were wanted for filming. So as well as not being able to get on with many of December’s planned tasks, the farm team spent days clearing out the barn and tidying up the farmyard. This required moving artefacts large and small including farm machinery such as the threshing machine, wagons and other machinery.

Although this additional work and restricted access to the farm disrupted farm manager Conway Rowland’s plans for December, Conway appreciated the benefits to the Museum from this opportunity stating; “Revenue from filming is a useful source of additional funding for the Museum. As well as underwriting the day to day running costs, it provides money for projects that help the Museum progress its plans. Hopefully the farm will benefit from some of this extra money!”

Although a useful source of revenue, the Museum wants to minimise the impact such activities have on the visitor experience. So with the Museum closed to the public, there was no disruption to visitors, the production company got the time and space they wanted and the Museum some additional funding.

So with animals and artefacts restored to their normal accommodation, the farm team is ready for January. And another major plus for Conway, “It made us give the barns a good clear-out and tidy up. With a busy schedule throughout the year, it is easy to put off such activity, but when forced to, you realise it was worthwhile!”

Written by farm volunteer Julian Stanton

Pictures by Charles Abbott

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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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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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Summer on the COAM Farm – harvesting rye

harvesting rye

“Harvest Home”

Following on from my earlier blog post (‘The Art of Haymaking’) the other big job that the farm team have been busy with over the summer months has been getting our rye crop harvested.

At COAM we use the long straw of the rye we grow in our arable fields for thatching the ricks in our rickyard, keeping the weather off the hay and straw. During the Middle Ages in England poorer people made a coarse, dark bread, called ‘maslin’, out of rye mixed with weed seeds, ground legumes and sometimes acorns. Wheat was reserved for making ‘manchet’ – a much finer, whiter bread only available to the gentry.

For many centuries the tools used to cut ripe cereal crops such as barley, wheat, rye and oats, remained unchanged: these were either a sickle, a reaping hook, a fagging hook or a scythe. The technique and tool varied partly according to the type of crop and to whether the straw was needed to be kept long and in good condition for thatching, or could be broken up for use as animal bedding.

Medieval labourers reaping crop

Impression of medieval labourers reaping a crop. The tools they are using are either sickles or reaping hooks. For reaping, the crop was held in one hand and cut using a sharp, curved blade. A different technique was fagging (also referred to as ‘bagging’ or ‘swopping’), in which a hooked stick was used to tension the straw and the blade used to slash at the crop close to the ground.

Scythes were one of the tools still in frequent use in the arable fields of England right up to the 1950s, and after receiving some basic training in their use and history (see also previous blog post ‘The Art of Haymaking’), I had a go at cutting some of the rye using a scythe.

mowing rye crop using a scythe

HLF Site and Farm Trainee Lyndsey Rule using a scythe to cut the rye crop in the Museum fields.

I found the technique was not quite the same as it was for mowing hay. For cutting cereals, the blade did not need to be kept as close to the ground; however it was even more important to swing the blade round in a full arc to ensure the crop all fell neatly to one side. If not, the stalks became quickly tangled and life became an awful lot harder for the poor binders following on behind!

During the Victorian period, mechanical means of cutting were invented such as the horse-drawn reaper. Initially these implements were only able to speed up the cutting process, but later models were developed which could bind the corn as well.

Reaper binder at COAM

Reaper-binder adapted for a tractor, cutting the rye crop at COAM in 2009. This sort of setup was in use in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Once the crop is cut, it needs to be gathered into manageable bundles – a ‘sheaf’ – and tied, using a few lengths of the crop twisted together. The sheaves are then ‘stooked’ in the field to allow them to continue to finish ripening and keep dry. These jobs would historically have been largely carried out by women and children, with even very little children assisting with making the twists of straw used for binding the sheaves. Gathering up and binding the corn is harder work than it looks, especially out under the hot summer sun. As well as being a very active task, the rye is incredibly scratchy – particularly the long awns protecting the grain itself, which manage to get into your clothes so they continue to irritate even after you’ve stopped working. Although I loved the experience of being part of the harvest team, this job did make me much more appreciative of the invention of the combine-harvester! I also felt a massive admiration for the many harvest-hands in the late 19th century who were frequently carrying out this hard physical work on a poor diet of little more than rough bread and cheese. On some farms, small beer or cider was provided for drinking, as clean water supplies were few and far between: the only water available was like as not just that which could be scooped out of a nearby field ditch.

binding rye sheath at COAM

 Binding a rye sheaf, August 2016. (Photo by Daniel Romani).

Stooking

Farm volunteers stooking rye sheaves in COAM’s arable fields, August 2016. (Photo by Daniel Romani).

Once it had been stooked, the corn was sometimes built up into a field stack before being taken down to the barn – perhaps for a time when more farm-workers were available from other tasks on the farm, or to allow the corn to keep drying out in the field. We built our rye harvest into three field stacks this year, each stack containing enough for approximately one day’s work with the threshing machine.

building a field stack

Assisting with building a field stack in the field above the Iron Age House. September 2016

the finished field stack

The finished field stack. September 2016

Just like the haycocks, these ephemeral mounds would have been a familiar sight in the fields of the past. A few weeks later and it was time to dismantle the stack and load the rye onto the trailer to bring it into the farmyard, ready for threshing at our Harvest weekend. As with most things, there is an art to loading the sheaves safely. Conway talked me through the basic technique while I stood up on the trailer. By about the third layer I think I’d just about got the hang of it. The sheaves are laid in slightly offset pairs, heads inwards, down the length of the vehicle, with their ‘feet’ hanging out over the edge on the first layer (making sure the load doesn’t end up too wide to fit through gateways!), but gradually being brought in as the load is built up to keep the balance in the centre. At each end, sheaves are laid at 90 degrees to the rest (though still heads inwards and feet out) helping to knit the sheaves together and avoid creating a dip in the middle. I soon got the idea of looking at the differing shapes of each sheaf as it was handed to me and judging how to best to place it to fit neatly against its neighbours, in order to build a balanced load and allow the rain to run off. The most important trick though, especially as I built up higher and higher, was making sure to turn around when I got halfway down the trailer so as not to fall off!

Loading rye sheaves onto the trailer

Loading rye sheaves on the trailer. (Photo by Heather Beeson).

During the winter months, a key task that took place down in barns like our Hill Farm Barn was threshing the crop with a flail to separate the grain from the straw. This was a long and arduous job, but it provided work for the farm labourer at a time when there was little else available after the busy summer months. Then in the late nineteenth century the Thrashing Machine was invented. This incredible contraption manages, via an intriguingly complex journey, to neatly separate relatively large amounts of grain from straw from chaff in a matter of minutes. Although it still needs quite a lot of people around to work it, feed in the sheaves, collect up the straw and bag the clean grain, the thrashing machine was seen as a massive threat to people’s jobs and livelihoods when it first came on the scene. Many farm labourers across the country rebelled, in the form of riots and machine-breaking under the moniker of ‘Captain Swing’. Nowadays, the combine harvester manages to do both the work of the reaper-binder and the thrashing set all in one, and it is a day’s excitement to see a thrashing set such as our handsome pink Ransome Thrashing Machine, in full swing!

threshing machine

 Ransomes Threshing Machine in action threshing this year’s rye crop at the COAM Harvest Weekend, October 2016. (Photo by Clive Thompson).

Ransomes Threshing Machine in action threshing this year’s rye crop at the COAM Harvest Weekend, October 2016. (Photo credit Clive Thompson/COAM).

Our harvest event this year took place over the weekend of the 15-16th October.  The beautiful dark blue Fordson Major tractor, dating from 1950, was used to provide the steady power which pulls the belt and drives the thrasher. As it started up, an air of hushed, excitement fell over the farm team at their various stations around the machine and the expectant visitors crowded around the hurdle barriers alike. All focus was on the pink and red giant box as it began to thrum and vibrate, getting increasingly louder and more urgent as it picked up speed. To set it up correctly for the safe and steady running of the machine, our expert thrashing machine technicians John Smithson and Keith Baggaley, from our Large Artefacts Volunteer Team, felt for and listened to the note created by the vibration, as well as counting the turns of the main drive belt. Using a pitchfork, sheaves were handed up to the two people stationed on top of the thrasher. They cut the bindings and fed in the untied sheaves. I was part of the gang stationed at the back of the thresher, binding the straw back into sheaves as it was chucked out. At the opposite end, Keith showed me the clean grain as it trickles out into the sack, free of all bits of chaff and straw after following its adventurous and convoluted route through the machine.

Over each afternoon we thrashed one trailer-load of rye which gave us just over 3 sacks (around 100kg) of grain. In total we now have ten sacks of rye grain currently stored in Rossway Granary to plant back in the field for growing next year’s crop!

“…so come, my boys, come – we’ll merrily roar out ‘Harvest Home!’”

(Words from a traditional English folk song ‘Harvest Home’, learnt from the singing of my parents; I’m not quite sure where they picked it up!)

Written by HLF Site and Farm Trainee Lyndsey Rule

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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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