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Posts Tagged ‘Weald & Downland Museum’

I know I thought I’d be posting an article on greenwood this week – but once again grass has distracted me. For a couple of years I’ve been working with a small group to promote traditional grassland management at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

This year we made hay by hand on a small area of grassland but it was hard work as the grass was rank. We faced many years of work to get it to the standard of a wildflower meadow, a once common but now very rare and endangered habitat. It’s not just the wildflowers that are endangered, but it’s now becoming clear that the many species which rely on the flowers, including our honey bees, are also suffering as modern intensive and industrial farming techniques have relegated wildflowers to the status of weeds (I think I’ll stop that rant before I get really going).

Here’s where the Olympics comes in. If you saw the opening ceremony of the  London games this year you will have seen the opening scene of England’s green and pleasant land in the form of wildflower meadows. I’m not a fan of the Olympics – but I was very impressed by the opening ceremony and particularly the opening scenes. It turns out that the turf for the scene was grown at  Wild Flower Turf’s farm near Basingstoke www.wildflowerturf.co.uk using their soil-less system which allows a high proportion of wildflowers to be established in the turf.

Having produced more turf than was needed the company was looking for somewhere to put down the spare rolls of turf that came back from London and it would have been rude to refuse after all?

So on Wednesday I went down to the museum to talk to James from Wildflower Turf and Keith Datchler from the Beech Estate, Battle, East Sussex about the management of the new wildflower meadow and promptly  found myself enrolled into the select band of volunteers with David, John and Allan laying the turf.

Great stuff this soil less turf, just like rolling out the green carpet. The process was a lot quicker than it would have been with traditional turf as the rolls are based upon a form of matting, a lot larger than a normal turf roll and it enables a higher proportion of wildflowers to be established in the sward as a bonus. There are dozens of  varieties in the mix and I’m delighted that it  includes self-heal and red clover which were already present in the area.  Instant flower meadow!

Just another couple of barrow loads and the meadow will be done. Richard Pailthorpe, museum director helps us get the job finished.  Just add plenty of rain and a little frost then wait for more rain, sunshine and some warmth for the flowers to do their thing. Oh and don’t forget to cut it in August before repeating the process. Simples!

All done. The new meadow looks a little threadbare and the small patch of wildflowers in the middle are certainly feeling the cold.

I’m looking forward to seeing how our instant flower meadow performs next year, here’s how the site looked just a couple of months ago in August after I’d cut the grass, tedded it and then cocked up the hay.

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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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I like being busy but it doesn’t half make the time fly by. The last thing I remember I was expecting the Summer to start and suddenly here we are at the Weald & D0wnland Open Air Museum’s  Autumn Countryside Show, the last of my long season which stretches from March to October. Where did the summer go?

Another consequence of being too busy is that I don’t seem to find the time to post so it’s time to get back in the habit with a quick write up of the show last weekend, heavy on pictures and light on prose.

Jon Warwicker,sitting on the shave horse and wielding a small Adze, discusses the finer points of his bowl carving with Besom Broom maker Arthur Hafendon.

We managed to put on a good show in the horticultural tent where for the first year a woodcraft category was included. Congratulations to everyone who entered as the standard of the work was very high – giving the judge (yours truly) a very hard time indeed. I wanted to award at least 6 winners but well done Wayne – the spoon master – Bachelor who won with, yes you guessed it, his spoon. To Jon Warwicker who came second with his oak bowl and Sarah Ridley who came third with her sculpture.

Yes it’s a show, but the autumn is a busy time and it’s built around a lot of things that do happen on traditional farms at this time of year. The steam powered threshing drum works all weekend, weather allowing, as it threshes the museum’s crop of traditional  longstraw thatching wheat which will be used on the museums thatched buildings in the coming year.

Well almost all weekend, as even the threshing has to stop for a cup of tea now and then.

Barbara came by with one of her donkeys giving me the opportunity to admire the replacement pins I made for the pannier harness last year.

Up in the farmyard behind Bayleaf  Guy was masterminding the scratting (shredding) of the apples and pressing to make the juice that will be fermented into cider at the museum. While this seasons apples are being pressed, on the Saturday night we were sampling the cider made two years ago – which was voted an excellent vintage by the experienced team of greenwood working cider tasters.

The Sunday morning was a cold one as the thick ice on one of my display tables shows. I don’t care what the weather forecast said – this much ice means a temperature well below zero degrees C in my book. Chilly.

But with lots of sun we soon warmed up and Alan’s plum tart was delicious  – thank you Alan.

There is plenty going on at the Museum as well these days, with a new cottage ‘Tindalls’ being erected on site. I say new, but it’s hundreds of years old and has actually been in store for about 30 years since it was taken down by the museum awaiting an opportunity to reconstruct it. To me the frame at this stage of construction looks really spectacular and has a beauty all of it’s own.

In the blacksmith’s forge Martin Fox is fast becoming a devotee of the English Scythe and has taken on the restoration of a really long old English blade which he found in the scrap metal pile and has been busy straightening out. I reckon a lot of old English blades have been scrapped partly because people don’t know how to use them and also because they don’t know where to find a blacksmith that can repair them – so it’s very good to see a blacksmith working on repairing scythe blades again.

If  you’ve visited the museum you will know that the gardens around the buildings are busy and productive places as well, especially in the autumn as harvesting the last of the summer crops and protecting the winter crops from the birds is key to preventing a hungry wintertime.

As if there wasn’t enough already going at the show we decided to run a besom broom making competition – and I’ve run out of space here so I’ll post on the brooms at the show next.

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The aim in running a ‘workshop’ course is to provide a day for ‘Improvers’, loosely described as those with some experience, who want to further their skills or perhaps are planning to make a lathe but haven’t quite got there yet.

The idea seemed to work well and we’ll be running the workshop again next year. Two of those on the course, Adrian and Jerry had already built their lathes and were keen to acquire additional skills.

For improving skills I had assumed, rightly as it turned out, that sharpening, quality of finish and the skew chisel would be key topics.  Making the free rings on a traditional baby rattle encapsulates most of these skills, especially when you use the skew chisel for the rings and after I had demonstrated the process I was pleased to see some being ‘rattled off’ if you will excuse the horrible pun!

I also set up two of my own lathes alongside the more traditional museum lathes to show the merits and abilities of the differing styles. My original lathe was based upon Mike Abbott’s polelathe2000 style, though made entirely from builders softwood sourced from a skip, and at a cost of around £5. Seven years later it’s still going strong as Adrian demonstrates.

Next to it is my current lathe, christened the ‘bolelathe’ as it’s designed to allow me to switch between spindle and bowl turning very easily. Reflecting my current access to work it’s sourced entirely from the firewood pile rather than the skip having a single oak bed and 4 birch legs. A big bonus is that it’s heavy enough and stable enough to hold my coffee mug and breakfast bowl at the same time!

I was not surprised that turning bowls generated so much interest and enthusiasm. I’ll be putting some more thought into a course, perhaps turning a simple small bowl, eggcup or goblet? Amazing how things change. This time last season I was still pretty cautious over teaching courses and I haven’t completely got over that yet.

I hope the participants were as pleased as I was with the their progress on the day, Jerry seemed to have a production line going by the end.

It’s not just about the training and the course, but also spending time with others who are at a similar level but perhaps have different skills and challenges. I’ve found the local groups run by the APT&GW (Association of Polelathe Turners and Greenwood workers) are a great way to top up these skills and keep on improving. Joining (it’s only £15 a year) will get you an invitation to join your local group, as well as the issues of the eponymous (I just wanted to write that word) Bodgers Gazette and of course the annual Bodgers Ball!

The next event at the Weald & Downland Museum is the Autumn Countryside show – October 8th and 9th – there should be plenty of polelathes on hand amongst other greenwood crafts and I’m hoping to see some of the participants of the recent courses there over the weekend.

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It’s the First of September! How did that happen? As my friend Richard told me yesterday  ‘Autumn’s here’. I was on the verge of disagreement when I realised I couldn’t really argue. September is not summer.

The still mornings are noticeably cooler, even if the days haven’t changed. The evenings are drawing in rapidly and the harvests are all coming in – especially the fruit in the hedgerows and orchards. The trees at the Weald and Downland Museum are bursting with fruit. I’ve been steadily picking apples and collecting the windfalls at home. I’ll be pressing them in a couple of weeks time.

This is without doubt my favourite time of year, it’s a few short weeks if we are lucky but I wish it could last for months. Walking around the  Museum last week I noticed how good the autumn harvest of fruit is and for me this is another welcome sign of autumn as the unrelenting green of summer gives way to an explosion of fruit colours. The haws on the hawthorn bushes weighing down the branches.

Rosehips on the tree next door.  Rosehips are packed with vitamin C and are a very healthy fruit, but they need to be cooked to be edible (I think).  I found a great website with a recipe for apple and rosehip jelly here – The cottage smallholder.

The next bush was a blackthorn loaded with sloes. The fruit were slightly soft and ready to be picked though it’s still quite early for sloes. Sloe gin (or vodka) is still a popular use for these fruit, at least with me.

No hedgerow would be complete without an elderberry bush weighed down by it’s lush sprays of small dark juicy fruit which make an excellent country wine. I’ve also found they make an excellent red wine vinegar if the wine is not to your taste.  It is slightly amazing that enough flowers escape being picked for elderflower cordial and champagne to become fruit.

I’ve tried a couple of very good elderflower champagnes this year and I’m  a little worried that elderberries could become harder to find! Most elderberry bushes in my area are in field hedgerows which get cut mechanically each year by flail – another good reason for letting the hedgerows grow.

Another sign of Autumn is the steady preparation of firewood for the winter. The museum is well prepared for another cold winter thanks to the work of Jon Roberts in working the coppice and cutting and stacking the firewood. Last year I was caught out, too late with the firewood and a very cold winter meant the stove ran colder than usual just when I needed to be hotter.


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I’ve been keen to get some serious scything going at the Weald & Downland Museum for some time but for one reason or another it’s been something of an uphill struggle until recently and on Friday I helped Simon Fairlie run a one day course.

All very well, but why the photo of a cottage? Well it turns out that the field that we’d planned to mow in had been enthusiastically cut by the heavy horses with their own mower only the day before. Hard to complain really as it’s great that the horses were doing the work. So the course had some more challenging areas to contend with…..

….such as the classic cottage garden behind Walderton. Not the easiest challenge for newcomers to the world of scything, and to make it worse the museum gardener, Carlotta was on the course as well – so it wasn’t going to be easy to hide any unfortunate accidents with the flower beds or worse still the leeks in the veg patch!

These patches of lawn are normally mown with a petrol powered mower just before the museum opens to the public. Despite the danger to the flowers in the end we managed to mow the lawn quite effectively though I admit that I did this bit when I got hold of one of Simon’s new style blades.

Although it was more constrained than mowing in an open field I think it was a very powerful demonstration of the versatility of the scythe and it’s ease of use in the garden rather than just an outdated and obsolete historical tool. I think we may have some converts and I’m just hoping that we will now start regular mowing at the museum and perhaps even get a team together – who knows we might be allowed to cut around the edges of the hay field this year?

If you are hoping for action photos of people wielding scythes then you will be disappointed as unfortunately I was so busy coaching that I managed not to take any photos of the action.

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This weekend turned out to be an exercise in extreme turning due to the weather. Normally I relish the Autumn celebration at the Weald & Downland museum, one of my favourite shows in the calendar. Saturday started with a frost in the morning and got windier and wetter as the day went on.

I was joined by Wayne and his son Olly who had brought both their bowl turning lathe and also a small lathe worked with a hand held bow and both were dressed up for the event to the delight of the visitors who braved the weather.

But by the afternoon the wind was rising and the intermittant showers became continuous. In the face of driving rain and gale force gusts of wind Olly took to an anorak but Wayne is clearly made of sterner stuff or………

The photos don’t really capture the force of the wind and rain. My shelter is not upto a full gale and started to suffer from the wind so I was unhappy to leave it overnight. Sadly I took it down and packed up on Saturday evening in the face of even worse forecasts for the night and Sunday morning.

However the experience seems to have given us something of a taste for extreme turning, perhaps an olympic sport for 2012 and the next venue is still to be decided!

Because of the rain I could not leave my wares out for long and so failed to sell anything – for the first time that I can remember. But as so often happens, just as I was totally losing motivation something interesting turned up.

This time the question was ‘Can you make a me a handle for a bronze axe-head?’ I’ve learn’t its best to go with the flow, and this sounded like fun. Besides I was suffering from the cold and wet and I needed a challenge. Before long I was talking to a weekend class who were casting bronze axe-heads to a 3000 year old pattern.

I started to make an ash handle and partway through was joined by the course members who watched the process. I enjoyed turning a handle for the axe head. I learnt about bronze age tools and we also had interesting discussions on the turning or spinning of early metal and the evidence, or lack of it, for bronze age wood turning.

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