A rather late blog post about a trip I did with the Bedford MJ a month ago. After visiting Mark Allery who lives in the South Downs (see https://sadeik.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/the-lynchmere-nightjar-shingles/) we then went down to the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum to their Wood Fair. Another fine view from the lorry.
This museum was set up to conserve the many old buildings that found themselves in the way of progress. Some were saved from being flooded by new reservoirs and some from new motorways while others had fallen into dereliction. Quite amazing actually (as I have never heard of any other museum that collected condemned buildings from sure destruction), they took the buildings down and rebuilt them on the museum site near Chichester.
Bayleaf is a timber framed hall house dating mainly from the early 15th century. The central hall, heated by an open fire, is flanked at one end by service rooms and at the other by rooms for the owner and his family. With replica furniture and equipment, the farmstead is presented as it might have been in about 1540.
This is the style of furniture I would like to have in my lorry. The planks are made from cleaved oak timber (so have a quarter sawn look) and are very stable i.e. the wood doesn’t move much. I don’t know of any other museum that actually makes period furniture for each and every house they have and makes it in the authentic way- no modern tools or methods. None of this stuffy attitude found elsewhere whereby only the originals are accepted, here the public can inspect and handle the objects. Keeps the traditional skills alive too, well done and top marks.
This building was probably the home of a landless labourer, possibly a craftsman. It was built in the mid 17th century on the edge of Washington Common. It has one heated room and the fireplace is in a smoke bay (an early form of chimney).
Not such fancy furniture in this house, just utilitarian pieces that a labourer could afford or make himself. Maybe this is what is needed in the lorry?
Another aspect of the museum is that even the outbuildings, fences, livestock and plants are of the correct period for each building. No modern, cheap stock fences and no modern livestock just traditional rare breeds of the area.
Then there are the more traditional museum displays but even these are extremely well done. I have always been impressed by their horseshoe collection which has shoes that date from the Roman period right up to modern day- very interesting to see how horseshoe design changes with time.
Even more impressive are the displays on traditional rural skills. Wimpole’s Home Farm once had a similar set of displays showing farming rural skills such as ditching, blacksmithing, working with horses etc. but these have long gone, a real pity as these caught my imagination nearly 30 years ago when I first saw them at Home Farm.
The carpenter, not a display I remember seeing at Home Farm but one I think I will do for the forestry shows we have at Wimpole.
This is also a must as the forestry team have been growing quite a bit of heritage long straw and we have recently asked Chris Dobson (a local master thatcher) to make us a display thatched roof, one half wheat and one half reed.
Can’t forget a blacksmith display- we’ll get one made up for the Smithy at the Woodyard and even get some of the metal thatching spars on display as there are a few still in the Smithy.
The plumber- I used to do hot lead work for British Telecom and, believe it or not, a lot of the joints and cables were made of lead so I know some of these tools quite well. So much has changed in so few years, some for the better others not so.
Now this was an interesting display- brickwork is seen everywhere but nothing much is ever said about it. A highly skilled job in fact and more praise should be bestowed on the bricklayer.
The Weald and Downland museum has really gone to town displaying everything known about brickwork- how they were made, how many forms there were and how brick making has changed over time.
Now to the active displays… one which I enjoyed and asked many questions about was the earth burn. This is the traditional way of making charcoal over a hundred years ago. Hard work and very time-consuming (not to mention the dirt!).
Even this small earth burn took twenty four hours and it has to be watched all night long. On a recent visit to Romania we saw some charcoal makers still operating earth burns but they had up to 200 tons of wood in each burn and it took 14 days to cook the wood!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
One of the most interesting active displays was the one to do with the wheelwright- here an iron hoop was heated on a fire (this expands the diameter of the hoop which can then be fitted onto the wooden wheel) and then dropped over the newly made wooden wagon wheel. Once on it has to be cooled exceedingly quickly before the heated iron hoop burns the outer ash wood. The iron hoop shrinks and tightens the whole wooden wheel- real craftsmanship.
Always a treat to see a steam engine running a racksaw (just wish I could afford a steam engine but, at over £150,000, not likely). Will have to power my racks with my Ford Super Major when the racksaw is up and running…
Another traditional rural skill was the blacksmithing; in fact I got my portable forge out too and demonstrated how to make ram’s head hooks. Quite a few people commented on the portable army forge and were rather jealous of it …BUT, it was mine, all mine!!!!!!!!!!!
Down at the woodyard at the museum there was a most excellent horsemanship display by Robert Sampson who farms his Harbridge Farm with Percherons- here he had one pulling timber into the yard.
There were other horses logging including Frankie Woodgate‘s; all brought the timber to the museum’s woodyard and, most surprisingly, even with the general public around. Some of the best horsemanship I have seen and lovely to see working horses actually working all day long.
You’ll have to check out the gallery blog to see all the photos I took but, suffice it to say, there was so much of interest. Even the farm machinery had its own barns where one could see such things as reaper binders, carts, hay rakes of all kinds, rollers, ploughs and the like, all horse-drawn. There were even two timber bobs or jills, one with hooped wheels nigh on eight foot high. Splendid to see these items so well looked after.
Other demonstrations included Jeremy the clog maker- I rather fancy a pair of his clogs, they are rather smart and he makes them to fit your feet but don’t expect them to be cheap as they are a work of art.
There were so many demonstrations it was hard to choose which one was the best… however a very close contender was the gentleman who built dug out boats that are steamed to spread the gunnels- just the ones I would like to have a go at making and, having seen his little one made from an oak trunk with its sail, – that would be just the ticket.
Julian Bell is the museum’s curator and a person who enjoys not only the academic side of the museum but also the practical side. His great love is the Woodyard and all the woodworking tools. At the show he demonstrated making traditional gate hurdles and it is these that you see all over the museum. A few years ago Julian hewed some elm timber at the Wimpole’s Bodgers Ball; since then he has actually hewn enough to make a whole reconstructed Saxon house. None of this modern sawn timber or cheating behind the scenes to save time, if the job’s got to be done historically accurately then do it properly.
Now the museum built a purpose built house for its collection in rather a novel way. Instead of an old replica building they built a very modern timber framed one, the Gridshell. The top floor is massive and is used for courses, demonstrations and, well, anything you can think of. There is even a wood carving course and, by the looks of it, a very impressive one at that.
Down under are the vaults with a vast (and I mean a really vast) collection of rural bygones.
These are just a few displays from their vast collection- scythes and sickles of all sorts along with all the rakes, forks, hay knives and other accessories like stones and holders. In fact there were some scythe related items I had not seen before… must go back and have a much longer gander.
Then there were the wooden spades- hundreds of them, all shapes and sizes. Some were tipped with iron to stop them wearing out. Iron in those days was very expensive compared to today so it was used rather economically. In another section there were heaps of yokes for carrying items like milk pails. I was wondering if the wood was all the same species or not, another reason to go back and look more carefully.
Of course I couldn’t pass the shepherd section- crooks for catching, crooks for dipping, bells, castrating and docking irons, shears of all descriptions, lanterns and much, much more.
There was a horse section with bells, saddles, harness, bits, collars, brass of all kinds but, what caught my eye, were the rather smart horse shoes! These would have been used on horses that had to tread softly, for instance when mowing a lawn with a horse-drawn mower. Then we came to the wood working section- even more vast (gob smacked!), wow what a collection chisels, saws (some longer then three men and some as small as a mouse), even the axes were of every variety, one was even called a goose wing.Tools for all trades: plumbers, bricklayers, glaziers, roofers, miners, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, plasterers… the list goes on, what a place!
Back at the show… as Sunday wound down and the evening was fast approaching I enjoyed the company of the peg maker and his tales ( amazing what you’ll do for beer money ;-)). So much to see this weekend and so much I missed- forget about a day’s visit, when there’s a show on it’ll entertain you for a weekend and more. All in all the best visitor attraction and museum I’ve been to in a long while. Can’t think of any National Trust property that can do the same- a must visit.