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Historic Baking in Leagrave Cottage at Chiltern Open Air Museum

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Looking out over the Village Green at Chiltern Open Air Museum stand two labourers’ cottages from Leagrave in Luton. Originally a barn, the building was divided and converted into dwellings in the 1770s, as dated by a George III copper farthing found when the building was dismantled.


Leagrave Cottage



One side of the cottages provides a picture of 1920s life, but the other replicates the cottage at the time of conversion, complete with open fireplace and a hole in the wall sealed with an iron door. This is a vaulted bread oven made of brick and lined with lime, which played a key part in the diets of the families who lived there 250 years ago. Brick ovens were used extensively by the Romans, and this method of baking continued into the 18th century.


Jenny Templeton, a Museum volunteer, has been bringing Leagrave Cottage to life, baking bread in this traditional manner. As an experienced re-enactor with a background teaching cookery, she has used her knowledge to master the skills required to bake a batch of up to 10 delicious loaves.


Historic Bread Baking



Before baking can begin, wood has to be gathered and a small fire lit in the front of the oven. This is gradually fed and spread across the oven floor so that two hours later, all that remains are glowing embers and any soot has burnt off the walls to leave them white hot.


Without the aid of modern thermometers, there are different methods for checking the temperature is just right. A little flour sprinkled on the oven floor should quickly turn brown but not burn, or striking the side of the oven produces sparks. Some cooks would use a white stone that changed colour as it heated and these were historically known as ‘wise men’ in Buckinghamshire.


Once the oven is hot enough, the embers are raked out using a ‘scuffle’ (a long-handled hoe) and ash removed with wet rags tied to a stick, known as a ‘mawkin’. The risen loaves are carefully placed into the oven using a ‘peel’ or paddle, before the door is closed and sealed with clay or leftover dough. Once this has dried out and begins to fall off the bread is probably done, though a good sense of smell is required to prevent any burnt bits!


The phrase ‘the upper crust’ stems from this historic way of baking. Loaves made in this way often emerge from the oven with a layer of ash covering their base. This was cut off for the gentry, leaving them with only the soot-free top of the loaf.


If you’re a budding historic cook, you can join Jenny for an Experience Day baking in Leagrave Cottages and see if you can perfect a loaf of your own using the traditional bread oven. Experience days cost £35 for one or £60 for 2 when booked together.

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There is a hum of excitement in the Chiltern Open Air Museum Offices…


We have just been told some very exciting news: we have been shortlisted for the Small Visitor Attraction of the Year Awards in the Visit England Awards for Excellence 2014! We are guaranteed to win either a Gold, Silver, Bronze or a Highly Commended Award, which will rank us as one of the top four small attractions in England!

Following the Museum’s success in winning Gold in the Tourism South East Beautiful South Awards in November last year, all Gold Award winners were eligible for entry to these national prestigious awards.  Chiltern Open Air Museum will be representing the best of Buckinghamshire attractions for the South East. We’re thrilled to have been shortlisted, with the visiting judge describing the Museum as a ‘Hidden Gem’.

This is a huge achievement to the Museum’s staff and volunteers, for all of the copious extra hours of work and labours of love that make the site what it is today and help bring all of the Museum’s buildings to life in an engaging way.

The winners will be announced on the 12th May at a glittering award ceremony at Cheltenham Racecourse – wish us luck!


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New Faces at Chiltern Open Air Museum

HLF Skills for the Future Trainees at Chiltern Open Air Museum


Chiltern Open Air Museum has just welcomed three new members of staff under the ‘Skills for the Future’ programme, part of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This year’s successful recruits are Heather Pike, who will be the Visitor Services Assistant learning about volunteer management and visitor services operations, Tom Pearce who will be working as Education Assistant focusing on running education programmes, and Henry Dyhouse who will be developing his skills in interpretation and events co-ordination as the Interpretation Assistant.


‘Skills for the Future’ offers work-based training in a wide range of skills that are needed to look after buildings, landscapes and museum and archive collections, as well as equipping people to lead education and outreach programmes and manage volunteers. Its focus is on vocational learning, helping meet the skills gaps identified by heritage bodies, and on encouraging potential trainees from all walks of life. Trainees learn how to engage families, schools and communities with their heritage, bringing heritage sites and collections alive for the next generation.


The Museum opens again on 29 March and the 2014 season runs until 31 October, with events most weekends. You can discover more about Heather, Tom and Henry’s experiences on their new blog.

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News for 2014


The 2013 Beautiful South Awards at the Felbridge Hotel and Spa

We were delighted that last November the Museum won the Gold Award for Small Attraction of the Year in the Tourism South East Beautiful South Awards. Following our earlier award in 2013 from Bucks Advertiser for Pride of Bucks Environmental Award we are so very proud that the achievements of our staff and all our amazing volunteers have been recognised by our local community and the judges of these awards. We would like to thank Artesan Printers for sponsoring our staff to attend the awards dinner and for their invaluable support in the production of our 2014 leaflets.

Over the winter we have greeted two new arrivals – our two female short horn cows which have come to us from a local farm in Prestwood. They are settling in to their new home in Hill Farm Barn and we are delighted to announce that they have recently been named Clematine and Clarabelle through the name the cows competition.  Thank you to all of you who entered the competition to help raise farm funds.

The Museum is gearing up for an exciting new Season in 2014 with new events such as our Traditional Easter Treats and back by very popular demand the spectacular Medieval Jousting event from 2013 and the Roman Gladiators. Not for the faint hearted!

The Museum is pleased to welcome new Learning Officer Cathy Silmon to our team this year and sad to say goodbye to Holly Lees, who left in December 2013. We are delighted to welcome our three new trainees Heather Pike, Tom Pearce and Henry Dyhouse who take up the challenge of working with our learning and visitor services team and are settling in well.

School visits start again from 24 February and Cathy and her team have a very exciting year of themed weeks and workshops with new self led activities for the themed weeks to support curriculum topics. The Iron Age themed weeks should be very popular with schools in supporting this new topic in the Curriculum!

The Museum opens to the public on 29 March with donations day to see the museum in return for a donation, which is invaluable to the survival of our charity. If you like keeping fit, then come and join us on the next day for the Chiltern Warrior Extreme Run on 30 March. Visit the Chiltern Warrior web site to book a place on this very popular sporting event.