The bank holiday in August was the weekend of the building conservation celebration to give people who came to visit the newly opened Folly an opportunity to discover the traditional rural skills needed to build it nearly 250 years ago.
Also in attendance were the Wympole Green Woodworkers, plus some courses for those that wanted to learn pole lathing and rake making.
Over the three days we had the stone masons in. Interestingly, as modern stone masonry predominately uses power tools, the stone masons actually enjoyed themselves using the old hand tools. I was even allowed a go but probably could do with a few years as an apprentice!
Then there was the timber hewer with all his axes. Round timbers were converted into beams by plumb & chalk line and axe. A hard job same as the stone mason’s (although one has to say it took me longer to chip away the stone than the wood).
Then there was the blacksmith who was making nails. Simple you’d think but 250 years ago nails cost a fortune and there were very unpleasant working conditions for the nailers. Paid a pittance and in tokens, they could only buy things with them from the boss in his shops. In America during the War of Independence old barns would apparently be burnt down just so that people could retrieve the hand wrought nails as Great Britain would not send nails over to the Americas.
Time for a BBQ on Saturday night. One very nice bit of kit for the evening was Alastair’s sawdust stove. Put sawdust in, light it from the top and let it burn downwards. Very controllable and provides a constant heat source to cook on- not too hot and not too cold. An excellent biofuel stove using waste wood.
The next day I took over from the stone masons (as in fact they were away) and that gave me the chance to improve on what I had done the day before. Also in attendance was Simon who does letter carving. Although standard lettering is his bread and butter it is the artistic letter carving he likes (and the style I prefer as it seems to have more life in it). In fact it was Simon who carved the artistic ‘The Uncarved Block’ into a two and a half ton block of limestone which is now in the woodlands behind Cobb’s Wood Farm.
The carving tools he uses are slightly different to the stone mason’s ones as they have to be much finer and sharper; they also have tungsten carbide tips which stay sharper longer.
Back to the bodgers and rake making. There did seem to be rather a lot of wood shavings about but there were some lovely spoons made and copious quantities of chair legs; even a few bowls were produced plus one very special apple bowl made by one of the course attendees who was learning how to turn a bowl under Jim’s expert supervision.
Monday… what a day! It was a bank holiday and guess what? It rained all day long. Mind you quite a few people still came to visit. Tom tried out a log lifting device- a most excellent ergonomic way of moving heavy timber without straining your back. Actually this device is really a copy of the old timber bobs except that the wheels are a lot smaller on this modern one. The stone masons were back and this time they used different stone, some hard and some soft. The local clunch/Burwell stone used on well-to-do houses and churches is much softer and easier to carve (and to be honest is preferable to learn on by far). We did run a rake making course too which went well. I always make each stage to show how it’s done and the attendees then copy so, by the end of the day, not only have the attendees made a rake but so have I 🙂
Odd how you end up recording new species at Wimpole. Having dropped off the lorry at Cobb’s Wood Farm I walked back through East Clay Pits Field and noticed a campion looking like flower. Hmmmm… didn’t look right! On closer inspection it was a catchfly , in fact the rare small flowered catchfly. Had to go back in the morning the next day to get a good photograph as they flower at night and by midday the flowers have normally wilted.
Had a good look around and found quite a strong population much of it having seeded. There were also some other arable weeds including some scarce ones like the fluellens.
Another nice find was the wasp spider which was actually found alongside the Cobb’s Wood Farm track we are repairing. Here’s a bit from WIKI:
“The wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) is a species of orb-web spider distributed throughout central Europe, northern Europe, north Africa, parts of Asia and in the Azores archipelago. Like many other members of the genus Argiope, (including St Andrew’s Cross spiders), it shows striking yellow and black markings on its abdomen. The spider builds a spiral orb web at dawn or dusk, commonly in long grass a little above ground level, taking it approximately an hour. The prominent zigzag shape called the stabilimentum, or web decoration, featured at the centre of the orb is of uncertain function, though it may be to attract insects. When a prey item is first caught in the web, Argiope bruennichi will quickly immobilise its prey by wrapping it in silk. The prey is then bitten and then injected with a paralysing venom and a protein dissolving enzyme.
The male of the species is much smaller than the female. It can often be seen in or near a female’s web waiting for her to complete her final moult, at which time she reaches sexual maturity. At this time her chelicerae (jaws) will be soft for a short time and the male may mate with the female without the danger of being eaten.”
Don’t worry we never squashed the spider while spreading more limestone onto the farm track.
Yet more grass falls to the Tuesday evening mowers- this time we’ll take the grass to Home Farm to feed the cows in the shed as most of the flower seed has gone. We’re mowing this now so it looks good and is ready for the next hay crop in 2016.
Oh boy that fence at Arrington is proving to be the bane of my life! It would seem as if the whole field had been used for the military hospital during WW2- concrete and brick walls everywhere. However the forestry team have made progress and they’ll soon be past the worst bit.
Another job was to plough the buttercup meadow adjacent the Woodyard. I have had to plough this a few times in order to kill off the creeping thistle ready for the autumn wheat sowing. Even Shane had a go at ploughing and he did a fine job.
Had a request for some Swedish Logs. I’ve known about them but have never made or even used one. We like our Rocket Logs made of larger, hardwood timber. Swedish Candles use conifers especially those containing a lot of sap.
I knew you put deep, longitudinal cuts into the wood but didn’t know how many. With a bit of trial and error (making some then lighting them) it became obvious that we needed to cut them four times thus making eight “pie sections”. All you then needed to do was to pour a small amount of flammable liquid in the centre, light and watch it burn. These logs were roughly 12-18 inches long and about 6-9 inches thick. Each candle would last roughly half an hour.
All these ‘Just-a-Jobs’! We had to finish off the barley thrashing in the Great Barn. This was probably one of the last proper thrashing barns ever made in England as after 1800 the thrashing contraptions were invented. These were either powered by water or horses. In fact the 3rd Earl of Hardwicke had a four-horse gin that thrashed the corn in the Great Barn before they built a water driven thrashing mill near Thornberry Farm. Two hundred years ago thrashing with a flail was the norm and provided much needed work for the labourers in the winter months. Not a pleasant job I can assure you- very itchy!
Young Peter the Blacksmith has lost his prized short sword which was his pride and joy and also his master piece for his blacksmith exams- a very ornate Dungeons & Dragons sword. He last remembers it in his tent up by the Folly when we did the conservation weekend. Any information as to its whereabouts would be gratefully received.