Category Archives: History

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The history of Garston Forge

In years gone by, every town, village and hamlet would have had a blacksmith’s shop at its heart. Here at the Museum, we saved and re-erected a forge from Garston. In the middle of the 19th century, Garston was a hamlet to the northwest of Watford.

Garston Forge

Garston Forge in its original location in 1982.

From the late 1850s until 1926, this forge in Garston was run by the Martin family. Early in 1859, blacksmith George Martin with his wife Susannah and their children moved from Chiswell Green to Garston. The St Albans area had been the home of generations of blacksmiths called Martin going back to the 17th century in the villages of Park Street, Nap Hill and Leavesden. The 1861 census shows George and Susannah in Garston with seven of their eight children, one of whom had died in infancy. They would later have four more children. The house where they lived had a grocer’s shop within it and at the rear, a large garden where the forge was built. The house had been called Church Cottage in what was then Church Lane, since it stood opposite All Saints Church.

A country blacksmith made and repaired hand tools and repaired farm implements as well as making horseshoes. A blacksmith in rural South Wales in 1892 is recorded to have done the following work: mended a ploughshare and coulter, made a new hatchet, mended an oven, banded two wheels, mended scythes and made gate springs.

The Martin Family

The Martin Family

An important job was the making and fitting of metal tyres for the wooden wheels of carts and wagons. Outside our Forge can be seen a tyreing ring platform where, with the old tyre removed, the wheel would be clamped, the new tyre heated on a fire and then dropped onto the wheel. This was then cooled with water, thus shrinking the tyre and clamping the wooden wheel securely. The blacksmith was an indispensable member of the community. He provided all the metal tools and implements required by the local people.

In 1890, an examination and registration system was introduced for “shoeing smiths”, a measure made to protect horses. From 1975, only registered farriers may shoe horses. Farriers would often visit stables where horses needed to be shoed and in our blacksmith’s shop we have a travelling forge and half-size anvil which the blacksmith or farrier would take with him.

The tyre ring being moved from it’s original location.

The Forge closed in 1926 and by 1982 the forge and the house were scheduled to be sold and demolished. The Museum learned about this and obtained the right to preserve the Forge. In November 1982, volunteers from the Museum dismantled it and during the summer of 1984, it was reconstructed on its present site.

Written by Roger Coode, Museum Volunteer


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Shepherd Vans and Lambing

Nowadays, people might mainly think of shepherd’s vans as romantic holiday hideaways or useful garden offices but, during the nineteenth century, they were an important part of farming life and were regularly seen dotted around the countryside.

It’s tempting to think that they were rarely used before about 1800 but this may just be because very few old ones survive. In fact, a farming book dating from 1596 refers to them: ‘in some places the Shepheard has his Cabbin going upon a wheel for to move here and there at his pleasure’ and, even older, an illuminated manuscript from 1480 clearly shows an image of a wheeled hut.

Shepherd's living van

The Shepherd van at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Obviously, shepherd’s vans could not be used on mountainous or swampy land but they were ideal for use on lowland farms and were common throughout the east of Wales and the south of England. They were also widely used in other countries in different forms, sometimes being so small as to be little more than a hutch in which a shepherd could lie down out of the rain!

In the early days in England, there was no standard design for the vans and a farmer might ask the local blacksmith to build something. This might have been extremely rudimentary, with no lining or insulation and hardly enough space to stand up properly – just somewhere to keep tools. However, medium scale farmers could afford something better and, often, vans were bought from suppliers such as Farris Brothers or Tasker Ltd, who followed a standard design. Increasingly, after 1829, vans were made from corrugated iron but wooden ones were also still popular. They had substantial wheels with a front steering axle. This raised the van above ground level and, together with a timber lining meant it was much warmer and more comfortable than earlier, more basic versions.

Inside, the furnishings were simple but usually included a cast-iron stove which allowed the shepherd to dry his clothes and heat food. It also meant that he had hot water for washing – very welcome after he had completed some of the dirty tasks that his job required, such as scraping larvae and maggots out of scabs and infections, picking out sheep’s hooves or clipping manure-covered wool from sheep’s behinds. The van also included a simple raised bed, made of just a wooden platform and a straw-filled mattress. Under the bed, a small gated pen was often included, in which the shepherd could keep any sickly lambs that he was nursing.

At Chiltern Open Air Museum, we have a traditional shepherd’s van, dating from around 1915 and thought to have been originally used at Boot Farm, Little Kingshill. It was donated to us in 1985 and, since its restoration, has been used for its original purpose, allowing our own shepherds to remain on-site during lambing. The van is typical of the design of its age, being built of rebated feather edge boards, with diagonal tongued and grooved boards internally, which brace the structure. The wheels are cast-iron and the barrel-shaped roof is covered with corrugated iron. The van is painted in battleship grey, which was its original colour. Internally, the cast-iron stove was too badly damaged to be used but has been replaced with a similar one.

During lambing, one of our shepherds stays overnight in the van, following traditional methods as far as possible. There is no electricity, so lighting is provided by candles and lanterns (supplemented by torches where necessary!) and heating comes from the cast-iron stove which is also used to heat water used for sterilising equipment.

The two priorities of the shepherd are to help the ewes give birth and to care for the newly-born lambs. During the night, the shepherd wakes every two hours to check them. Two hours is the longest that a ewe should be left in labour without help. Ewes can usually deliver without assistance but our Oxford Down sheep tend to need more help than other breeds, partly because of their size. If they are in labour too long, the shepherd will check for problems such as poor presentation of the lamb: lambs need to be in the ‘Superman’ position, with nose and two front feet all facing forwards.

Oxford Down Lamb

An Oxford Down lamb at Chiltern Open Air Museum

New-born lambs are very vulnerable and it is important that they get enough to drink and are warm enough. The shepherds keep a detailed lambing diary which includes information about how often each lamb suckles and for how long. If there seems to be a problem with feeding, the shepherd will pass a tube into its stomach and feed it with lamb-formula milk. If a lamb needs to be kept warm, infra-red lamps are used, rather than the lamb being put in a box of straw by the stove. Concessions to modern ways are important when a lamb’s life is at stake!

Plenty of stamina is needed for shepherding! It involves broken sleep, physical exertion, worry and considerable strength; however, these are more than outweighed by its rewards. At the Museum, the work provides a welcome chance to get close to the old ways and understand how Victorian and Edwardian shepherds might have felt in the fields with only the sheep and their dogs for company. Our shepherds talk of the peaceful, special feeling they experience in the lambing folds. They become aware of the wildlife that comes out when the people leave the Museum, of the sun rising above the cherry trees and the birdsong at dawn.

The shepherd’s van is so much more than just a curious wooden hut on wheels. It is a connection to tradition and to nature and we count ourselves lucky to have one.

Written by
Paula Lacey
Museum Volunteer


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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.


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History of the English Cup of Tea

‘Britain and the Tea Trade’

Tea is now ubiquitous in Britain. We are known as a nation of tea drinkers, and together we drink millions of cups of it each and every day. Breaks taken during the working day are often called ‘tea breaks’, and we have even christened a meal ‘tea’. But how did this happen? Why did tea emerge as our drink of choice? How long has this love affair lasted?

Cup of tea

The vast majority of the tea we drink is grown elsewhere, especially in China and India. The truth is that tea was never uniquely British. It has been drunk in China for thousands of years, and it arrived in other European countries at roughly the same time, or perhaps slightly earlier, than it arrived in Britain. When Charles II’s Portuguese wife Catherine of Braganza brought with her a small consignment of tea as part of her huge dowry, most Britons had probably never tasted tea because it remained expensive and its supply was irregular. At this stage, in the 17th Century, tea was a curiosity and most coffee houses sold more coffee and hot chocolate than they did tea. Samuel Pepys was not even moved to give a verdict on tea when he recorded having tried a cup in his diary.

In the 17th Century and beyond, the British East India Company was almost solely responsible for importing Chinese tea into Britain. The Company was an astonishingly powerful organisation, and it took full advantage of the virtual monopoly which it held on the trade of various commodities, including tea. What began as a trickle gradually became a flood, and, as the 18th Century wore on, tea drinking amongst Britons really began to take hold. The government stood to gain a huge amount of revenue by virtue of the tea trade, and high taxes encouraged widespread smuggling and adulteration of tea. Indeed, it was estimated at one stage that ten percent of government revenue was provided by tax paid on imported tea.

By the time the 19th Century began, the tax regime had been rethought and legally imported tea became more affordable. The British East India Company continued to import tea, but unscrupulous merchants and possibly even those connected with the Company itself were using the profits from illicit opium sales to finance the purchase of tea. This led to the First Opium War between Britain and China, and thereafter the ceding of a number of Chinese ports to the British gave merchants a firm foothold in the region and a base from which to export tea. Meanwhile, in the years which followed, the Company began to look towards India as a further source of tea production, given that India was at that time a British colony. Assam tea borrows the name of the Indian province in which it is grown.

The 19th Century saw the fascination with tea in Britain grow. High society ladies enjoyed taking tea together, and the 7th Duchess of Bedford became accustomed to drinking tea and enjoying delicate finger sandwiches and sweet pastries. It is the Duchess who is often credited with inventing ‘afternoon tea’ in the 1840s, since she was one of the first to make this meal a social occasion. This meal had a practical advantage though: it served to fill the gap between breakfast and dinner. Soon the Duchess’s fashionable friends were also asking for refreshments at 4pm, and ‘afternoon tea’ became a popular pastime. Consequently, the ‘afternoon tea’ is perhaps the most British of all the tea-drinking ceremonies. Its popularity has endured, and nowadays hotels and tea rooms often offer either an ‘afternoon tea’ or a ‘cream tea’ which is a West Country variant. The ‘afternoon tea’ has been transformed into a celebratory treat often enjoyed as part of a day out.

Block of tea leaves

Once the taking of tea had become popular amongst the upper- and middle-classes, tea sets became highly prized and much-envied possessions. Sets included tea pots, ornamental jugs, and sugar bowls. Drinking tea with sugar, though, was a British preference; the Chinese usually drank tea without it. Sugar was imported large-scale from the West Indies, and it helped to make the black tea with which it was mixed more palatable. New mid-19th Century technology brought tea leaves from China to Britain in record time, and although the age of the tea clipper was brief, it captured the attention of the public like nothing else. ‘Cutty Sark’ is a later tea clipper, although she struggled to compete with steam-powered vessels which were less reliant on large, elaborate sails.

Even before the excitement of the ‘Great Tea Clipper Race’ of 1866, tea consumption amongst the working classes had firmly taken hold. The poorer British citizens proved themselves extremely receptive to tea, and it was drunk not only for aspirational reasons but also because a cup of tea provided a measure of warmth and comfort. Because of this, householders were prepared to make tea one of their more expensive acquisitions. Even in difficult times, a small supply of tea could be eked out with more water; tea leaves could also be dried and reused if necessary. Whereas the wealthy elite at tea parties used elaborate tea sets laid out on specially-made tables, and were determined to showcase their best manners, the working classes cared less for these customs and contented themselves with the drink itself.

Nowadays, the majority of the tea drunk in Britain comes in tea bag form. Our tea bags are the modern forerunners of the small, silk bag used in America to carry enough tea to allow the customer to sample a particular variety or blend. Although much of the ceremony originally associated with enjoying a cup of tea has disappeared, tea drinking is so prevalent that today the National Grid has to engage in complex planning to ensure that the mass switching-on of electric kettles during TV advertising breaks does not interrupt the electricity supply to our homes. The health benefits associated with tea, and the seemingly endless varieties and blends which have been developed, mean that the age of tea drinking in Britain is not yet over.

Written by Museum Volunteer, Nicholas Cumberworth.


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International Women’s Day

Recognising the women of COAM’s Haddenham Cottage and 1940s Prefab

International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on 8th March since the early twentieth century to praise women’s achievements, is particularly important this year due to the pandemic’s detrimental effect on gender equality in the workplace and the gender pay gap. What better way to honour the day than by recognising the contribution women of Chiltern Open Air Museum’s much loved Haddenham Cottage and Prefab made to their homes and wider society.

Despite leaving little mark on the historical record, many of the women who lived in Haddenham Cottage made integral contributions to the domestic economy and the daily management of the household through their work as dress makers and lace makers.

Lacemaking pillow

Lace making pillow in Haddenham Cottage

There was much local rivalry between lacemakers and straw plaiters, had Haddenham and Leagrave Cottage been closer together, their female inhabitants may have been seen bickering with each other in the street or marketplace. Straw plaiters frequently teased lace makers about their large bottoms, a result of their sedentary lifestyle. Unlike lace making, straw plaiting could be completed while walking around the house and seeing to other chores. The lace makers got their own back by making fun of their rough-looking mouths which were toughened and scarred from constantly wetting the straw.

Rose Family

Rose Family outside Haddenham Cottage

The land Haddenham Cottage was originally built on was owned by a woman. In 1832 Richard Kitelee left the land to his sister Jane Scott of Castle Thorpe. Had Jane’s husband still been alive, ownership of the land would have passed to him as married women were not able to own land or property in their own right until the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1882. In 1835, Jane agreed to the “absolute sale” of the land to Joseph Chapman for £30 in 1835. Unfortunately, it was stipulated that no future wife should have any right to the land. It was not until 1925 that the property, now Croft Cottage, was owned by another woman, Sarah Anne Rose. She and her husband Arthur Rose first moved into the cottage as tenants in 1901, with Arthur buying it outright in 1909 for £230. Sarah Anne continued to live in the cottage after Arthur’s death until 1936 when it passed onto their son, Reginald Edwin Rose.

Ethel Brant

Ethel Brant outside prefab

One of the women we know the most about is Ethel Brant nee Martindale who lived in the Prefab following the Second World War. Ethel was born in Stonebridge, north London in 1927 to Henry David and Amy Martindale. When war broke out in 1939, they were living in Douglas Avenue in Wembley in a house the Martindales shared with a lodger, Mr Swan. Although only fourteen when she left school in 1941, Ethel was determined to play her part in the war effort and went to work in a light bulb factory near her home in Wembley. She soon found herself in the midst of the Blitz, working under a flimsy glass roof constantly threatening to give in to the Luftwaffe’s frequent bombing attempts.

After only a short time there, Ethel left the factory to become a conductress, or ‘clippie’, for the Alperton bus company, a seemingly less dangerous occupation. She was given a uniform, a

ticket and punch machine and a leather pouch, before being put to work on the number 83 route. One day her journey was interrupted by a doodlebug which seemed to be heading straight for the bus and only missing it by a few inches and exploding in the Thames. Ethel, without any thought for her own safety hurried to the top deck to ensure that her passengers were not injured. Thankfully they were not. Even this was not Ethel’s closest encounter with the enemy. One evening in February 1944, Ethel was enjoying a quiet tea with her family in their living room, when something hit the roof of their side extension with a terrific thud. They ran outside to see what had happened; Ethel was not sure what she expected to see but it was certainly not a teenaged blond-haired, blue-eyed Luftwaffe airman. He had decided to abandon his plane when it was hit three times by anti-aircraft gunners, landing on the Martindale’s roof, ensnared in his own parachute harness.

It was only a few months after this that Ethel first met her future husband, Bob at their mutual friend’s, Geoff and Eva’s wedding. Bob glimpsed Ethel first and persuaded Eva to introduce them. They quickly became infatuated, despite Bob being five years older than Ethel. Determined to stay in touch, they exchanged letters and photographs regularly for the remainder of the war, falling more in love with every line.

Following the war and their marriage in 1946, the Brants moved into 40 Grove Hill in Chalfont St Peter with Bob’s parents and his sisters Rose and Daphne. Not overly spacious to begin with, the house soon began to feel unbearably small with the arrival of Ethel and Bob’s first child, Carol in 1947. Bob applied to the council for-rehousing, and in 1948 the Brants received the good news that they had been offered the prefab at number 6 Finch Lane in Amersham. The timing could not have been better because Ethel was then pregnant with their second daughter, Joan. Prefabricated houses were the government’s solution to the housing, manpower and money shortage following the Second World War. An estimated 750,000 homes were needed following the Blitz. The one at COAM is an example of “The Universal House, Mark 3”, designed and manufactured by the Universal Housing Co. Ltd., Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, and completed in 1947, first belonging to the Bryants.

The only furniture they had was a baby’s cot, a settee and a borrowed put-you-up bed. Ethel and Bob soon got to work creating their palace, hiring furniture from Perrings in Chalfont St Peter, acquiring rag rugs and curtains, laying linoleum, and buying bedroom and dining room suites which arrived within four days. Bob fashioned a dressing table out of an old chest of drawers and even turned an old TV set into a record player. Their home was now not only ready to live in but to entertain. They always had company at the weekends, Ethel’s mother was a frequent visitor and while her stay was enjoyed by all it did mean doubling up three to a bed.

Living room of 1940s prefab

Living room in the 1940s prefab

Great friendships were formed with the other families who lived in the surrounding prefabs, always ready to help each other out. When Ethel had a poisoned hand, her next-door neighbour, Mrs Kino looked after Carol and Joan, and when all three of them had chickenpox, Mrs Hobbs looked after them. The farmer, Mr Thomson and his son regularly drove around the estate on their horse and cart, delivering milk, vegetables and eggs to the prefab families. Ethel and Bob often paid visits to his wife, who was unwell and house-bound to cheer her up and tell her the local gossip.

By investigating the histories of individual buildings, we can represent the much-overlooked female experience of daily life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I hope this blog post has made a start to fulfilling this year’s International Women’s Day’s campaign theme, #choosetochallenge and will inspire others to do the same.

Written by Eloise Sinclair, Museum Volunteer

Eloise has her own blog where she writes about forgotten women throughout history.


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Building the WW1 Nissen Hut

At the start of my last blog, I remarked on the three whole months that had passed since I last wrote something for our website. That blog was written in the early months of this year and published in March. That was six months ago – I appear to be getting worse!

Anyhow, moving swiftly on from my optimistically overestimated number of blog posts, to what the Buildings Team have been getting on with this year, and what I, the Buildings Trainee have been doing to get in the way. Since March, I have unfortunately had a significant amount of time away from the museum due to ill health, however since being back I am hoping to make up for the time that I missed.

The woodcarver, Colin, who I had hoped to meet earlier this year, kindly let me into his workshop last week for an initial visit. During our meeting, he showed me around the studio, introducing me to the projects that he and his team were part way through and also took me out on site for a quick tour around his current live project. As it was only the initial meeting I unfortunately don’t have any photographs to share, but if you are interested in the work of an extraordinary local woodcarver, check out the website www.lillyfee.co.uk

As it was my intention at the end of the last blog to explore the decorative side of conservation work, I have joined Colin and his team on one of their evening woodcarving courses with the intention of following up with some work experience.

Although it doesn’t look like much, this piece is the result of the first hour and a bit working with chisels in an official woodcarving capacity. There is a lot of refining to do, however I’m pretty pleased with the outcome so far…it looks pretty much how it’s supposed to!

Also planned for this year was starting the elm barn in Tewin, using the timber collected from the woods in December. I attended a course, coincidentally alongside previous HLF Building Trainee Sam Rowland-Simms, and had an amazing time putting in to practice some of my slightly rusty framing skills. Lots of photos were taken over the frantic week working among the sprightly Spring lambs in the scorching* sun and the following snow. I also had the opportunity to re-join the course leaders, including Sam, for two days the following week. We spent those two days going over the previous weeks work, correcting any minor issues and starting the remaining cross frames.
*mildly warm, but enough for no sleeves.

I had hoped to return to Tewin to continue assisting with the construction over the summer months, however my illness put the kibosh on that. The barn has since been raised and looks spectacular in the September sunshine. Hopefully, I will be well enough to return to help with the cladding, tiling of the roof etc.

Returning somewhat closer to home, the Nissen Hut project is well under way and construction has commenced. The panels which John, myself and the volunteers have been putting together since the end of last year have started to piece together like a jigsaw…ish.

With each passing day, the Hut has grown in some way or another. This is my first build with the Museum and has been so incredibly exciting to be a part of.

End of day one

Day two

Day three

Day four

Day five

It was also this day that I decided to treat the volunteers…to a table during break for the paper cups of tea. I do know how to spoil the team!

Day six

Day seven

Day eight

Part of the Hut build that I have had more involvement in is the linen windows. We knew from various records that these would contribute to the most accurate representation of the hut, yet none of us were 100% sure on how to do it. So after I researched oiled linen and oilcloth and determined what was useful for this project, the boss and I had a go at making windows.

This image shows the difference in the linen after one coat of a 50% boiled linseed oil and 50% white spirit mixture.

These images show the difference in transparency after two coats of the same mix.

After quite a while drying, the windows were then fitted just in time for out Meet the Tommies event weekend in September at the Museum.

Conclusion of the oilcloth window experiment is that it worked pretty well and lets in a surprising amount of light to the hut. Notes for replacement windows: make the canvas tighter as windows shouldn’t billow!

For the foreseeable future, completing the Nissen Hut will be our primary focus, with urgent maintenance and repairs fitting in as and when they arise.

The woodcarving course continues in to December, so I shall update you with my progress around Christmas time…no idea which Christmas it will be though.

Written by Jess Eyre
HLF Buildings Trainee


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Another ‘bodge job’

Bodgers Hut

The bodgers hut

Chiltern Open Air Museum prides itself re-constructing local historical buildings for preservation as well as the occasional construction of replicas of buildings long lost. Experts and enthusiasts dedicate many hours, days and even years of hard, painstaking work to ensure all projects adhere to the highest quality standards the building works require. So any utterance about ‘a bodge job’ might not be too well received.

But this might not always be the case in some parts of the Museum. In fact, a new project, due for completion in 2017, could be referred to as a ‘bodge job’ as it requires the erection of a new bodgers hut.

Visitors may have spotted in the woods, close to Aborfield Barn, a now rather sad looking construction which resembles a semi-derelict shelter of some type. This in fact is the remains of a previous ‘bodge job’ completed some years ago as a recreation of a typical bodgers hut.

‘Bodge job’ has become a rather pejorative term expressing a hurried and carelessly completed job. But where it originates from is not exactly clear as the word ‘bodge’ has a number of originations. Any pejorative associations of are unlikely to have originated from the Chiltern bodgers who were important to the High Wycombe furniture industry of yesteryear.

So who were these bodgers and why the hut? Bodgers were highly-skilled itinerant workers who played a vital part in the local furniture trade using their pole lathing skills to produce furniture components such as chair legs, rungs and stretchers. There activities were conducted in the beech woods around High Wycombe using timber directly from source that was worked with to produce these components. The crafted items would be left in the woods for seasoning before being sent to chair makers.

Bodgers huts were temporary constructions that were used by bodgers for shelter. Often simple lean-to type constructions using trees for support, these huts would use lengths of timber lashed together with a thatched roof using available material including bracken and straw. They might be open or closed structures to keep out animals.

Bodgers, which became all but redundant around the middle of the last century, would move around the woodlands to where they could source their timber and hence the temporary nature of their shelter requirements.

The bodgers hut at the Museum was constructed to allow demonstrations of pole lathing as well as being used as shelter for volunteers engaged in making hurdles that are used around the farm. But the hut is now in a sorry state of repair and will be taken down and replaced by a new simple structure using materials sourced from the Museum’s own woodland.

So it is hoped that once the hut is completed, occasional displays of pole lathing, as practiced by the bodgers of yesteryear, can once again feature.

Written by Farm Volunteer Julian Stanton

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Family Christmas Traditions

Family-Christmas-traditions-COAM-600px

Family Christmas Traditions

Oh Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year! A festive time to celebrate with friends and family, by eating turkey, Brussel sprouts and indulging in that all important, warm glass of mulled wine. These are just a couple of things that we associate with the Christmas period, but when did these traditions ‘become’ traditions, and were our ancestors celebrating Christmas in the same way as we are now? Many people have a favourite Christmas tradition, and we at COAM are no exception, so I decided to ask a few people around the office to find out their favourite thing about the joyful season.

Our Education Officer, Cathy, loves going to the Christingle services at Church on Christmas Eve, which involves lighting candles and singing hymns and carols. The Christingle services that Cathy loves today, are named after the Christmas Christingle, which is traditionally an orange, decorated with a candle, ribbon and various fruits and sweets, which each have their own significance. The Orange represents the world, the red ribbon often wrapped around the orange is the blood of Christ, the fruits and sweets pushed into the orange signify the four seasons, while the candle represents hope and Jesus’ light. Christingle means ‘Christ Light’, which is why many candles are usually lit during a Christingle service (whether inside an orange or not)!

Another popular aspect to the Christingle services, is singing Christmas carols and hymns. Lyndsey, the farm and site trainee loves the festive tradition of singing carols, as they bring people together, signifying warmth and support during the darkest time of the year. We call them carols after the French word Carole meaning circle dance, or song of praise and joy. Christmas carols were not of Christian origin, but rather pagan songs to celebrate the seasons. During the Victorian era, the singing of Christmas carols from door to door was revised and many singers would be given offerings of money and food, which is perhaps where the lyric ‘we won’t go until we get some’, comes from in We Wish You A Merry Christmas!

Although many households don’t celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday, many of the traditions are still upheld and celebrated amongst family and friends, but in different ways. Adrian, the Outdoor Learning Officer here at COAM, loves to have a big meal with his family at Christmas, but not in the traditional way you would expect. Originally, wealthy households would eat a goose at Christmas, or even peacock served on its own plumage! Still in keeping with the tradition of eating a feathered friend, Turkey is usually the go to choice for Christmas now. However, Adrian’s family have never been a fan of the traditional roast dinner and instead serve an ‘all day buffet’ to gorge on throughout the day; Christmas is a time for eating after all!

Finally, it was time for me to consider what my own favourite Christmas tradition is, as I have always been the person that wants to start celebrating much earlier than one should! Therefore, my favourite tradition has to be the decorating of the Christmas tree. My home is not complete at Christmas without one, and I absolutely love the fresh, cosy smell of the pine needles. Although the decorating of Christmas trees dates back to the 1600s, it wasn’t until the reign of Queen Victoria that it became as popular as it is today. Victoria’s husband, Albert, liked to decorate a tree to remind him of Christmas when he was a boy growing up in Germany. The use of an evergreen fir tree, signifies hope and undying life, as well as reminding some Christians of the ‘Tree of Life’. For me, there’s nothing better than sticking on a few carols, while decorating the Christmas tree by the warm glow of the fire with family!

Written by Yolanda Cooper
Events and Hospitality Team Leader

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How to play conkers

Conkers

If you take a walk through the Museum’s woodlands you’ll see an abundance of shiny, brown conkers, scattered among the fallen, crunchy autumn leaves near the dell. If I pass these horse chestnut trees with my 5, and 7 year old, they get very excited and begin to fill their pockets with conkers. They enjoy it even more if they get to peel the prickly casing open to uncover the encased conker, and there is further excitement if, there is multiple conkers to be found inside. My husband, an avid conkers player in his youth, has taught this historical game to my children, and they love it.

Conker on woodland floor

The fruit from the horse chestnut tree earned the name conker from the traditional game of conkers, which was played in the autumn months by many generations of children, often in the school playground. The game is played by two players, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string, who take turns striking each other’s conker until one breaks.

According to my good friend, Wikipedia, the first mention of the game is in Robert Southey’s memoirs published in 1821. He describes a similar game but, played with snail shells or hazelnuts. It was only after the 1850s that using horse chestnuts was regularly referred to in certain regions. The game grew in popularity in the 20th century, and spread beyond England. Sadly, the game is not played so often now, due to health and safety concerns in schools.

How to play conkers

Find a nice, firm, undamaged conker and make a hole in the middle using a nail, small screwdriver, or drill. Thread a piece of string about 25cm long through the hole, and tie a knot at the end so that it doesn’t pull through.

How to play conkers

Each player has a conker on a string, and takes turns hitting the opponent’s conker. If it’s not your turn to hit the conker, you must let your conker hang down the full length of the string, keeping completely still, with the string wrapped around your hand. The other player, or striker, wraps his string around his hand in the same way, draws his conker back and releases it to hit his opponent’s conker.

Rules

If a player misses their opponent’s conker they are allowed up to two further goes.

If the strings tangle, the first player to call “strings” gets an extra shot.

If a player hits their opponent’s conker in such a way that it completes a whole circle after being hit – known as ‘round the world’ – the player gets another go.

If a player drops his conker, or it is knocked out of his hand, the other player can shout ‘stamps’ and jump on it; but should its owner first cry ‘no stamps’ then the conker, hopefully, remains intact.

The game continues in turns until, one of the two conkers is completely destroyed.

I found the above rules on www.projectbritain.com however; the game of conkers has different rules in different parts of the country.

Trialing the game

Visitor Services Team Leader, George Hunt and Events and Hospitality Team Leader, Yolanda Cooper decided to have a try at playing conkers.

playing conkers

They learnt that it’s a lot harder to hit a conker on a string than you might think.

playing conkers at COAMhistoric games playing conkersConkers winner

After much giggling, George managed to smash Yolanda’s conker and was crowned champion.

Written by Helen Light
Marketing Manager

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What are the Chilterns?

As our name suggests, this Museum seeks to tell the history of the Chilterns. I was born in Watford, so have some affinity with the Chilterns, but I’m not sure I could succinctly explain to someone what the Chilterns are. I hope this piece gives you some ideas about what makes them special.

The Chilterns are often described as The Chiltern Hills, and it is relatively easy to define this area of higher ground geographically. It stretches roughly from Hitchin in north Hertfordshire to Goring-on-Thames in south Oxfordshire, passing through part of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. To the north-west, there is a clear divide between the rolling escarpment and the Vale of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. To the south and east, the dipslope has a less steep gradient, so the boundary is less distinct, although the River Thames is a helpful guide.

The woodland at COAM

The woodlands at the Museum.

These chalk hills have a somewhat distinctive landscape. In 1965, the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was designated for its natural attractiveness. Two-thirds of the Chilterns AONB are now fields, with woodland covering more than one-fifth. The Chilterns Historic Landscape Characterisation Project has estimated that around two-thirds of the woodland are over 400 years old, and that areas of woodland have grown and receded over several millennia.

We might also consider the administrative boundaries. There are three Chiltern Hundreds, historic divisions of a county that could raise one hundred fighting men (Stoke, Desborough and Burnham), although only the Desborough Hundred was truly located within the Chiltern Hills. Since 1974 we have had the Chiltern District, one of the four local government districts of Buckinghamshire. Clearly though, these administrative areas miss much that this Museum seeks to represent.

The Chilterns are predominantly rural, the two largest towns being High Wycombe and Luton, although there are good number of small market towns and villages. Without this human habitation, there would be nothing special about the Chilterns. Indeed, the earliest known reference to the Chilterns is the word “Cilternsaete”, referring to “the Chiltern dwellers” (7th or 8th century). In terms of the built environment, there are several particularly local characteristics, including the use of brick, timber and clay tiles. Flint was a popular local building material, although unfortunately not yet represented at the Museum, other than a few brick and flint walls.

Wall made of flint at COAM

The wall built outside the Museum’s vicarage from Thame is partly made from flint.

What did the people of the Chilterns do? In a whistle-stop tour, we might get some idea of the specialisms of the Chilterns, which we attempt to communicate at the Museum. In Medieval England, although the Chilterns was one of the two large areas of woodland in the South-East, arable farming was probably more prevalent than woodland activities. From 1600 the market towns flourished with professionals like shoemakers and blacksmiths. The chair making industry appears to have become substantial by about 1800 and cottage industries like lace-making and straw-plaiting reached their peak in the 19th century. Entrepreneurial locals grew apple and soft fruit orchards and watercress beds in the 19th and 20th centuries. As commuting became more practical, as early as the 1850s in some places in the Chilterns, the region became much more suburban in nature.

Blacksmith at work

A blacksmith at work in the forge at the Museum.

The Royal Society of Arts has produced a Heritage Index, to highlight regions’ unique characteristics. As the Chiltern Society are keen to point out, the Chilterns region overall ranks lower than one might expect. We hope that this Museum goes some way to providing a response to this ranking and helping the Chilterns to define themselves. We believe that the people living and working in this area have shaped the landscape and produced a rich heritage which should be shared and preserved.

By George Hunt
Visitor Services Team Leader

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