Wimpole Estate Produce Fair

Following the last few years’ events in awful weather up near the gardens, the produce show shrank and shifted to near the stable block. The weather was glorious as predicted by the McWeatherman and so a lot of people casually dropped buy to watch, eat, drink, buy produce and listen to the wonderful variety of music that was on offer.

…and of course the Estate’s rural craft group were out in strength on both days ‘entertaining and educating’ the public. Simon brought the portable forge and with lots of noise made a series of iron age axe heads, which were then appropriately handled. Shane and Jayne were making split hazel baskets following the piquing of their interests at the Foresters show – very skilful, time consuming work but the outcome was beautiful and well worth it. With Kate focussing on turning the world’s largest ever toilet roll holder, it fell to Mike to make oak roofing shingles, which he is going to be using to weatherproof his new pizza oven (when’s the group invite for trying the pizzas? -.ed)

Our McLeader was, as so often, the star attraction turning bowls on his lathe and keeping up a constant banter with the  public whilst also finding time to teach Ollie, our newest recruit, the mysteries of the pole lathe. Jon Baily was also ‘bowling’ up the other end of our tented area and Graeme was producing replacement parts for an Arts and Crafts period chair he had acquired.

Our challenge was to rush a 16″ square-topped stool. This was an attempt to increase the group’s repertoire of seating techniques beyond elm bark, and various cords. Rush seating has been traditional in this country for hundreds and probably thousands of years.

The rushes, actually English freshwater bulrush (schoeneplectus lacustris) were cut in June and July from the River Great Ouse in the traditional manual way that goes back many centuries by Felicity Irons of Rushmatters (http://www.rushmatters.co.uk) who works out of a glorious ancient barn in Grange Farm, Colesden near Bedford. The bulrush is cut from 17ft long punts using rush knifes, a slim scythe-shaped blade 3ft long fixed to a 6ft handle, enabling the rush stems sometimes up to 10ft in length to be cut from the river bed. They are then stood against a hedge to allow sun and wind to dry the rush over a few days.

Although we have used paper rush, real rushes are an altogether different level of complexity and the air was often tinged slightly blue! Rushing starts at a back corner and works round each corner in turn towards the centre with a  new rush being spliced in every side on average with a half hitch. It took most of Saturday and some of Sunday but in the end we got over the finish line with something that looked reasonable and that we were pretty happy with.

Sunday afternoon came round all too quickly and as the sun set there was time to make one last cup of tea amid the mounds of shavings we had generated from some feverish end of the day draw-knifing of chair parts. As ever thank you to Simon and his gang for setting up all the tents and bringing over the kit and collecting the wood

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