“Boys like axes! oh and swords” by David Owen

Mad axe man goes to school!

Mad axe man goes to school!

The Wimpole Green Woodworkers group has always tried to fulfill the aim of the Association of Polelathe Turners and Greenwood Workers aka the Bodgers of which it is a member to promote and educate people of all ages about green woodworking and associated crafts. In the last few years we have laid on demonstrations for the public at various National Trust sites, mainly at Wimpole, but also at other venues such as Denny Abbey, Burwash Manor and Harston Community Orchard and its village primary school. One of the classes in the school had chosen to do Vikings and Anglo Saxons as their topic for the term and having seen us demonstrating to the public asked if we could help out with a Viking activity and craft day. This was a new venture in promoting and educating for us, but we decided to give it a go. So it was that at 9am one Tuesday morning we arrived at the school equipped with 25 hastily made drop spindles, an array of green woodworking tools (many of which were already in use in Viking Britain axes, drawknives, adzes, augers) and courtesy of Simon some Wimpole ash and some washed Wimpole sheep’s wool.


Andrea, one of our newest members, caused quite a stir by arriving in her authentic, handmade high-status Viking ladies outfit complete with tortoise brooches and braided hair. She joined the greenwood workers as she is reconstructing historical outfits, does living history events and hopes to learn more about historical woodworking techniques with the group.


We started off with discussing Viking life and crafts with the children, who were very enthusiastic and asked us many questions, including “Did the Vikings build snow-men?”, “What did the Vikings do in winter” and “Did Viking children go to school?”. We then did some hands-on activities, which were quickly picked up by the children. Under Andrea’s patient tutelage, they learnt to spin the wool into thread and then woven it onto a simple square wooden frame to make a small square of fabric. Andrea had originally thought that spinning might be too difficult for young children, but the class from Harston village primary school proved her wrong!


Learning to drop spin with Andrea


Weaving the warp onto a simple frame



After explaining the basics of green woodwork as would have been practiced in the Viking period and showing them how to use various tools (an excellent source of information can be found at http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/wood.shtml), the children helped to make components for two items of Viking furniture : a Lund pattern stool and a small, simple four legged ash table/bench, which were assembled and returned the following week for use in the classroom.  They used a froe to split out the legs and measured and drilled the holes for them to fit into but, much to their disappointment, could only watch the legs being shaped with an axe (boys love axes!) and a draw knife.


Angering the holes to a ‘D’ stool


Viking original ‘D’ Lund stool

using an auger to drill out leg holes – if anybody has a genuine Viking design ‘spoon bit’ auger they could lend us if we do something like this again, then please contact  us

The “D” or Lund stool was a replica of a ‘best guess’ reconstruction of an 11th Century stool found in Kulturen museum , Lund, in Sweden.

The bench was really just a generic piece of low status medieval furniture that would have been found in a late Viking house or hall but the children made it their own by writing their names in runes on its top in pencil, which were later burnt in.


The modern Lund stool and Rune bench

The biggest stir of the day was created by Magnus, nothing unusual there! Despite the fact that if you type Magnus and blacksmith into the web, you get all sorts of links to online computer gaming, there is only one real Magnus the blacksmith and he is unique!

Closer view of the Rune bench

Closer view of the Rune bench

Magnus often demonstrates to the public using the portable forge at the Wimpole scything festival craft weekend and the like (see various of Simon’s Wympole blogs) and can sometimes be found at Wimpole’s renovated blacksmith’s forge. He appeared complete with a variety of Viking and Saxon weapons, helmets and a chainmail hauberk and gave the children a talk about Viking weapons and fighting techniques for which he needed a dummy to dress up and ‘attack’ – and for some reason I was chosen to fulfill that role.


Magnus explaining the gory details of Viking combat


Trying on a Viking helmet



The children and the teachers got to try on the helmets and pick up some of the (blunted) weapons.


We discovered that if there is one thing children like more than axes it is swords and descriptions of hacking at enemies!

The children were very energetic and enthusiastic, if occasionally a little blood thirsty, and learnt a lot in short time. The aim was to make Viking life become a little more real for the children and this thank you from the class teacher suggests it did.

“Our children-and staff-thoroughly enjoyed the Viking day organised by The Wimpole Greenwoodworking group. They not only had the opportunity to listen to enthusiastic experts share their extensive historical knowledge, but also were able to have a go at spinning wool, chopping and drilling wood, and trying on replica Viking helmets. The session gave a very good insight into how Vikings lived and the hands-on activities really helped the children imagine an otherwise rather distant culture. Overall we would like to thank the whole team for providing such an enjoyable, exciting and informative workshop for our children.”


Gory details!!!!!!!!

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and rounded it off with the famous soup and beef sandwiches of the Queen’s Head in the next village Newton : always a good way to end anything off!

About Sadeik

You may ask why "Sadeik" well it means friend in arabic. Worked in Jordan a lot doing tree surgery you see. I have worked in forestry since I left school with a two years in Telecom. Went back to forestry and tree surgery as it may not have paid as much but was far more interesting and dangerous. Spent a lot of years mountaineering, caving and canoeing too. At 29 I went to Bangor University to study Forestry and soil science then did an MSc in Water engineering all very interesting. By a quirk of fate in 1995 ended up helping sort out the woodland and park at Wimpole, funny thing was then I only intended to stay six months or so, but 18 years later I'm still here learning all the time. That's the best bit, if I wasn't able to learn something new every year I would not have stayed and as you get older you realise that the grass is not so green in the next field after all. In fact my patch is getting greener while much of the rest is getting browner.
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