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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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Jess the Sheepdogs Training Continues

It’s been a while since I updated on Jess’s progress and that’s because until a couple of weeks ago there wasn’t any! Our early training had come to an abrupt halt when we sort of hit a brick wall trying to get her to go round the sheep rather than straight at them as she was pretty intent on getting hold of one. This is obviously not acceptable, although many sheepdog pups have a tendency to try and bite the sheep which we term as “gripping” and as a trainer it’s our job to protect the sheep from this by the methods we use, however Jess was proving hard work which I put down to a lack of confidence. I therefore decided to stop things altogether and let her mature a bit more as she had also become a bit disobedient and was not listening to me. We embarked on what turned out to be a 2 month break and concentrated on building a better bond and establishing who was boss!

Jess the sheepdog working the sheep

We took plenty of walks just working on getting her to come back when called and to lie down when told, starting with a long 30 metre leash before letting her run without one. Once I was happy she was obedient enough I reintroduced her to the sheep and to my great relief I noticed a difference, back on her long leash for safety I allowed her to have a bit of slack near them and it was immediately noticeable she was keeping off them and giving them a bit of space. In a larger paddock the following week we tried to get to the first important stage, getting her to the far side of the sheep without scattering them. It took a while manoeuvring wary sheep and excitable dog around until we got there but once we achieved it she was away, walking nicely on to them and keeping herself exactly on the opposite side to me, moving left and right instinctively to balance them. In these early stages this is done without commands as she doesn’t know her left from right yet and we want to bring out this natural herding or balancing instinct.

Jess sunbathing while keeping the sheep in check

Now we are getting somewhere and we can begin to expand her abilities and knowledge week by week a little at a time, so from a point of despairing a couple of months ago I am now very excited and looking forward to the next few months and hopefully many useful years.

Written by Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd at COAM


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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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COAM Craft Ideas for the Easter Holidays Part 2

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In this final installment of family learning resources, we’re providing you with some fun Springtime inspired craft ideas to try during the Easter Holidays. Download the resource below to find out more about the crafts and how to make them. 

Download: COAM Craft Ideas for the Easter Holidays Part 2

A big thank you goes to our wonderful Terrific Tuesday volunteers for providing the craft ideas for this instalment. Our Terrific Tuesday events are always planned with our volunteers’ help and support and we all hope that we’ll be able to welcome you back on site for more fun at some point this year.

We hope you have enjoyed this series of family and home learning resources. Did you miss any? You can find a complete list of the resources here: https://coam.org.uk/learning/home-learning-resources/. If you did enjoy these resources or if you have any comments or ideas for future resources please do let us know as this helps us to develop new ideas with you in mind. We are currently working on planning safe onsite Terrific Tuesday event days for May half term and the Summer Holidays. We hope to see you then, so long as COVID guidance allows us! Make sure to keep an eye out on social media and the website for more information when it becomes available.

 


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COAM Craft Ideas for the Easter Holidays Part 1

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Flower Easter craft

For our second to last installment in this series of family learning resources, we’re providing you with some fun Springtime inspired craft ideas to try during the Easter Holidays. Download the resource below to find out more about the crafts and how to make them.

Download COAM Craft Ideas for the Easter Holidays Part 1

Easter craft bookmark

A big thank you goes to our wonderful Terrific Tuesday volunteers for providing the craft ideas for this resource. Our Terrific Tuesday events are always planned with our volunteers’ help and support and we all hope that we’ll be able to welcome you back on site for more fun at some point this year.

We hope you enjoy this week’s craft ideas. Make sure you come back next week for our final resource in this series of home learning resources where you’ll find more fun springtime inspired craft ideas to make at home.

See more home learning resources


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Lesser-known Easter Traditions

From orange chasing to football matches, with the Easter period approaching we investigate some of our lesser-known traditions.

Whilst the stories of hot cross buns, Easter eggs, and Simnel cake are well known, there is a huge array of more unlikely customs that a look into our history reveals.

Eggs

We cannot delve into our Easter past without stumbling upon egg-related stories. A more exerting variation of the traditional Easter egg hunt are the egg chases that take place across the country. Chasing, or hunting, eggs is a clear reference to the story of the resurrection; not only do eggs represent new life, but the emphasis on their discovery is evocative of revealing Jesus’ empty tomb. Chasing after hard-boiled eggs down a hill, known as Pace egging, is a tradition that is said to derive from the Pagan festival of Ēostre that welcomed Spring and new life. Like so many of our traditions, existing Pagan celebrations were appropriated with a Christian message to bring the Christian calendar into established practices. Pace egging has thus also come to represent the stone that covered Jesus’ tomb being rolled away.

oranges

Bedfordshire has a unique take on this tradition with oranges, rather than eggs, being chased on Dunstable Downs. Oranges were pelted from the heights, with those chasing after them aiming to hold onto their fruit until the bottom. Some even went to the lengths of donning top hats to attract the attention, and the fruit, of the pelters. However, the shortage of oranges during the Second World War halted the tradition temporarily. Orange chasing was reborn after the war but increasing health and safety concerns and waning support from local businesses meant the custom could no longer be sustained. With the build-up of heavy scrubland on the Downs making the chase virtually impossible, the last revival attempt in 1985 looks unlikely to be repeated.

In addition to the chases, pace egg plays are a tradition that was rediscovered in the post-war revival of folklore. The plays have roots in Celtic, Syrian, and Egyptian cultures, and the word ‘pace’ itself is thought to be from the Latin ‘pasch’ (passion or Easter); typifying the melange of roots that contribute to ostensibly Christian traditions. As a battle between good and evil, with St George fighting the Slasher, the comical Toss Pot representing the Devil, and revival by a Quack doctor, the plays reflect the resurrection and older themes of new life. The pace eggs themselves, originally boiled in onion skins to give them a golden appearance, were given out at the end of the plays.

Maundy Money is another Easter tradition, with royalty distributing alms for the poor on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday). This tradition of giving relief such as clothing and food to the poor dates to the thirteenth century; royalty would also wash the feet of the poor, following Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Charles II started the custom of giving coins (a four, three, two, and penny pieces), and this became the dominant form of Maundy aid. With the coming of the eighteenth century, washing the feet of the poor disappeared, whilst gifts of food and clothes disappeared the following century. Today, those receiving Maundy Money are pensioners chosen for their services to Christian churches or the community. The number of pensioners receiving the Maundy money is determined by the age of the monarch, with one man and one woman for each year. This custom is unique in that it is the only award where the monarch travels to those receiving the money.

Finally, from chasing eggs and oranges we arrive at the tradition of Shrovetide football. This dates to the mob football played over fields and through rivers in the early middle ages. In Ashbourne, Derbyshire, their football match takes place over Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. The River Henmore divides the townspeople into two teams: the Up-Ards and the Down’Ards, coming from North and South of the river. The game is different in that the aim is to score an own goal; with each goal a millstone set three miles apart across the town. The scorer must stand in the river and tap the ball against the millstone three times to win. Far from whoever has possession of the ball, the scorer is elected en route and is typically an Ashbourne resident. This unique take on football has been given the Royal epithet since 1928, which was formally renewed in 2003.

Looking into some of our more obscure Easter customs shows that the way we mark Easter incorporates our Pagan and Christian traditions, as well as the variety of community activities across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Written by Daniel Bowles, Museum Volunteer


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Learning Resource: Meals inspired by our Buildings

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Iron Age Meal

Here at COAM we have buildings from all different time periods. From our reconstructed Iron Age Roundhouse to our 1940s Prefab. Each building represents how people lived their everyday lives in that period and all of our buildings that housed people have some form of a kitchen or place to cook food. This week, we thought we’d give you a taste of what families who lived in our buildings might have eaten. In this resource there are two recipes, one inspired by our Iron Age Roundhouse and one inspired by our Leagrave Cottages. We hope you enjoy having a go at making these recipes!

Download the Meals inspired by our Buildings Learning Resource

Leagrave Soup

Next time: On each Tuesday of the Buckinghamshire Easter Holidays (6th and 13th April 2021) we will be publishing our final resources of this home learning series. Both resource packs will include a few different spring and Easter inspired crafts for you to do at home. Check back next week to find out more!

View more Learning Resources


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Learning Resource: Signs of Spring

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Spring is definitely arriving on our site and around our local areas and there are plenty of ways to spot this! As the weather improves and we slowly ease out of lockdown, spending some time outside is great for your mental and physical health but remember to stay safe and follow the Government guidelines. Follow this guide and over the next few weeks, when you go out for a springtime walk, keep an eye out for some of the plants and shrubs listed. What can you spot?

View our Signs of Spring learning resource

Children may be back in classrooms however we will continue to release fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together every Tuesday until the end of the Easter Holidays. Brought to you by the Learning team behind our popular ‘Terrific Tuesday’ events, these resources will be a perfect way to learn new information about the natural world around us, develop new skills and stay connected to the Museum until we reopen in late March.

Be sure to check back next week for more home learning fun.

Spring flowers

 

See more home learning resources


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Learning resource – the gardens at COAM

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Chiltern Open Air Museum allotment

With the start of spring just around the corner we thought there was no better time to tell you all about the different gardens we have here at COAM and the hard work of our wonderful gardening volunteers to keep them looking great for our visitors. In our eighth installment of home learning resources you can discover the planning that goes into each garden and how we use the spaces we have available to show different time periods. Discover what a ‘day in the life’ of one of our volunteer gardeners is like and how the gardens need attention throughout the year. Finally, have a go at designing your own garden or outdoor space!

Download Our Gardens at COAM home learning resource.

Astleham garden at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Children may be back in classrooms however we will continue to release fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together every Tuesday until the end of the Easter Holidays. Brought to you by the Learning team behind our popular ‘Terrific Tuesday’ events, these resources will be a perfect way to learn new information about the natural world around us, develop new skills and stay connected to the Museum until we reopen in late March.

Be sure to check back next week for more home learning fun.

See more learning resources


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STEM at COAM: How do we build our buildings?

This week (5th – 14th March 2021) is British Science Week and to celebrate the different areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) we’ve been exploring what materials and methods we use to construct the buildings we have onsite. For our seventh installment of home learning resources, discover lots about the different materials we use to rebuild the buildings onsite as well as the methods used to put them back up. See if you can spot any of these materials or methods on buildings around your local area! Can you spot any really interesting buildings, old or new?

Download the resource How do we build a building

How do we build a building family learning resource

Children may be back in classrooms however we will continue to release fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together every Tuesday until the end of the Easter Holidays. Brought to you by the Learning team behind our popular ‘Terrific Tuesday’ events, these resources will be a perfect way to learn new information about the natural world around us, develop new skills and stay connected to the Museum until we reopen in late March.

Be sure to check back next week for more home learning fun.

See more home learning resources


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