Last Weekend I went up to Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge, to run a Weekend of Polelathe courses for Simon Damant who is the forester and manages a lot of the work on the National Trust owned Estate. One thing I like about visiting Wimpole is the big skies and it didn’t disappoint over the weekend as we were treated to sunshine, cloud and impressive thunderstorms.
One of the thunderstorms had a clear funnel cloud and I had to take a photograph just to prove I wasn’t imagining it. It didn’t quite make it to the ground while I was watching – but an impressive sight all the same.
The hall is a big pile, originally started in the 17th Century and added to over the years until handed to the National Trust in 1976 by Elsie Bambridge, Rudyard Kiplings daughter. Thanks to the hospitality of Simon and Jess I got to lay my sleeping bag down in a spare room for a night. Despite Simon’s warning that the wife of the 5th earl still regularly patrols the rooms – I heard nothing – probably due to a few glasses of cider!
This was the first time that Wimpole had offered a poelathe course. I took up a couple of lathes for the course but Simon’s capable team of volunteers, mainly Peter and Jim, had been hard at work building a set of lathes for Wimpole – and with a bit of tweaking up they are working fine – though one of the advantages of Peter coming in on the Sunday course is that he’s got a few ideas for how to improve the lathes further.
Lindsey was on the course and being local was delighted at the opportunity to learn polelathe skills just around the corner from her home.
Jim brought along a lathe he’d already made for the weekend with the aim of improving his ability to use it and learn a few hints and tips. We didn’t hold his bungie against him and judging by the pieces he made over the weeked Jim is well on his way to mastering his lathe.
As the Sunday course was intended as an ‘improvers workshop’ something I’ve run with some success at the Weald and Downland Museum before, I took along a birch bowl blank for a quick demonstration of bowl turning on my own lathe.
After everone had had a go with the bowl hooks Simon finished off the bowl which luckily parted gracefully on the lathe and Andy Marczewski gave him some tips on how to smooth off the remains of the core with a crook knife.
Two days with a crowd of greenwood folk was about all that Simon could take and he made a speedy exit on his 1948 BSA motor bike – almost, but not quite, quick enough to evade my camera though!
But not before leaving me with one of the first knives from his blacksmithing work at the victorian forge on the estate which he and his team have restored, part of his longterm aim to turn ploughshares (or in this case landrover leafsprings) into swords in an ironic twist to the usual story. Being carbon steel it has a good edge to it and I’ll need to make a woode handle for it which suits the blade.
As always I had a great time at Wimpole thanks to the hospitality and enthusiasm of the team there and I think that everyone on the courses had a good time which is the main aim of the event. I look forward to the next chance to visit and see what the team has been upto! Thanks to Simon, Jess, Andy, Jim, Peter and Neil for putting up with me over the weekend.