• -

World Book Day with Vix J Cooper

Tags : 

This week’s World Book Day family learning resource is brought to you from author Vix J Cooper whose books Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed and Fin and the Red Deer are inspired by COAM.

Vix has taken inspiration from the animals and nature around our Museum site to create her stories, characters and plots.

Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed Book Cover

From Vix J Cooper

Chiltern Open Air Museum has given my family pleasure for years even before I became a children’s author. Its countryside and farm animals and buildings with snippets about past inhabitants are a treasure chest.

As a farm volunteer, walking the goats (or them walking me!), cow Clementine’s reactions to me singing as I groom her and working at the top of the threshing machine, such as for BBC Countryfile’s harvest episode, are just a few of the things that have inspired my story writing.

Getting on my hands and knees to consider what an animal may see, and feeling the strength needed to squeeze water from washing with a mangle as a school workshop leader, helped shape some descriptive detail in my book Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed.

Studying birds and deer in the woods, and butterflies in the meadow and gardens, plus the thatched buildings, gave me scenery and character ideas for picture book Fin and the Red Deer. Observing generations of grandmothers, mothers and younger sheep interacting helped inspire my new book Who Did This?

Even if a particular subject such as history doesn’t appeal to someone, the museum offers such variety there’s something for most. Not surprisingly, I recommend the museum for writers and artists of all ages; or to anyone because it’s a special place.

View our Literacy Activities for World Book Day Resource

  • -

Mad about Mud: An Intro to tracking

Bird tracks in the snow

It’s another wet winter and it seems that all the woodland pathways and fields around the museum have turned into a mud bath! For our fifth installment of home learning resources you can find out how you can use all of this mud to your advantage! Discover lots about tracking and identifying animals including tips on how to track prints, information about the different animal prints we find around our museum as well as another way besides prints that we can find out what animals have been on our site!

Download our Mad about Mud Resource

Foot print in mud

Every Tuesday, COAM will be releasing fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together, whether they be indoors or outdoors. 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.

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

Find more Home Learning Resources here

  • -

COAM fun for February half-term

Are you feeling lost for things to do this February Half Term? For our fourth installment of family learning resources, we’re providing you with some fun activities to try during the break. Have a go at following our recipes and cooking up some pancakes to celebrate Shrove Tuesday or maybe you’d like to create a homemade bird feeder for your outside area? We have included the instructions for all that and more in the resource, download it below to find out more.

Download our February Half Term Resources

A big thank you goes to our wonderful Terrific Tuesday volunteers for providing the craft ideas and pancake recipes for this installment. 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.

Every Tuesday, COAM will be releasing fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together, whether they be indoors or outdoors. 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.

We hope you enjoy this week’s bumper edition of resources. Be sure to check back next week for more home learning fun.

See more Family Learning Resources

  • -

Shrove Tuesday

Tags : 

For our next installment of family learning resources, we’re getting you ready for Pancake Day! We tell you why people celebrate Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) as well as some of the traditions that took place (and even some that still remain!).


We give you lists of ingredients for three different pancakes so you can get prepared to make them next week when we’ll give you the full recipes. Download the resource below for all of this plus instructions to make your very own paper chef’s hat, so you can look the part whilst making your pancakes!

Download our Home Learning Resource here >> Shrove Tuesday Family Learning Resource

Every Tuesday, COAM will be releasing fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together, whether they be indoors or outdoors. 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.

We hope you enjoy this week’s resource learning about Shrove Tuesday. Be sure to come back next week for a bumper set of home learning resources for February Half Term.

See more Family Learning Resources

  • -

Wildlife at COAM: Barn Owls

At Chiltern Open Air Museum we are very lucky to have lots of wildlife that live on our site. For this week’s home learning resource we’ve taken inspiration from that wildlife and you can find out lots about our barn owls!

Download the resource and find out more about the barn owls we have here at COAM >> Wildlife at COAM Barn Owls Resource

Discover how we know we have barn owls on site and how we investigate what they have been eating! Have a go at our activities, including making a barn owl inspired mask!

owl mask craft

Every Tuesday, COAM will be releasing fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together, whether they be indoors or outdoors. 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.

We hope you enjoy this week’s resource learning about barn owls. Why not share with us what you create or maybe your favourite ‘Owly item’? #COAMAtHome

Look out for our next installment next Tuesday, when we’ll be back with more family fun!

See more home learning resources

  • -

COAM Colour Walk

At this time of year the weather can be rather miserable and getting outside can sometimes be a mission. So, why not take a colour walk to brighten up your daily exercise?

Download our instructions here >>  COAM Colour Walk Instructions

Suitable for all ages, this is a really simple way to start looking closer at the world around you and creating art using photos you take along the way.

Colour Walk instructions

Colour walk guide

colour walk lockdown tool

Every Tuesday, COAM will be releasing fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together, whether they be indoors or outdoors. 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.

We hope you enjoy this week’s resource exploring for colours. Why not share with us what you discover, we’d love to see your creations? #COAMAtHome

Look out for our next installment next Tuesday, when we’ll be back with more family fun!

  • -

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

  • -

First steps on the sheep for Jess

Right from the first month we had Jess, and as soon as she was inoculated she was allowed to see sheep, just so she could develop an interest in them.  First she was shown them, then to follow them, eventually she was allowed to run with them a little. Some dogs are not that interested, some transfixed by the sheep and some are just mad keen to get hold of them! Jess was the latter and the most common type and this means I have to be careful at this stage to ensure the sheep are safe. One good thing about an introduction at this age is the pup has not developed enough of her adult teeth to cause a problem so if she does have a nip she just ends up with a mouthful of wool. Sheepdogs have wolf ancestry and herding is a part of the hunt and the part we need to develop but the killing part is also in there and needs to be totally suppressed so careful thinking and planning comes into the training when you have a pup like this.

The best way is to protect the sheep is in a circular pen so that Jess can run round them but not get close. Rachael our trusty shepherdess built us a nice one where we could encourage a few sheep in with a little food and then let Jess have a little run around them. One of the main objectives here is to get the pup to develop a desire to balance the sheep to me, what I mean by that is if the sheep are in the middle of the pen then I would be at 6 o’clock and Jess at 12 o’clock and if I move one way she should move to correct the situation. To do this we encourage her to run around the pen in both directions attempting to stop her when she is in the right place, here the lie down or stand commands will be required and the fruits of my labour at home will hopefully prove worthwhile. In one of the videos you can see this happening as she takes a command nicely and drops down, we are therefore getting somewhere but it’ll be a while before we try anything without the pen as she still has a desire to get at them given the chance.

Training a dog is little steps some forward but plenty back and as I take every lesson I look for little signs that we are progressing in the right direction, one such sign is the tail, in the first session it was held high over her back indicating a mischievous desire but in only the second session she was holding it low which indicates a more serious working attitude and that’s a real plus. That’s about all for now apart from saying that whilst all this running around is going on I will also be starting to introduce the directional commands that most will be familiar with;

“Come Bye and Away to Me”

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd at COAM

  • -

Rothschild grant enables COAM to subsidise school visits

Head of Learning, Jo Lonsdale, tells us how a grant from the Rothchild Foundation enabled us to welcome school children who would not have otherwise been able to visit and take part in our award winning learning programme due to financial barriers….

As a direct result of the Rothschild Foundation’s 2018-2019 Local and Community Grant contribution, we have been able to provide 462 primary aged children with access to our immersive Sandford Award winning Learning programme.

School children building shelters

Through this Rothschild grant, we were able to offer outdoor learning opportunities to pupils from schools within ten miles of the Waddesdon Estate. These children would otherwise have not been able to benefit from such learning and enrichment outcomes due to the geographical distance of their schools; The Museum is not accessible by public transport and so schools face costs of coach travel and charges for admission and learning provision as financial barriers to entry.

COAM subsidised visits for 462 school children in Years 1-6 across eight different Buckinghamshire schools.  Through the funding, 27 authentic, experiential educational workshops were delivered during March – October 2019.

During these sessions the children engaged in cross-curricular hands-on activities allowing them to access the formal curriculum across subjects such as history, science, english, maths, and design & technology.

Not only did these workshops bring the curriculum to life, but the beautiful environment of the Museum site itself promotes positive mental health and well-being. There are many benefits to being immersed in our environment: children can travel back in time and be inspired by our rescued historic buildings and explore the outdoor setting of woodlands, meadows, ponds and beautiful gardens. Being able to enjoy the historic working farm with its animals and playground spread across wide open spaces connected to nature and greenery helps develop happy, healthy children to become confident, independent and resilient learners.

COAM delivers excellent outdoor learning provision in bushcraft, orienteering and archery (having a permanent Outdoor Learning specialist and qualified Forest School practitioner) designed to facilitate team building, problem solving and survival/life skills, along with encouraging social interaction and communication.

Direct outcomes of the Rothschild grant have been:

  1. Subsidised engagement and inclusivity for pupils from mainstream and special schools.
  2. Stronger relationships with those schools to encourage repeat visits and provide access to new children.
  3. Improved SEND provision and enhanced learning activities to promote local children’s cultural capital.
  4. Support for teachers to meet the demands of the new Ofsted framework from May 2019 to provide teaching and learning opportunities within a broad and balanced curriculum.

Teacher and pupil feedback

Teacher evaluation stated their visit benefited their pupils by:

‘The trip was a very positive experience for the children. There were many comments such as “I wish all of our days could be like this”.’

‘Providing practical activities made the learning more relevant, supported our topic and reinforced knowledge and understanding.’

‘Visiting a historical environment made them think about life in a different era without modern comforts and supported the development of empathetic skills. One child asked ‘why didn’t they have lights?’ – before visiting this child had no concept that life in the past was different to now.’

‘Provided an opportunity to be taught by other adults other than school staff and gave pupils the chance to show them the same level of respect as they do school staff.’

‘Provided the opportunity for the children to receive lots of praise and help build their self-esteem.’

‘Enabled the children to look forward to other school trips without anxiety, some children could potentially find trips offsite stressful and difficult.’

Jo Lonsdale
Head of Learning at COAM

  • -

Volunteering during a pandemic

Katie Pilcher manages the volunteers at COAM and she has written a blog post to tell us about her experiences supporting our cohort of volunteers during the Coronavirus pandemic this year….

It has been a very different year for us all at COAM, especially our volunteers. They give us so much of their time and many have done so for years. Rewind back to March, when we had to tell our amazing team that they were not able to volunteer in the way they had grown to love, it was really difficult. For so many, COAM is its own community and a lot of our volunteers really do move their lives around their volunteer duties at the Museum.

Volunteer feeding sheep
Lockdown 1.0 came into play right at the beginning of our lambing season – a time of year when volunteers are hugely involved in supporting our Farm Team. Lambing 2020 definitely meant a lot to us, not only because it was our first season in 20 years where we hadn’t lost any lambs but because it became a lifeline. Some of our volunteers live in small apartments and some live on their own so being able to help keep all our new arrivals alive was important at a time where we were all relishing our one dose of exercise a day. Our Communications Team kept our entire team of volunteers updated with all our lambing news and was often asked to send more videos or photographs for them to forward onto family to lift spirits.

When we all received the good news that we could open to the public, we all breathed a sigh of relief. It had been very quiet at the Museum in the months leading up to June so being able to let our volunteers come back on site and provide them with a safe escape was blissful.

Volunteer drilling at Chiltern Open Air Museum

The question I often get asked is, ‘why do people choose to volunteer with your organisation?’. In previous years, I’d often say ‘‘they want to fill their spare time’, ‘they want to support a good cause’ or ‘they want to meet new people’. 2020 has altered me being able to answer that so easily. I’ve asked most people I’ve supported this year why they continue to volunteer with us and no two reasons are the same. Lots of people have been put on furlough, have more time, lots have debated volunteering with us and decided now was the time to get involved. Some people needed a break from reality or wanted to do something valuable with their time and others needed structure or routine to their week. COAM certainly fills a hole that people needed filled.

We have been incredibly lucky to gain an insane amount of new volunteer support this year but not only that, volunteers who haven’t been involved for a number of years have started back up again. Is this because of the pandemic? Probably, but I know many of our team are keen to continue volunteering with us even when we get back to some sense of normality.

Volunteer taking down Christmas decorations at Chiltern Open Air Museum

I wanted to let the spotlight shine on our volunteers and let them tell you what it has been like to volunteer during the coronavirus pandemic and how they feel about volunteering at COAM.


“When I first visited COAM I noticed the volunteer sign on the wall and knew immediately that I wanted to come back and be a part of what they were doing. To me, there is almost nothing better than walking around the empty museum in the morning doing animal chores. Even when it’s raining or cold, COAM feels like home and the people there feel like family.”


“I often took my children here years ago; they loved it, and now my son will be getting married in Skippings Barn. So I was delighted to hear that COAM was looking for volunteers. Although I’ve only recently started, I already feel at home. Everyone has been helpful, friendly and above all incredibly knowledgeable. I enjoy helping with the Astleham garden; sometimes I do the ticket office, stewarding and on one occasion assisted with archery (unfortunately just to disinfect the arrows!) It’s a very rewarding place. There’s always so much going on, yet it’s peaceful as well, and there’s a great sense of community. Most of all, it’s good to feel that you are part of something special.”


“I enjoy volunteering at COAM because I get to be outdoors and with the animals. In addition, it is inspiring to be a part of their mission. I think what COAM is doing is important and helps modern visitors to understand how people lived and worked in the past. It is a physical representation of the past which is often hard for people to imagine.”

Volunteer folk singers at Chiltern Open Air Museum


“My wife was looking at COAM via Facebook and saw an advert for costumed volunteers. “You’d love that” she said, knowing that I was into Amateur Dramatics and liked dressing up! So I emailed Katie and she invited me over. She described the project which had some funding and was to be properly launched next year. The costumed volunteer will take a building and be dressed in clothes appropriate to the building and the time period answering questions and giving an additional insight into our assets.

So the first week, to see whether I liked it, I took the 1940s pre-fab and was in my own clothes. Having studied the background notes to the building I was all ready to impart my vast knowledge to the public! Well, rather than doing this, I learnt so much from those who visited the building. One man had spent his childhood up to aged 11 in one, another told me all about heating with back boilers and another man was an expert on asbestos. The different grades, how dangerous, how to dispose of it, etc. I felt slightly overawed that I had learnt much more than I had imparted.

Week 2 came and Katie found me a 1940s great coat and some trousers which was brilliant as frankly it was quite cold. This week armed with my knowledge and what I had learnt from visitors in week 1, I was away. Visitors love the house and there is so much inside which reminds them of their childhood or of their grandparents’ household items. The children are a joy and ask the most unexpected questions.

Week 3 the Henton Mission Room and back to learning. I am obviously a newbie but loving it and talking to the wonderful visitors that we attract here. Here’s hoping that more costumes will be created for next year and if you see an elderly vicar walking round the site next Spring, it might be me!”


“I don’t know exactly what I expected when I first volunteered to help at COAM: something to give a little bit of structure to my week, maybe; a chance to socialise more after weeks of lockdown; a way to support a valued local institution that was feeling the effects of coronavirus. Well, I got all of these but so much more.
Initially, I offered to steward and spent time in the Toll House and in Leagrave Cottages. The first thing I noticed was the warm welcome from existing staff members and volunteers. In those first few sessions, so many people came to introduce themselves, have a chat and offer help. Quickly, I felt part of the family.

Then there was the pleasure of chatting to the visitors, sharing my ever-increasing knowledge and hearing their recollections and stories. I had wonderful questions from children, such as ‘Really, no wi-fi?’ and ‘How did people manage with no movies? Did they make their own?’ One child, on seeing the besom broom in the Toll House, asked if I was a witch! I met so many interesting people: two lovely ladies in Finnish national costume, a Scottish organic farmer who had come ‘down south’ for some work as a film extra and two lovely (but scary!) architectural conservationists who knew much more about the building I was standing in than I did!

But the over-riding benefit is the store of memories that will keep me going over the winter. I will remember families picnicking and playing on the Village Green, relaxed and safe from the virus; standing by the Snack Barn on Wild about Wool Sunday, enjoying the autumn sun on the changing leaves and watching smoke curling out of the chimneys of Leagrave and the Forge; the fragrance of the roses outside Astleham Manor cottage; the goats standing in a line on the fallen tree-trunk. Most of all, though, I will remember walking up the lane from the Toll House at the end of the day, picking blackberries from the hedgerows. It could have been a country lane a hundred years ago. How peaceful!

Then, something new. I started helping on the Accompanied Walks programme where we offered a walk round the museum and tea and cake to people who were feeling particularly isolated as a result of the virus. I was anxious at first that I may not know enough about all the buildings but I found visitors didn’t want a lot of information. They enjoyed just a gentle stroll and a chat about anything that caught their eye. Peeking through the windows of the prefab was always good fun and we enjoyed discussing things like the wonderful onions grown in the allotment. Each walk seemed to follow the same route but it was never boring. With new people each time, every conversation was different and every experience delightful. I was sorry when the programme came to an end. I’m sure the visitors all enjoyed it and I certainly did. Let’s hope it happens again.

What a great few months. Here’s to next year!”

Over the last few weeks of 2020, I’ve been told time and time again by our volunteers ‘I feel like I am part of a huge family’… feedback doesn’t get much better than that.

It has not been easy – for anyone. The one thing that has certainly helped me and my colleagues with every challenge put in front of us, is seeing how important our Museum is to our volunteers and how it has helped them all get through one of the hardest years they’ve known. No-one can be sure how coronavirus will affect us in 2021 but we’ll certainly have an army of ever-growing volunteer support behind us.

If you’re interested in getting involved in volunteering in 2021, then please drop me an email at volunteering@coam.org.uk

Katie Pilcher
Volunteering and Communications Officer

Search our site

Join our mailing list