• -

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

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


  • -

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

Save

Save

Save

Save


  • -

Family Christmas Traditions

Family-Christmas-traditions-COAM-600px

Family Christmas Traditions

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Yolanda Cooper
Events and Hospitality Team Leader

Save


  • -

A poem about Henton Mission Room

Henton Mission Room

Henton Mission.

I am Henton, proud and smart,
Recently dressed with the painters art,
Prim and proper, I can be seen,
Suitably placed on the edge of the green.

Where:
I watch the visitors passing by,
Some, they come inside,
Especially when the music plays:
Oh Lord, with me Abide.’

I’m always prim and proper,
As a mission house should be,
With flowers upon the altar,
And cushions for the knee.

Aunt Leagrave, she sits next to me,
We often have a chat,
On how the seasons going,
It’s generally this and that.

She’s getting rather elderly,
And slightly down at heel,
She’s forever asking builders,
To improve her sex appeal.

No doubt another face lift,
Will come along in time,
But she’ll never have an overcoat,
That’s half as smart as mine!

The other side is Garston,
Separated by the hedge,
I cannot stand his smoking,
It puts my teeth on edge!

The nasty smuts they fly aloft,
Along with a horrible smell,
They drop all over my nice new coat,
(But I dare not ring my bell).

He’s quite a noisy neighbour,
Not genteel at all,
Smokes and pants throughout the day,
(Then peers around the wall!)

I generally just ignore him,
With his crass and brutish ways,
But just to say when speak I must:
‘How are you these fine days?’

But when the nights start drawing in,
And season’s end is nigh,
The harvest starts to gather in
The barley, wheat and rye.

That’s the time that I like best,
The time I primp and preen,
The time when all is gathered in,
And harvest bounty seen.

The loaves and stoups, the fruit and flowers,
The product of the land,
The means and ways to feed us,
By some bountiful Great Hand.

The floor is swept, the organ plays,
Come children, squire and spouse,
They’ll still be plenty left to feed,
The resident harvest mouse.

After Harvest things are quiet,
Visitor numbers fall,
Jack Frost is nipping at the toes,
At the approach of Winter’s thrall.

There’s only two more things to pass,
Before New Year is seen,
The civilised sounds of Christmas –
And:  Bloomin Hallowe’en!

Bryn the Bard
Museum Volunteer

Save


  • -

Leavesden Apple Store

Leavesdon-Apple-Store

This is Leavesden apple store being dismantled in March 1994, in its original home in the grounds of Leavesden Mental Hospital. It was originally constructed in 1904 as a ‘steeping room’ for disinfecting badly soiled clothing and bedding. It was later filled with shelves and used as an apple store. It was donated to the Museum by the Horizon NHS trust when the hospital site was due to be demolished and redeveloped.

The Leavesden Hospital was built between October 1868 and October 1870. It was one of two asylums built by the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The second was at Caterham in Surrey. Leavesden Hospital occupied a site of 76 acres. It consisted of fifteen main buildings, including a chapel. There were eleven three-story ward blocks each accommodating 160 patients, five male blocks and six female blocks. The hospital was designed to be self-sufficient, with its own bakery, kitchens and workshops, and laundry.

Repair works began at the Museum in 1994 and it was completed on the 10th September, 1997. It was officially opened on 19th October, 1997 by Roy Thomas. The building is now surrounded by an apple orchard which is quite fitting considering its past use.

Leavesden Apple Store

This is Leavesden Apple Store now at Chiltern Open Air Museum.

Save

Save


  • -

How to play conkers

Conkers

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

Conker on woodland floor

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

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

How to play conkers

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

How to play conkers

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

Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trialing the game

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

playing conkers

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

playing conkers at COAMhistoric games playing conkersConkers winner

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

Written by Helen Light
Marketing Officer

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


  • -

What are the Chilterns?

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

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

The woodland at COAM

The woodlands at the Museum.

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

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

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

Wall made of flint at COAM

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

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

Blacksmith at work

A blacksmith at work in the forge at the Museum.

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

By George Hunt
Visitor Services Team Leader

Save


  • -

The Art of Haymaking Part 1

July – August 2016

“Oh our hay it is mown and our corn it is reaped, our barns are full and we’ve garnered the seed…”

The last couple of months have seen everyone down on the COAM Farm toiling out in the hot fields under a bright sun helping with two of the most important summer jobs in the farming year: haymaking and harvest.

Part One (July): ‘The Art of Haymaking’

Before I arrived at COAM I was under the impression that ‘hay’ – an all-important winter animal fodder – was grass that had been cut and then just abandoned in the sunshine for a few days before being efficiently gathered up into the familiar bales. However, I was very quickly to learn how much more complex and delicate a process is the art of making good hay!

  1. First, using an appropriate method, mow your meadow

I did get the basics right: to make hay first of all your meadow full of grasses (diversified perhaps with some wildflowers, such as Hardheads), which has been ‘shut up’ since the Spring to allow it to grow tall, must be cut. This usually happens sometime between midsummer and the beginning of August; exactly when you decide to cut may be down to several different factors but the timing, ideally when several dry and sunny days are forecast, is critical to the nutritional quality of the hay. Cut too late (especially in a beautiful hot summer like we’ve had this year) and it will be little more than desiccated chewy stalks more appropriate for bedding than food. Cutting it too green will result in its needing more turning to dry it out which again decreases the nutritional quality, and the longer it is sitting out in the field after cutting the greater the chance of a rain shower to require even more handling and increasing the risk of mould.

Historically, hay was mown using the English Scythe, and I spent a day along with the rest of the Farm Team being trained in the use of this graceful implement and it’s close Continental cousin, the much lighter Austrian Scythe. To start with, we learnt a little of the historical changes in English Scythe production, particularly how advances in factory steel-making affected the shape and robustness of the blade. After we were shown how to adjust and set up each scythe to our individual proportions to enable comfortable and safe use and had had a lesson in technique, we were let loose onto the tall grass in Grey’s Field.

mowing-training-COAM-600px

‘Farm Team Volunteers Scythe Training Day, July 2016 (Lyndsey using English Scythe, left; Penny using Austrian Scythe, right)’.

In Victorian times, a gang of men would carry out this task, one man following on in a line adjacent to the next, once the latter had got far enough in front that the swinging arc of his sharp blade would be a safe distance away. The traditional song ‘One Man Went To Mow’ apparently gives approximately the right timing for the start of each man in the gang: the leader starts off on “One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow…” with the second following at the start of the second verse (“two men went to mow…”) and so on. (Though quite what the dog – Spot – did, I am still unclear!).

Just as in much else when it comes to traditional farming methods, to mow effectively using a scythe the devil seems to appear in the detail. The idea is to lean slightly forward from the hips, swinging the blade in an arc through 180o from one side of the body to another and slicing through the grass stems as low down as possible, rocking gently from foot to foot to creep steadily forward. The trick to graceful and seemingly effortless mowing (which is much harder, and a great deal more effort, than it looks!) is in working with the weight of the tool, using the swinging action to help cut the crop and carry the blade back to start the next arc. Another critical lesson was in maintaining the level of the blade across the length of the arc to prevent it either from raising up too high or otherwise from digging into the ground – not only potentially dangerous but a sure way to quickly blunt the blade!

  1. Dry evenly under a warm sun, turning once or twice a day.

Once it is cut and lying in rows called ‘windrows’, the  drying grass must be turned regularly to ensure it is drying evenly and not fermenting underneath. In the past, this was all done using pitchforks. The invention of the horse-drawn hay turner in the nineteenth century speeded up the process somewhat although it must have been a ridiculous sight when it first arrived in the fields, as in action it looks something like a giant insect running along behind the horse, flinging hay high in the air as it goes as if searching crazily for some special treasure! I was lucky enough to take a turn at driving Joshua, one of our Shire horses, with this rather unique machine, under the guidance of chief horseman Robert MacKenzie.

COAM-HLF-Rural-Heritage-Trainee-working-horse-drawn-hay-turner-600px

‘Lyndsey driving Joshua & the Hay Turner, August 2016’.

Josh pushed strongly into his harness as we started across the windrows at a smart pace; sitting high up almost level with his rump I had a good view across the field and the many Red Kites keeping a watchful eye for any unlucky rodents displaced by all the activity. I didn’t have much time for wildlife spotting however, as trying to keep Josh and the Hay Turner as straight along the windrows as possible and at a sensible speed for the implement took most of my concentration. Any spare attention was needed for maintaining my balance on the iron seat perched on top of the shaking, rattling, clattering, rather bouncy machine!

A familiar site in the fields of the past whenever rain was a possibility were ‘haycocks’. The grass-becoming-hay was piled up into egg-shaped mounds which allowed the water to run off, keeping most of the precious crop dry (a little bit like miniature hay ricks).  In the morning, the hay was once more spread out in rows, to carry on the curing and drying process. Observing how the shapes of the ephemeral haycocks endlessly alter as the grass stalks settle against each other and the top layers are moved around by the breeze, seemed to me to reflect the subtle shifts that constantly occur in the landscape. I found the process of building a haycock also particularly meditative, the craftsmanship required focusing my attention in a very ‘mindful’ way.

haycocks-in-Gray's-Field-Jul16-2-600px

  1. Load loose hay, or gather and bind in small bales; best stored in a rick for use as required.

Once the hay is made, today we use machines to bale it up into manageable chunks. Historically however, it would have been pitchforked up loose onto waggons and carted to the rickyard where it was taken off the waggon again and built up in layers to create a ‘hay rick’. During the nineteenth century these large, almost house-shaped structures would have been a notable feature of the rural landscape, lined up along field edges through the autumn and winter months. A large, sharp implement called a ‘hay knife’ was used to cut off large slices as and when it was needed to be fed to livestock and the working horses.

We spend a few days loading bales onto trailers, using the Ferguson tractor or one of our other vehicles to take them round to the top of one of the arable fields, behind Skipping’s Field hedge. Here, they were unloaded and built into a big rectangular bale rick. Once again, there is an art to this, ensuring that the bales are arranged so that they tie each other in (a bit like ‘Sticky Bricks’, if you remember these awesome children’s toys!) maintaining the integrity of the stack as it gets higher and higher, and overlapping the edges and angling the peak to maximise rain runoff and keep the rick dry. The finished structure is about 4m high by 8m long by 5m deep and contains nearly 600 bales of hay, to help keep our hungry sheep, cows, horses and goats fed over the coming months.

loading-bales-on-trailer_July16-1-600px

‘Loading small hay bales with the Ferguson tractor and trailer’.

Written by Lyndsey Rule, Heritage Lottery Funded Site and Farm Trainee


  • -

Wolf Brother author Michelle Paver visits COAM

Wolf Brother author Michelle Paver helps literacy come alive at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Author of Wolf Brother, Michelle Paver came to Chiltern Open Air Museum in May to launch a new Wolf Brother literacy theme day. She chatted with school children about how she created her stories telling them tales of her own experiences meeting wolves and tasting seal blubber! Pupils from Booker Hill School in High Wycombe and Rickmansworth Park School took part in the launch day with Michelle and described the day as ‘a wonderful experience, full of excitement, anticipation and belief’.

Michelle’s page turning Wolf Brother book has sold over a million copies and is the first in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. The Wolf Brother story is set six thousand years ago.  Evil stalks the land, and only twelve-year-old Torak and his wolf-cub companion can defeat it.  Their journey together takes them through deep forests, across giant glaciers, and into dangers they never imagined.

Michelle Paver at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Michelle Paver with the Deer Mage at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Staff at the Museum have created the atmosphere of the story using a replica Mesolithic camp site and woodlands on the Museum’s grounds. Using actor educators, who remain in character through-out, the Wolf Brother story is brought to life, enriching children’s imaginations and immersing them in the story. During the theme day children are asked to ‘walk into the story’ and ‘live in it’ as they meet characters inferred from the Wolf Brother plot.  Through these meetings children gain some understanding of what it was like to live during the Stone Age era. They meet with the Deer Mage in his secret camp and create a totem to protect themselves against the huge evil, killer bear who is hunting Torak. They also meet with a Stone Age hunter who shows them the high value and significance placed on each part of an animal. Finally, they create a Stone Age replica weapon or a ‘journey stick’ as they travel through the Museum grounds and woodland following in the steps of Torak’s wolf cub and his ‘wolf speak’ descriptions.

Michelle Paver signing Wolf Brother books

Michelle Paver signing copies of Wolf Brother

Museum Education Officer, Cathy Silmon who has 22 years working in primary education, believes that when a story context is explored and brought to life, children feel empowered and that this ‘empowering’ then makes a real impact on the quality of their writing.

School children holding up copies of Wolf Brother

Some of the school children that met Michelle Paver at the Wolf Brother literacy theme day launch

Feedback from schools who have attended literacy theme days at the Museum has been fantastic;

The day after the trip the kids were amazing, retelling the story of Little Red Hen, even children who normally say nothing were talking and adding their own bits… We are expecting great work from them in the coming weeks.’

The Museum offers literacy theme days exploring Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian, The Little Red Hen, Goldilocks, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, The Three Little Pigs and Owl Babies. All are cross-curricular theme days that combine both history and literacy.

The Wolf Brother literacy Theme Day is now available to book.

Save

Save

Save

Save


  • -

Out in the Museum Arable Fields

April – July 2016

Right back at the beginning of April, I helped sow a crop of rye on two acres of our arable fields, which had been ploughed over the winter. We sowed the seed using our Monarch Corn Drill, made by L.R. Knapp & Co in the 1920s. Although originally it was designed to be drawn by two horses, the corn drill has since been converted for use with a tractor, as many implements were, and we used our little 1950s Ferguson to pull it.

COAM-Rural-Heritage-Trainee-operating-corn-drill-cropped-600px

Conway and Lyndsey drilling a rye crop using the corn drill and Ferguson tractor, 1st April.

The corn drill is essentially a long thin box, with small holes cut at regular intervals in the bottom into which the seed falls due to the movement of the drill. Below each hole, a chute guides seeds down into a shallow furrow in the soil, which is cut by the coulter attached at the bottom of each chute. We pulled a chain harrow behind the drill to lightly cover over the seed. The invention of the horse-drawn corn drill in English agriculture by Jethro Tull in the 1700s made a huge difference to the amount that could be sown efficiently, with much greater control over rates and consistency. It also enabled advances in weed control, as sowing in rows allowed for easier management of hoeing and the development of further horse-drawn devices. Before then, seed was either broadcast by hand or using a seed fiddle to scatter the crop rather randomly across the field. In the photo you can see that the newly-germinated rye is growing in rows.

Baby rye crop

The new crop – the drilled rye germinating at the end of April on the flinty chalk Chiltern soil

Before we got as far as sowing however, we had to winnow (or raddle) the seed. This means cleaning the chaff and straw and bits of thistle out so that you are left with clean seed, and was achieved by agitating a flat sieve held at an angle over a bucket or wheelbarrow. The seed falls through the sieve into the barrow and the rubbish either blows away or can be brushed off onto the ground. Cleaning the seed like this means it will be sown more evenly across the field and is less likely to clog up the drill. It also means that you can measure out a more accurate seed rate; we sowed one and a half bushels of cleaned seed to the acre.

Our Farm Manager, Conway Rowland, drove the Fergie, while my job was to ride on the drill and check that the seed was flowing evenly down each of the twelve chutes and to free any blockages (using a stick or a long-handled screwdriver), that the chutes remained attached to the coulters and that the coulter pegs, which allow the drill greater flexibility over rough ground, didn’t break. As well as this, I kept half an eye on the harrow being pulled behind to make sure it wasn’t getting too choked up with any debris. It was a very exhilarating experience: the combined clattering of the three pieces of machinery (tractor, corn drill and harrows) over the flinty Chiltern soil was very noisy and I had to keep at least one hand holding on tight in case of a sudden lurch over a particularly uneven patch. The noise and movement combined with having so many things to focus on doing was absorbing and I felt as though I was part of one big machine.

shandybarrow

Lyndsey sowing a mixed grass forage ley using the shandybarrow

A fortnight later, we used the shandybarrow to sow a grass and clover forage mix under two acres of rye that had been sown before Christmas (which we will use to thatch the hay rick in the farmyard). The shandybarrow, which can be seen in action in the photo below, is a simpler version of the corn drill. It is a similar long (ours is 12 foot), narrow seed box, with holes in at regular intervals for the seed to fall out on the ground. A little metal plate which can be moved across each hole to different degrees allows some control over how many seeds fall out at a time. This box sits on what is essentially a wheelbarrow frame and the whole thing is pushed by hand. We sowed 7 gallons of the ley seed to the acre. It was rather hard work pushing the ‘barrow backwards and forwards across the field – especially up the steep hill behind the Iron Age house! I had to keep an eye on heading towards the point on the headland, which we’d measured out to the middle of the ‘barrow, in order to keep a straight(ish) line. When I got there, I turned the shandybarrow (making sure I didn’t clout the hedge with one end!), to start at the next point already measured out one ‘barrow’s width along, and set off again, back across the field. But it was a lot quieter than sowing with the tractor and corn drill, and although I still had to concentrate hard, I was more in control of the pace and able to notice the sound of a skylark singing across the valley and a robin watching me from the hedge behind Haddenham Croft Cottage. Since it was sown in April, this ley has been establishing under the growing rye crop, helping to compete with and keep down weeds. Once the rye has been harvested in the next few weeks, this forage ley will be able to grow up quickly and can be used for grazing in the autumn when other grass is becoming scarce to find.

In the Chilterns an historical practice as part of the mixed farm system was the folding of sheep on arable land, to provide a good source of grazing for the sheep (often over the winter) while fertilising the ground with manure, improving it for the next crop at the same time. Since the end of May, we have been grazing some our sheep on the two acres of rye that we sowed with the corn drill. Originally, folding would have been using wooden hurdles: the flock would have been penned tightly over a small area and moved onto a new patch the following day. The Oxford Down breed was developed especially to cope with living in these close-knit conditions and to do well on the thin chalky soils of the Chilterns. However, due to the huge amount of manpower which was required in the historical practice to move tens of hurdles every day, we have used rather more modern electric fencing to open up the next strip of the tasty, ungrazed crop to the flock each day.

sheep-lineup_rye-folding_Jun16_cropped_600px

Folding Oxford Down sheep on young rye in June.

By Lyndsey Rule
HLF Site and Farm Trainee at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save