Category Archives: COAM

  • -

COAM Opening Day 3rd May 1981

The Chiltern Open Air Museum ticket office in 1981

Chiltern Open Air Museum’s ticket office in 1981.

Imagine the scene on the morning of Sunday May 3rd, 1981. The volunteers who had been working on the development of Chiltern Open Air Museum since the land was acquired in 1978 were making last minute preparations for the formal opening. Hand-painted notice-boards were being erected around the site, the twenty wardens were being given last minute instructions and cakes were being delivered by the caterer. This was the culmination of months of planning and hard physical work and, with five buildings complete, or in progress, everyone was excited and anxious. Would visitors come? Would it all have been worthwhile?

COAM ticket office 1981

Visitors waiting outside the museum’s ticket office in 1981.

Unfortunately, by the scheduled opening time of 2pm, heavy rain and strong winds had set in but, despite this, a substantial number of people did brave the weather to support this new venture. On arrival, visitors parked in the field that was acting as the temporary car park and bought their tickets at the old caravan which served as a ticket office for the first six years. On opening day, these tickets were 50p for adults, and 20p for children and over-65s; the price had been kept low to reflect the limited number of buildings on display.

Once they had their tickets, visitors walked along the side of what is now Thomas’s field to the museum entrance, at the site where the Forge now stands.

The first building that they would see was the Wing granary, a baker’s flour store dating from the 1820s. This building had not been dismantled to move it to the Museum and apparently had caused quite a stir as it was transported across Buckinghamshire on a low-loader!

Rossway Granary in 1981

Rossway Granary under construction in 1981.

Close to the Wing granary, visitors could view the slightly older Rossway granary. This had been dismantled for its move from a farm near Berkhamsted and, although its re-erection was progressing well, it was still incomplete.

Nearby, was the Arborfield barn, thought to date from around 1500. The thatching on this cruck barn had been completed in April although, at the time of opening, the woven oak in-fill of the walls had not been put in place.

Arborfield Barn 1981

Arborfield Barn in 1981.

Not far away was the Iron Age House. This, of course, had not been moved there but was a reconstruction built by the Manshead Archaeological Society, based on archaeological finds around the Chilterns. Access to it was made slightly difficult by the fact that, at the time, a public footpath ran through the museum site. The path had to be fenced on both sides to stop walkers wandering into the museum and a warden was stationed at a gate to allow visitors through to look at the Iron Age House.

Chiltern Open Air Museum's Iron Age Roundhouse in 1981

The Iron Age roundhouse in 1981.

The final building on display was the mid-Victorian Didcot cart shed, located at the rear of the site, by the old car park. A second caravan stationed here provided refreshments.

In addition to the buildings, visitors could view an exhibition of old tools and farm implements which were awaiting repair, and enjoy a Nature Trail through the beautiful Chiltern countryside.

Was the opening a success? The Chiltern Society News* records that 100 people braved the elements to visit the museum on that opening Sunday and all claimed to have had a lovely time. The next day, Bank Holiday Monday, the sun shone and 500 visitors arrived.

Chiltern Open Air Museum carpark in 1981.

The Chiltern Open Air Museum car park in 1981.

The plan was to open every Sunday afternoon and Bank Holiday Monday throughout the year. The weather seemed determined to ruin this plan as it rained almost every Sunday that year and Spring Bank Holiday was a washout. However, despite the weather, the difficulty people had in finding the Museum through a lack of sign-posts and the very muddy car-park, by mid-June the museum had recorded 1500 visitors. By the end of September, this had risen to 6000.

Looking back forty years later, there is no question about whether the Chiltern Open Air Museum is a success. There are now 37 buildings on show with another 15 in store awaiting erection. The Museum is a popular place for school-trips and holds a large variety of events and experience days every year. In 2019, it welcomed more than 56,000 visitors. During 2020, although the number of visitors was reduced, it offered a very welcome respite from lockdown – a place where people felt safe and relaxed and could still enjoy the beautiful location. Bring on the next 40 years!

Written by Paula Lacey
Museum Volunteer

*Chiltern Open Air Museum was started by a group from the Chiltern Society.


  • -

The Henton Chapel Organ

When I joined as a volunteer a few months ago, and was diligently reading through and trying to absorb the information in the buildings’ briefing documents, something jumped out at me from the information on the Henton ‘Tin Tabernacle’ chapel:

‘Interior fittings: The organ is an American Reed Organ, made by F Estey & Co. of Brattleboro, Vermont’

During subsequent chats with other volunteers, I heard it said that they found it quite surprising and puzzling that an organ made in an obscure part of the North-Eastern United States should find its way to the middle of the English countryside.

Well… not necessarily!

The Estey company (which originally made melodeons) was founded in 1852 by Jacob Estey, and their manufacturing base was indeed Brattleboro, Vermont. However, over the rest of the 19th Century and well into the 20th, Estey became and remained for many years the largest manufacturer of reed organs in the world. By 1869, production exceeded 300 instruments per month. Twenty years later, production was running at 13,000 organs a year and the company had built over 300,000 organs by the turn of the 19th/20th century.

The Estey factory in Brattleboro, Vermont

The Estey factory in Brattleboro, Vermont

Estey exported very widely and would certainly have had distributors and retailers in England.

In fact, Estey produced an ‘Acclimatized’ organ specifically for use in hot and humid climates, and these were much used by missionaries in Africa, Central America, and elsewhere.

During the Second World war, every US Army chaplain was issued with an Estey ‘field organ’; small, very simply constructed from plain timber, painted battleship grey and designed to fold up to be stowed in the back of a Jeep!

The business declined in the 1950s with the advent of electronic organs, which Estey did have a shot at producing. Unfortunately this wasn’t successful, and the company finally went out of business in the early 1960s.

Estey produced a wide range of models, from small ‘cottage organs’ to quite large instruments. Our organ is of the type known as a ‘chapel organ’, designed for smaller spaces and venues and therefore exactly right for Henton. Estey did in fact also produce pipe organs for larger churches and silent movie accompaniment, and I was amused to discover they also produced a model of chapel organ with a set of pipes fixed to the top. These pipes were simply plain metal tubes and did absolutely nothing, but presumably imparted some pipe-organ gravitas to a humble chapel reed organ!

Estey Chapel Organ

A page from the Estey catalogue of 1888

One interesting thing is that our organ appears to be black. And as far as I can see, this was the original factory finish (although it is possible that it was refinished when restored by Stevens). I’ve never seen another black one (they are usually plain varnished wood), and an image search online has failed to turn up any pictures of other black Estey chapel organs. So a little bit of a mystery there perhaps! The external design of the ‘chapel organ’ varied quite a bit over the years when it was in production, and I am currently trawling through some catalogues to see if I can pinpoint a date for our organ. I’m also trying to track down who the Estey dealers or retailers in England may have been.

You may be wondering why the Estey name caught my eye in the COAM documentation? Well, my wife has done quite a bit of research on her family history, and discovered a few years ago that she is in fact related to the Esteys. In 2017 during a trip to the USA we visited Sue’s cousin Gordon J Estey, who is now the senior member of the family. Gordon is an absolutely delightful gentleman and something of a collector of rescued Estey organs; his house is a bit of a museum, with an organ in almost every room! Gordon looks after some of the Estey company archives (which apparently were quite meticulous) and has very generously offered to help out with identifying the exact model of organ we have, dating it, and possibly (fingers crossed) finding out more about it such as who the original purchaser was.

So there may be an update on this shortly!

Kevin Fitzsimons
COAM Volunteer


  • -

Jess the sheep dog at 15 weeks

Jess at 15 weeks

Well Jess is continuing to grow at a pace and weighing in at 9.6 kgs, she is pretty much toilet trained and is becoming less of a full time job and more an integral part of the family. Socialising now is the priority as she is a bit limited with the current COVID situation, so, plenty of walks and chances to meet other people and dogs. She seems to love people as long as they are not to “in her face” she then tends to keep her distance for a while until she builds up courage. Dogs however are a bit more scary and she’d run a mile if she wasn’t on a lead so the more chances to meet them the better. Yesterday, she met a tiny puppy about the same age as her and was scared to death at first but a bit of perseverance and she soon overcame any fear and was rough and tumbling and realising what good fun it was.

Sheep dog puppy walking sheep up path

Now over to her main purpose in life, being a sheepdog! Over the last couple of weeks she has been to see the sheep at feeding time and is developing a mild interest so it’s important to keep nurturing it steadily. Today we needed to move the sheep to pastures new as we have recently wormed them and they need fresh grass so it seemed an opportune time to let Jess get a little more involved. All dogs are different and as a trainer I need to recognise what sort of temperament she has and how will she work sheep, some won’t develop a desire to work for many months, others dive straight in and attack ( this is the wolf ancestry hunt and kill instinct that ultimately drives them all to work).

sheep dog puppy observing sheep with head it's head in a bucket

Jess seems to be in the middle somewhere with quite an interest but a bit wary so it’s vital she doesn’t get put off by an angry sheep as this could affect her for life. Many pups don’t do anything at first particularly if the sheep aren’t worried by the dogs’ presence and don’t move away, the pup just ends up confused and unsure what to do. What we need is moving sheep to bring out the chasing instinct and this change of pasture seemed ideal. Starting with the lambs who have been grazing off the Hidden Meadow (our piece of chalk downland) I let them go past her and proceeded to follow them with Jess on an extendable lead, the video was taken by Rachael our shepherdess and you can clearly see Jess getting very excited, nipping at their heels and even showing a desire to want to go round them and head them off. These moments are without doubt my favourite part of training a working collie as you get that flood of relief that your new acquisition has something in her that we can work with.

For now that is about as far as I will go with her, just regular visits to see the sheep to build up a real burning desire to herd them, we’ll wait until she is big enough and fast enough to out run them before we start the serious business of training to commands etc. She will however be getting home schooling on the basics, walking steady, stopping, lying down etc. and of course coming back to me which seems to be our biggest challenge at the moment!

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd at COAM


  • -

Accompanied Walks

A Dose of Vitamin Green – Accompanied Walks at COAM

This autumn lots of over 65s have joined us for an Accompanied Walk. When asked, “On a scale of 1 to 5, did you feel that your mood was happier after the walk than before the walk?”, every single one replied 5 out of 5!

If you have not yet heard about our Accompanied `Walks programme, here is a quick explanation….

The team at Chiltern Open Air Museum recognised that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, difficulties for those members of the elderly community who were already experiencing social isolation, have been exacerbated. To promote and support the health and wellbeing of this sector of our community, we invited individuals and some couples (and some dogs!) to the museum for an accompanied walk with a friendly and knowledgeable COAM volunteer. Walkers were encouraged to invite along a carer or friend for both support and to increase access to the programme. Throughout the experience, Government guidelines on social distancing were followed.

Accompanied Walks

This project, funded by the Sherling Trust, gave visitors the opportunity to enjoy an hour’s walk around the museum and learn about our 37 heritage buildings, gardens, park and woodland. Before heading back home, walkers were offered a cuppa and snack.

In advance of their visit, I asked each walker a few nosey questions so that I could gauge their level of mobility and gain an idea of some of their interests. Armed with this information, I was then able to match the walker to one of the fabulous accompanying COAM volunteers. So, along with the benefits of being out and about in the great outdoors in a beautiful, safe and supported environment, walkers also benefited from lively and engaging conversation.

We couldn’t agree more with the findings of Walking for Heath’s Walking Works report which includes the following findings:

“Walking is the most likely way all adults can achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.”
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

“Being physically active is particularly beneficial for the mental health of older people, improving cognitive functioning, memory, attention and processing speed, reducing symptoms of dementia, improving mood and satisfaction with life, and decreasing feelings of loneliness.”
The British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health

Feedback from both the walkers and volunteers involved in the Accompanied Walks programme at COAM has been unanimously positive.

“I accompanied my mother who was a little unsure about going on the walk but she really enjoyed it. We had lovely weather, our volunteer was helpful, kind and very informative. Everyone we met in the walk was kind too. We both really appreciated the opportunity given.” Accompanied Walker

“The whole experience was quite refreshing and in these ‘troubled times’ a little bit of normality…the wonders of being out with nature, good for body and soul!” Accompanied Walker

We hope to offer Accompanied Walks again next year, so if you are interested, 65 years or older and in need a change of scene, for 2021, please email outreach@coam.org.uk supplying your name and telephone number.

Jaqui Gellman
Outreach at COAM


  • -

Figgy Pudding Recipe

Figgy Pudding Recipe

At our Traditional Christmas event in 2019, one of our costumed volunteers, Jenny made figgy pudding in our Haddenham cottage. Visitors were able to see the pudding being made in the Victorian kitchen and were able to help out with the stirring. Several people have asked for the recipe so here it is:

Figgy Puddling

Ingredients

2 cooking apples
1lb dried figs
1 medium carrot
8 ozs butter
4 ozs soft brown sugar
6ozs wholemeal breadcrumbs
4 ozs wholemeal flour
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of black treacle
mixed spice

Method

  • Peel and core apples,cut into pieces.
  • Put figs, apple and carrot through a fine mincer.
  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add breadcrumbs, flour,spice,minced fruit, lemon rind,juice ,treacle and eggs. Mix well , add a little milk if the mixture is too stiff.
  • Put mixture into a 2pint greased pudding basin or 2 x 1 pint greased pudding basins.
  • Cover with greased parchment/ greaseproof paper and muslin cloth.
  • Place into a saucepan with boiling water halfway up the basin.
  • Cover and steam for 5 hours, add more boiling water from time to time.

Enjoy making and please share the results of your baking with us on our Facebook page.


  • -

The Circle of Life

The problem with dogs is that they don’t last long enough, it is said that one man year equals seven dog years, whatever the answer I know that every fourteen or so years I have to say goodbye to one of my closest friends. A month ago I said goodbye to fifteen year old Ted, when finally his body said I’ve had enough. So it was with a heavy heart that we took that all too familiar trip to the vet and saw him drift away peacefully. He was a great sheepdog, naturally gifted with genetic material passed down over decades, and highly trained over years to do a job that cannot be done by any other animal or machine. He served the museum well herding and holding the sheep for various tasks and thrilled the visitors with his skills in our working displays, he even pitched in with a spot of acting when the film crews were around, most famously in Downton Abbey when they filmed in the farmyard in series two.

Sheepdog, Ted at Chiltern Open Air MuseumChiltern Open Air Museum proudly owns one of the few flocks of Oxford Down Sheep in the country, a breed established around 1830 in the south of England originally in the Oxfordshire area. My job at the museum is volunteer shepherd, something I’ve done here for 23 years and it’s because there’s a saying “there’s no good shepherd without a good dog” that I find myself about to embark on the long struggle towards the perfectly trained sheepdog once again.

Don’t think for one minute I don’t enjoy it, there are few thing’s I like more than the early stages of sheepdog training, trying to assess the latent potential, working out the best way to overcome the problems etc. All dogs are different, like children, and need a slightly different approach, although you can generally categorise them and use tried and trusted methods for each. So, I can’t wait until my new charge is about six month old and I can begin to introduce her to the flock.

So who is she? Well ‘she’ arrived several months too early! As a family we planned to wait until the new year before taking the plunge but a chance conversation with an old friend uncovered a single pup left from a litter from good working dog stock, the sire has competed in the English National Sheepdog Trials. Quickly we organised a trip with an overnight stay in the West Country and collected our new charge, many names were bandied about but ultimately it was Jess that was chosen. So I know how my spare time will be taken up next summer and you maybe lucky to catch a training session at the museum sometime (the early ones can be a bit over enthusiastic).

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd
Chiltern Open Air Museum

 


  • -

We need your support

We would usually open every year daily between the end of March and October. However the Covid-19 emergency means we haven’t yet had the chance to open our doors to the public in 2020.

As an independent museum and charity, we receive no government or local authority funding and have now lost all our regular income from tickets, Annual Passes, events, weddings, school visits, filming and our shop and café. This represents around 80% of our total income.

This loss of income is incredibly worrying. We have some reserves that will keep the basic essentials of the museum ticking over for a few months. However the reserves we have built up over several years mean we’re not necessarily eligible to apply for many of the Covid-19 grants available to museum and heritage charities. While it is good news that we have these reserve funds to keep us secure for a while, the real danger from the loss of income due to the forced closure is that we may not have the opportunity to generate enough income over the 2020 season to survive through the winter 2020-21 closure. Even if the government relaxes the rules allowing us to open in the summer, it is likely there will be restrictions on activities and visitor numbers for a further period which will inevitably limit our ability to recover the lost income.

The management team have reduced outgoings as much as possible and the majority of staff are now on the Government backed Furlough Scheme. Nevertheless a number of essential staff are needed to keep the museum going, to ensure the 45 acre site is secure, maintain the building collection, and feed, water and care for the livestock of goats, cows, chickens and a flock of sheep now increased by around 16 lambs in the last month.

Our beautiful site is a popular place for wellbeing, learning and calm and our museum, like many, is therefore appealing to the community, heritage enthusiasts and supporters for help. We’re asking people to pledge their support by buying an open ticket to visit the museum when it re-opens, to buy an Annual or Lifetime Pass, make a donation or sign up to be a volunteer.


  • -

Countryfile and Harvest

Chiltern Open Air Museum to Feature on the BBC’s Countryfile

On the 19th September the BBC’s Countryfile visited the Museum to find out more about Harvest and its traditions.

At the heart of the Museum is a working historic farm with arable fields and livestock that is run (as much as possible) using traditional methods and equipment. The farm has the equivalent of two full time staff and is supported by a large team of wonderful volunteers.

Countryfile Filming at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Countryfile presenter, Helen Skelton, interviewed the Museum’s Farm Team to find out how they restored a beautiful pink 1947 Ransomes threshing machine and the role the machine would have played in farming history.

The programme also features our apple orchard, where each tree is a different heritage variety. Helen chatted to volunteer, Keith Baggaley, about the different types of apple and how they are harvested and then pressed into apple juice that is then sold at the Museum.

Apple orchard at COAM

Our red tin chapel, from Henton, was decorated in beautiful straw plait sculptures made by straw plaiters and volunteers, Heather Beeson and Veronica Main. Helen chatted to Veronica about the art of straw plaiting and the important part it played in a traditional Harvest.

Helen Skelton and the Countryfile crew were absolutely lovely to work with and really friendly and genuinely interested in the work that the team here do.

You can watch the show on BBC iplayer

Straw Sculptures

 


  • -

10 things that you might not know about COAM

Amersham prefab at COAM

10 things that you might not know about Chiltern Open Air Museum

  • The Museum has seen an increase of over 90% in visitors over the last 4 years!
  • Over 21,000 school children visited the Museum for school workshops in 2017.
  • The Museum has over 200 active volunteers and we couldn’t run without them.
  • The Museum has 14 buildings in store waiting to be reconstructed on the site, we just need to raise the funds so that we can do this.
  • The 14 buildings in store are all stored flat packed within Glory Mill, which is one of our historic buildings. It’s like our own historic Ikea!
  • The Museum is a charity and any profits go back into the Museum so that we can continue the valuable conservation work that we do.
  • The Museum currently only has 7 full-time members of staff, 8 part-time members of staff and 2 Heritage Lottery Funded trainees. Due to the increase in visitor numbers mentioned in point 1, this will be changing for 2018 so keep an eye on our vacancies page if you’re interested in joining our team.
  • The Museum’s farm was used for filming in series 2 of Downton Abbey.
  • The Museum has been used for filming 35 TV programs/dramas/films since 2011.
  • Our buildings are named after the place that they were rescued from.

Search our site

Join our mailing list

Donate