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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.

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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.

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Folding Oxford Down sheep on young rye in June.

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

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The Nissen Hut

We were overwhelmed with the support that we received during our social media campaign to find us a WWI Nissen Hut. Infact we found 2! We’re in the process of seeking funds to re-erect our newest additions, which we hope to rebuild and interpret respectively as a WWI Nissen Hut and WWII-style NAAFI during the next two years. Our mission is to rescue and re-erect threatened buildings, and each one is meticulously photographed and documented before being carefully transported here to the heart of the Chilterns, repaired, and re-erected. The new Nissen Hut will primarily be used as a much-needed education space for schools and the local community, and will have a WWI theme to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. The first of the two Nissen Huts has now been moved to the Museum and the buildings team are busy evaluating and planning the work that needs to be done on it so that it can be rebuilt at the Museum.

Our Heritage Lottery Buildings Trainee Sam Rowland-Simms tells us a bit more about Nissen Huts and the process the buildings team are going through in order to rebuild them at the Museum.

Rebuilding a Nissen Hut

The Nissen hut is an iconic building design, famed for its simple and versatile structure, made up of a series of curved metal ribs and covered in sheets of corrugated iron or steel. You might then imagine that it would be a simple job to re-erect one but, oh, you would be very wrong.

WWI Nissen Hut

Picture above is of a WWI Nissen Hut courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

That said, right from the outset it would seem we have been intent on making it as difficult as possible for ourselves! Firstly we decided to opt for an early WWI design, to coincide with the centenary of the war, rather than a later WWII design. The difference being that the WWI design is semi-circular in profile while the later designs had a curved profile that extended past a semi-circle. The ribs we got hold of, though, are of the WWII variety so will need to be cut down to the right size. They will also need to have new holes drilled for the 135 hook bolts that attach the ribs to the purlins, that Museum blacksmith Brian has lovingly made.

A second issue is that the ribs of the WW1 design are of a smaller radius. Rather than re-bend our ribs, we have adapted the drawings for the larger radius and from this created a new list of materials that we will need.

Nissen Hut Parts

Picture above shows the component parts of the Nissen Hut that we hope to soon have. Pictures courtesy of the Imperial World War Museum.

Only when we have the materials list and new adapted drawings, can we start putting the hut together. Tasks to carry out include building the brick piers, erecting the ribs and bolting on the purlins and sheeting, cutting and fixing into place all the timber parts including the floor panels and the interior cladding and making new doors and windows.

So all in all not a simple job, but also one, through our own meddling, we haven’t made any easier!

Sam Rowland-Simms
HLF Buildings Trainee

If you would like to make a donation towards rebuilding our Nissen Hut you can do so by clicking the donate button on the right hand side or by contacting Richard Berman funding@coam.org.uk 01494 871 117.

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Measuring Volunteering

At the end of June I attended a workshop called Measuring Volunteers: From Inputs to Impact. This was hosted by Museum of London, Docklands – a museum I hadn’t been to before. As someone who works at a collection of historic buildings, I thought they could have made more of their fantastic building – I only found a few plans on display of their imposing early 19th century sugar warehouses. However, the other displays were excellent and gave an engaging history of trade in London. It was interesting to see that their visitors on a Tuesday morning were school groups and mums with small children!

It was great to talk to other “Volunteer Managers” (or “people who work with volunteers”). They came from museums large and small, as well as museums that don’t exist yet (like the Postal Museum – which I’m quite excited about) and cultural/community organisations. This really brought it home to me how different volunteering organisations are – there is no “one size fits all” solution to creating a good volunteering experience.

It was reassuring to hear that other places have a similar approach to us. We currently do very little to measure volunteering, mainly looking at number of volunteers, the number of hours those volunteers give and the activities they do. These can be viewed as inputs into our organisation and we looked at the potential pitfalls of equating these with a financial value or working out a return on investment (a ratio of the “financial value” of volunteers to the “cost” of involving them).

A different and probably better way would be to measure the results of volunteering – the outputs (immediate results – e.g. more guided tours, more presentable site), outcomes (the effect of the immediate results – e.g. higher visitor satisfaction) and impact (higher level strategic results – e.g. more return visits, better understanding of Chilterns history). The difficulty of this approach is that the outcomes and impacts are often intangible or unquantifiable, or at least harder to measure.

We also need to take a step back and consider what our reasons are for measuring volunteering, as this will influence our approach. Across the museum sector, organisations measure volunteering (often in input terms) to justify and apply for funding. If we measure the results of volunteering we can aspire to change peoples’ attitudes towards volunteering by showing its value for the organisation, for the individual and for society more widely. Ultimately at COAM we need to measure volunteering as this will allow us all to develop the organisation to better achieve our mission statement:

“Telling the story of the unique history of the Chilterns through buildings, landscapes and culture for the enjoyment, inspiration and learning of present and future communities.”

George Hunt
Visitor Services Team Leader


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