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……the Bodgers Ball 2015 that is. Every year hundreds of Greenwood workers get together in a field somewhere in the UK to share skills, catch up with old friends, meet new ones, compete, try out new ideas and to generally have a ball! This year we were invited to the heart of Sherwood Forest by the East Midlands and Derbyshire local groups of the Bodgers. Here is a quick romp through some photos of the ball as I saw it.

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I took my steamer to demonstrate steam bending a traditional English scythe snathe. Full steam up as Graham inspects the washing machine drum stove with the old petrol tank boiler mounted on top.

DSCF2882      Just as well I came fully equipped. It wasn’t long before friends moved in with lathe, shave horse and steamer all in use.DSCF2880

Sean Hellman didn’t bring a lathe and had to make do with mine to turn an egg for the egg and spoon race. He didn’t bring his chisels either – is that an axe he’s turning the egg with? DSCF2881   First time for everything, who needs chisels on a pole lathe for turning an egg. Not Sean!DSCF2892With the egg turned and a spoon carved the teams finished the race three legged. Crazy competition it could only be at a bodgers ball.

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Merlin from Somerset brought along a good selection of cross cut saws. Almost as fine as the Series 3 they are sitting on. Merlin is turning into a fine saw doctor especially with the big greenwood raker teeth on the crosscuts and if your saw could do with some TLC you can contact him in the West Country via the Cherrywood Project near Bath.

DSCF2887Power tools are banned for the duration of the Ball (not just for the insurance it’s also the ethos of the event) and the cross cut saws made quick work of any sawing needed as well allowing people to have a go.

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Moving up a step from the Landrovers Simon Damant came very well equipped with his ex fire brigade 4WD Bedford MJ. We were grateful for the stove when it poured down on the Friday night, though the various concoctions of calvados, distilled mead and blackcurrent vodka may have been partly responsible. Simon – you really must get some steps to stop me falling out of the truck next time!

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Fully equipped with a portable forge as well and some bags of charcoal to run the hearth.

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Simon gave a demonstration making a rams head hook and also took part in the half hour challenge where competitors have 30 minutes to make something saleable.

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Richard Roods emporium is becoming a firm favourite at the ball and it’s a rare event where I go home with less than I brought with me.

DSCF2856  This year was no exception as Richard had been putting aside knackered old English scythes for me all year. Avoiding lugging this lot back calls for desparate measures!DSCF2923-001

What’s all this then? Heretic?  Have I given up on the English Scythe? No, not at all. I just want the ironwork, the eye bolts, scythe rings, nibs and one or two of the blades for rebuilding onto my newly made snathes – the woodwork and especially the livestock (woodworm) are not welcome. Although this fire is mainly for effect I did burn up two snathes in steaming the new snathe which seems quite appropriate to me as the old is used to help make the new.

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Steve and Nigel hijacked my steamer to steam some rings of chestnut. Will they reveal what they are planning to do with them?

DSCF2927The climax of the weekend are the half hour challenge and the log to leg races on the Sunday afternoon. Simon and Kate joined me and we came a creditable third in the team log to leg race and I was very pleased to come third in the individual log to leg race. That just left cutting the cake and suddenly and far far too soon it was the end of another fine bodgers ball. Just another 360 days to go until the next one. But the Somerset Scythe Festival is a lot closer – only 4 weeks away. No rest  for the even slightly naughty around here…..

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Yes, the polelathe has been out and about. I know there is a lot of catching up to do since I last posted. It’s been a busy summer seasons of shows, demonstrations, courses and competitions and with plenty of work on the commons to fit in.

As if that wasn’t enough there have been additional projects, some planned and some unplanned. I won’t bore you with the details (not right now anyway) but I’ve also been emptying my parents old house in Somerset as my Dad has Alzheimer’s and we recently managed to get him into to a specialist nursing home near Taunton.

Verging on too much information I know, but it’s not left a lot of mental effort for posting articles and I am still finding more forms to fill in and letters to write  – never my strong point! But here is a flavour of some of the antics this summer that I need to catch on……

DSCF9522Unplanned project no1 – my trusty old 1960 brown landrover – aka ‘The Beast’ – started making unfamiliar noises, as opposed to the cacphony of familiar noises so comforting to old landrover owners. To cut a long story short ’twas the 54year old water pump and with this old engine sourcing the parts and repairing the old pump took the best part of a couple of weeks right in the middle of the season. Just when you don’t have a couple of weeks!

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I do like a Green Man. I’d almost forgotten passing some green Birch rounds onto Tony but when he came up to Lynchmere for a Scythe (Oh, oh the S-word is creeping in again already) training course he brought up one of his carvings and I really like it.

DSCF9586One of the big projects I set myself this year has been to learn to make and steam bend traditional English Scythe handles 0r Snathes as they are called around here. First get yourself a nice long straight Ash log and then cleave it.

DSCF9551I’ve been planning to rebuild the garden shed for some years now – I’m embarrassed to work out just how long it’s been waiting – but this is not the garden shed. It’s a shed for a new project – Project Pig Palace.  We could have gone and bought a conventional ark – but no! I knew of some convenient larch logs and it seemed a shame to waste them!

DSCF9893-001All you need for a new Pig Palace is …….Pigs. These two young Oxford Sandy and Blacks flew in from Wildcroft Rare Breeds  just south of the aptly named Hog’s Back  on the North Downs about 10miles north of us.

DSCF9718I seem to be running more courses each year and they are proving very popular, though I do find teaching is hard work and quite stressful. At this year’s polelathe improvers course Dave came with the objective of turning a bowl – and after plenty of hard work he succeeded in making a lovely little bowl.

DSCF9112Back on the commons the bracken just would not stop growing. I drafted in help from Lowell and Christopher (my nephew) here towing the bracken roller with Peter my old Massey Ferguson 135.

DSCF8193All of a sudden the season is marching onwards and it’s never too early to start splitting and stacking the firewood. This year I started around May so the firewood is better than ever – and this winter I shall be splitting and stacking for next winter, which is the way it should be. Famous last words!

DSCF9910We did make hay whilst the sun shone. This photo might surprise those of you who expected to see a team of mowers with scythes but we did the 10acre meadow with modern tractors. Besides I’ve posted on not much but scythes this year so on this post I’m trying to redress the balance a bit.

We had a lot of sunny days in July and August this year – but also lots of rainy ones and never enough sun so we made hay in September. A very different experience to be sitting in a modern tractor and rowing up the whole field in a couple of hours – I felt very lazy!

DSCF9986And then the apples arrived! Early this year, with one of my trees, the Tom Putt, almost bare by the end of August. In September I only managed to press a few gallons of juice from my apples and friends contributions – just as well as time was severely limited. But I have a cunning plan for a late pressing in the next couple of weeks.

DSCF9509Last time I posted on Puff the magic landrover it was just a chassis even if a very shiny one. Living up to his ‘now you see it – now you don’t reputation’.  This falls into the category of Project forced by necessity.  With no space and no time having a landrover in pieces to jam up the yard is not healthy and after a frantic burst of activity Puff was back on the road.  Puff passed the MOT with flying colours and was promptly put to work clearing more of the fallen trees.

DSCF0838Turned out to be Just in Time. As one landrover leaves intensive care the next one enters. Having been put to work on the commons whilst Puff was being ‘Puffed-Up’,  Georgina the green landrover (surely all your cars have names don’t they? I find it so much more satisfactory swearing at and occasionally kicking a car with a name rather than ‘it’) suffered a badly cracked chassis – probably caused by a tree stump hidden in the mud. With Puff back on the road and little time to spare Georgina has taken a bit of a back seat this summer, but she is recovering slowly but surely.

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A few weeks ago I visited my parents house in Wells, Somerset for the last time. Over the summer we’ve been emptying the house and finding new homes for the stuff accumulated over 35 years – on a rainy day we took out the very last loads leaving the house empty. It felt strange to be leaving the keys in the house and locking myself out, not just from the house, but from the last tangible link with a county thats been a part of my life since I was born. As if to say ‘Au Revoir’ the clouds parted to give one last typical sunset across the Somerset levels to Glastonbury Tor.

Thats just a small taste of things to catch up on – there will be plenty of work over the winter to post articles  and I will catch up in more detail soon.

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Warning: A long post – so you might want to just flick through the pictures! Otherwise put the kettle on, get yourself a mug full and settle down to read on

In case you are wondering I do still have a polelathe – several in fact – and I used one yesterday. But summer has finally arrived, the wildflower meadows are in full colour and on the commons the bracken is growing as if there’s no tomorrow –  you could be forgiven for thinking that I’d forgotten all about my lathe at this time of year.

So with my  Scythe over my shoulder grim reaper style I set off for Wimpole Hall again for the Eastern Counties Scything Championships and some spoon carving to boot.

DSCF9324I’d been asked to run a spoon carving course again for beginners. Spoon carving is great fun and it doesn’t need a lot more than an axe and a couple of knives and once again the polelathe was left behind. I am getting polelathe withdrawal symptoms – occasionally my leg starts quivering uncontrollably – but moving on swiftly.

The spoon course seemed to go well and as often happened turned itself into a freeform afternoon/evening of whittling wood for all comers. And I use the term whittling advisedly and specifically. Not everyone seemed to have got the idea of a spoon, especially our Albanian friend Ded who seemed more focused upon removing wood quickly rather than the form and shape of the wood thats left behind.

DSCF9331Making up for Ded’s savage assault on the wood was John, who had not carved a spoon before and came on the course. I think his precision metalworking background is more than a little revealed by the attention to detail of his first spoon. Well done John – a worthy winner of the Spoon category in the craft competition as well.

DSCF9395Somehow John also found time over the weekend to fix the backdoor of my landrover (thank you John), linish the axe that Magnus made me (thank you again John), compete in the mowing and also bring down his vintage Field Marshal tractor to demonstrate the finger bar towed mower.

DSCF9359Not before time we’re onto the mowing. Unlike the Somerset championships where the area of grass is strictly limited by the site, at Wimpole hall there is a 3 mile avenue leading to the hall which is all unfertilised flower meadow! Mower’s heaven – or it can be hell if you leave it too late in the day and it’s all going wrong.

Simon Damant has been pushing us to take advantage and mow 1/4 acre plots and not just the tiny 5x5m plots which we usually compete to mow. Chris Riley mowed 1/4 acre using his straight snathe – and if there was an award for sheer mowing style – Chris would have won in my opinion.  This year several of us stepped up to the 1/4 acre challenge – and I’m very glad that I took the opportunity – I learnt a lot about my scythe and myself mowing out mowing for hours in the gentle rain on the Friday evening. Three hours and three minutes to be precise.

DSCF9416Plenty of other challenges at the weekend. How about trying your hand at shearing a sheep – the traditional way with a pair of clippers or sheep shears. Not satisfied with his assault with a knife on a lump of wood Ded had a go and Simon showed him how to do it.

DSCF9418The weekend allowed me to catch up with Magnus the sword smith. Basically if it has a sharp edge – Magnus will have made it and if by some chance he hasn’t – it won’t be long before he has. You may have seen a lot of his blades alreadywithout knowing it as Magnus does a lot of work for film and TV programmes making reproduction or original designs. As a result Magnus has an approach to tool design which I find fascinating and which allows his creative bent a fairly free reign. It’s always interesting to see what Magnus is upto and this time was no exception – he’s been making some lovely little carving axes.

DSCF9430Here’s one with a traditional ‘Kentish’ style to the head but with some tomahawk influence in the weight, shaping and the tapered eye socket. Couldn’t resist buying it. He’s also made a small bearded carving axe – you’ll see more of it before long as I also bought it on the spot.

DSCF9439The problem with the Sunday afternoon competition plots, particularly the 5x5m championships is that there is a lot of nervous waiting around and then a couple of minutes of violent activity. I’m not a sprinter by nature and so the larger plots seem to suit me much better.

Nerves didn’t seem to worry Chris Earl much though. A retired farmer (if you can retire as a farmer) from Grantham, Chris brought along his Rumanian Scythe but I talked him into showing off his skills with my vintage English Nash Universal Scythe and he entered the competitions.

He also seems to have the knack of resting on the scythe. I think you’d have to agree that the English Scythe is so much better as a leaning post than the Austrian scythe?

DSCF9481A few more scything photos to prove that we did more than stand around photogenically resting on them. Arthur was a newcomer to the scythe at the start of the weekend but produced a good showing mowing in the competion being awarded best novice for his 10×10 plot.

DSCF9520 Andi Rickard mowing her 10x10m plot. Andi appears to be powered up by a secret weapon – home made pemmican. Rocket fuel for mowing I reckon. No wonder she’s the ladies champion, though it’s always a closely fought battle with the tricky grass at Wimpole. Having tried the pemmican I am converted and I just need to find some time to make some!

DSCF9488Richard Brown competes hard with his Austrian Scythe and has in the recent past been the overall winner at Wimpole. He gave it everything and produced a fast time with an excellent quality of cut. A time of 1:49 and a quality of 7.5 – which under the conditions is an amazing combination of speed and quality.

DSCF9489But in the end Wimpole’s evil little fescue grasses on a hot and windy Sunday afternoon brought him to his knees – literally.

DSCF9490Is Richard having a quick snooze or should we call an ambulance? Luckily Richard recovered swiftly just in time to take some more punishment.

DSCF9511Hard work all this standing around in the sun leaning on your scythe and waiting for something to happen.

DSCF9921So a great weekend, in really good company. Thank you everyone who made it so special! Oh and did I tell you I won a cup? I prefer the medals – but if there’s a cup on offer it would be rude to refuse wouldn’t it?

Having won the cup twice now, I am starting to look forward to somebody coming forward who can wield an English Scythe faster and perhaps more importantly with keep the quality at speed – though I don’t expect to yield without a fight.

Meanwhilst more scything ‘Bling’ to add to the collection, with a couple of spoons and the Magnificent Magnus Made small bearded carving axe. Come and try it and maybe Magnus will Make you one as well?

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I always enjoy the Bodgers Ball and this year, hosted by Simon Damant at Wimpole Hall, was definitely not going to be an exception. I went up early to help with the preparations.  There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in an attempt to make the Ball seem an effortless affair as 500 greenwood workers from all around the country and a fair few from around the world converge on an empty field for a fun weekend with all things woody.

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As I was running about trying to help out I didn’t take the best of photographs so this is a quick tour through some of the lesser known aspects of the Ball. Well, ok, perhaps it won’t be quite so quick! But I digress – With the field still empty Simon was able to use his horse John to move some of the logs around the site – these are for use with the Hewing demonstrations.

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The weather in May can be very changeable and we caught the wind being on a flat East Anglian field – the evenings were cold but my old washing machine drum cooking fire cum stove provided both heat and warmth.

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and, as if by magic, the Bodgers Ball suddenly appeared with an empty field transformed into a busy throng of woodworkers of every description doing their thing.

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The Saturday of the Ball is filled with demonstrations and workshops. The theme for this year’s ball was Agricultural tools and implements reflecting Home Farm, the working farm at Wimpole which is an original Victorian model farm. Julian from the Weald and Downland museum brought up plenty of the museum’s own cider – and while he was there we got him to hew one of the Elm logs dragged out by John the horse, into a beam.

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While I’m on the subject of the theme for the Ball – here are some of the entries into the themed item section of the craft competition this year. The maltsters shovel caught my eye – as did the massive 6ft buck rake, which I think was certainly worthy of winning (though unaccountably it didn’t) and is quite possibly the first Ash steamed buck rake made for many a decade?

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Richard Woodland demonstrated some simple leatherworking. There wasn’t enough time for any masterful saddlery, but he did show us how to convert a leather belt bought in a charity shop for a pound or two into a range of useful tool sheaths and covers.

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Exhausting all that demonstrating. Luckily it wasn’t a long weight until the bar opened…….

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with excellent local real ales from Buntingford Brewery near Royston only a few miles from the site. The Twitchell and Britannia went down very well (as did the 92 Squadron, Highwayman, Hurricane and Full Tilt!). Thanks to Steve the Brewer for teaching me some of the arcane arts of the cellar master.

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That’s the drink taken care of, but what about a spot of food! If you don’t like your food still squirming – then look away now, ooops – too late sorry.  Three local lambs (or were they Hoggett’s) were roasted slowly over a wood fire.

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And where is a butcher when you need one? In this case right where he’s needed, Justin is behind the charcoal bbq’s of the Threshing Restaurant cooking excellent bacon and eggs for breakfast. Now if we can just stop him telling that story again………..

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ably assisted by Olga (who it must be said can pat her head and rub her tummy at the same time) and Jess.

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Fed and watered it’s back to more demonstrations – Damien Goodburn turned up to show some work he’s been doing on reconstructions of ancient wooden shovels, paddles and (bakers) peels. This one is a peel, though apparently that’s largely because a flaw in the shaft makes it unsuitable as paddle.

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Good to see Paul Hayden with this years model of Polelathe – the current fashion being a short sporty pole/arm with a natty looking wooden spring underslung along the bed to give the pole more response.

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Richard Rood brought a long a vast collection of bygones for sale. This lovely plane would do well as a round of ‘What’s my Tool?’ – I almost avoided spending any money – and then Richard’s collection of old scythes prooved tooooo tempting. And there was all my money gone.. again.

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After all the demonstrating, the AGM, the competitions, tool auction, the races, and so many people to meet and catch up with suddenly, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared and the field emptied again. It really is a fantastic bunch of talented people, who, just by coming together make the Ball happen – as if by magic. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen – you know who you are!  A strange feeling of anticlimax. That’s the ball over for another year. Where will we be next year?

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…And not just any snow but the wrong type of snow. Freezing rain overnight covered with slushy snow this morning made the roads and paths treacherous  This time last year the temperature was a mere 20 degrees C higher! You can see why the term ‘global warming’ has been dropped for ‘climate change’.

With the temperature plummeting in a biting easterly wind it meant some sub-zero polelathe turning for as long as I can manage before retreating to thaw out in front of the woodburner.

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Sadly the shed is an old open fronted cart shed – so no possibility of warming it up and extreme polelathe turning it is. As long as I can manage turns out to be about 30 minutes with the thermometer at -1 degrees C  in the early afternoon – maybe a tad longer if I do some drawknife work to warm up. Still, I can comfort myself that we don’t really know what cold is in Southern England – imagine what it must be like in Canada. Then I heard recently from my old friend Maarten (Max) Meerman in Vancouver that it’s been 12C over there, positively balmy,  it turns out that sometimes life just isn’t fair!

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Sadly a large Rowan (Sorbus Acuparia) fell over on the commons recently. You can see the disease that brought the tree down – the brown rot in the centre of the wood. But luckily for me, as Rowan is a super wood for turning, one of, if not my favourite turning wood and with some usuable lengths I should be able to get some nice items from it.

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With short stints on the lathe and very cold fingers I am limited to fairly simple shapes and items, but that’s no bad thing as it helps me to get some stock prepared before the season starts. You can just about make out the ‘two-tone’ of the light and brown colours of the spurtle on the right of the row. I’ve managed to split a billet from the right section of the cleft where the dark staining stops  – the grain is a little wonky but nice and fresh and the colours make it worth persevering.

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Just a quick post to get around my continuing writer’s block which seems to have prevented me from posting on almost anything for months now.

The winter working season is in full swing on the Lynchmere commons now. Back in November a film crew from the BBC programme Countryfile spent a day with a group of our volunteers while we were working on Stanley Common and the programme went out on the 2nd December.

If you missed it and want to see what we got upto then this link should take you to the BBC Iplayer ( sadly I think this is only available for IP addresses in the UK) and it’s probably only available until Sunday 9th December. The section on the commons starts at around 20 minutes into the programme.

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We were cutting scrub encroaching upon part of the restored common and as usual we were trying to use as much of the cut material as we could. We  threaded (taking the branches off with a bill hook) the straight birch poles and put them to one side for stakes and binders for a  hedgelaying project. After a lunch cooked on the dire I made  a besom broom with John Craven who immediately put it to good use. And yes I am looking for a new test pilot!

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As you might imagine it was quite hectic to get everything organised for the day and the time flew past. All in all we had a productive day’s work as well as filming and thanks to the weather we all enjoyed it – I think it’s given us plenty to talk about since just about everyone who turned up ended up on film in one way or another.

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National Besom making competition? Well why not? This year at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum’s Autumn Show we held the first Besom Broom making competition for many years (if indeed there has ever been one before). Certainly the other competitors and I are unaware of another one.


The idea sprang from a discussion with Jo Waters at the previous year’s show and the Weald & Downland Museum kindly agreed to sponsor the prizes for the event. As always it seemed a good idea at the time but as the show loomed I began to wonder if I’d taken on a little bit more than I could handle. Would anyone turn up? Would it work?

On the day we had a good collection of broom makers, or Broom-Squires as they are known in this neck of the woods, from Sussex and Hampshire and Terry Heard joined us from Dorset with his living van and great  setup for making besoms and tent pegs.

As you’d expect the world of Besom making has it’s own ways and we do like our tools, the roundshave being a rare tool that’s very much sought after for shaving the handles or tails of the brooms. On this occasion a visitor brought in an interesting roundshave for us to examine.

The Roundshave is a form of extreme curved drawknife and all the ones I’ve seen have been homemade using an old file or perhaps by the local blacksmith to suit each broomsquire.  The one on the left I was given some years ago by a friend who had it from his grandfather whereas the tool on the right, brought in by our visitor, is stamped A.Moss (a well known local firm of edge tool makers and blacksmiths) and as well being a fine example is the first Moss made roundshave that Alan, Dave or I had seen. Despite being offered a reasonable sum our visitor declined to sell!

Chris Letchford puts the finishing touches to his besom in the competition-almost ready for the flight testing. Chris took on the competition having only learnt to make besoms 6 weeks earlier on my besom making course, and demonstrated all weekend – well done Chris, but we’ll expect a more traditional shelter for next year!

After some discussions we decided to run the competition purely on quality and gave everyone 30 minutes to make their broom. Justin Owen and Karen Barrett kindly offered to judge the brooms which were delivered to them anonymously by Julia. Which just leaves me to reveal the results…..

    Terry Heard                                           1st Winner

Chris Letchford                                    2nd place

                                      Alan Waters                                           3rd place (and fastest by far)

John Wescott                                        3rd Equal

Peter Jameson                                      3rd Equal

Mark Allery                                            3rd Equal

Confused? Well we decided to only award first and second places, but in the event the Judges decided that Alan’s broom was a more than equal 3rd as well as being the fastest.

Thank you to all who took part in what, with hindsight, we are calling the First National Besom Broom making competition, the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum for sponsoring our competition and particularly to the judges Justin, Karen and Julia who made it all work. Don’t miss next years 2nd national besom broom making competition – and I look forward to seeing you there!

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