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Posts Tagged ‘rural crafts’

This is a long post so feel free to browse through the picture – or perhaps you’ll want to go and get a cup of coffee (or cider if it’s the right time of day) and soak up some of the atmosphere of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at its best with a tale of threshing, woodland crafts, some turning (but not much) and plenty of apples. The Autumn Countryside Show is one of my favourite events, a celebration of many of the things that mark out the rapid change in pace of the seasons and preparations for the long winter to come.

Some weeks ago the wheat on the museum fields was harvested, stooked and then stacked in a traditional rick ready for threshing.  With the weather looking changeable the threshing team started early, working hard through Friday and both days of the show to get all of the wheat threshed.

The wheat grown at the museum is a traditional long straw variety (triticale) with a much longer stem than a modern wheat variety which makes it useful for thatching straw. The threshing machine has an extra unit to sort and bundle the long straw so that the thatchers can store it whilst the shorter straws are discarded and baled.

I think it’s very unusual to see a threshing machine working all weekend and really rare to have two working at the same time. I particularly liked the way that Ben used one of the museum waggons as a part of the threshing display.

Normally I demonstrate on my own as I find two polelathes can be a bit of a crowd, but the Autumn show has always had wood at its heart and this year we decided to put on a bit of a show. No longer ‘Billy-no-mates’ I was joined by friends from the Sussex & Surrey Coppice, Hampshire  Coppice and the Polelathe turners and Greenwood Workers groups.  Thanks to everyone who turned up – it was a pleasure to work with you.


If you read the posts on this blog occasionally you’ll be no stranger to most of the talented greenwood workers who came to demonstrate at the show, so I won’t go through everyone even though they do deserve it for putting on such a great display. Thank you!

The traditional Chestnut lathes that Justin, Tony and Freddie make for many building projects were particularly appropriate to the museum and it was great to have them with us at this show.

First time at the show, Martin, Chris and Catherine aka ‘The Special Branch’ added some willow weaving activities for children.


Wot no pegs? The recipe section of the Horticultural Marquee needed pegs, so thanks to ‘the special branch’ we soon had it pegged with some simple but very effective twig pegs. Hardly a big issue, but it’s simple skills like this that are so rarely used today. It’s not that we can’t do it, virtually anyone can make pegs with a twig, a  knife and some wire, but we don’t respect these skills anylonger.

Melvyn made an impromptu appearance to make liggers for the day. And yes I did include this just so I could use the word ‘liggers’ which are the long thatching spars used at the top of the roof to bind the thatch together.

Alan Waters spoilt us all with an excellent freshly baked apple tart on Sunday morning. Thank you Alan! There will be more on the subject of apples at the show, but first…

The Hurdle Making Competition. A great event, which is fast becoming a fixture at the show, takes place on Sunday together with the (thatching) Spar making contest. Luckily the weather held up, though it was extremely windy on the Sunday during the competition.


This year somehow Rosie (Alan’s apprentice and responsible for keeping Alan in line) was persuaded to take part – not an easy thing to do, I remember the sheer terror of the first time I took part in a polelathe turning log-to-leg competition. Rosie managed to find a quiet spot at the back of the area and as she’s none to keen on cameras I had to pretend to be taking a photo of the tractors in the ring (OK so not much pretence needed  – a fine example of a field marshal by the way).

I am often asked if I make hurdles, somehow it’s seen as the epitomy of a rural craft, but as a woodturner I am well aware that it’s just one step too far for me, though stepping on it is something that Rosie demonstrates here with fine style.

At the other end of the competation area Robert (from Wiltshire) is getting there with his hurdle. He claims to be an amateur and amongst his many amateur skills Robert also makes fine cider and country wines, which we sampled over the weekend. A good opportunity to compare notes on apple milling and pressing.

All done. To my inexpert eye a fine example of a wattle hurdle. But the judging is tight and points are lost for using loppers and not having enough twists. Still as Rosie said, it didn’t come last!

Meanwhile back at the farm, up in the courtyard the apple mill and press are busy pressing something like a tonne of apples over the weekend.

We got to taste some of the product around the campfire in the evening, the two year old cider seemed to go down very well together with plenty of music and singing.

Most of the apples are from the West Dean estate adjacent to the museum though the apples from the museums own orchard are great traditional varieties.

Julian tells me that they managed to press about 80gallons of apple juice, and quite a lot of it was given away as samples but perhaps 70 gallons will be fermented on to make cider, which will be ready for drinking in a couple of years.

The show is very much an end of season marker for me, so as we packed up it was auspicious to have such a fine sunset, marking a great show with great friends, to say goodbye for a while and look forward to the coming season as we all return to the woods.

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