Library and Archive – history in the making!

As ‘Skills for the Future’ Library and Archive Trainee my new project for 2013 is to collate, sort and progress the history of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum itself.

This is going to be an interesting project as the museum now has over 35 years of its own history.  Visitors who came in the 1970s are now bringing their grand-children to visit with them.


In the Library at Gressenhall, there is a collection of newspaper cuttings, leaflets, plans, documents regarding research for temporary exhibitions and posters which have been saved over time.

I am also very lucky to be able to speak to the original curator, who has been working with the Museum on another project and ask her about the time she spent working here.


I want to create not only a documented history of the museum, but include a history of the people who have made it the museum it has become.

One of the ways of doing this is to talk to anyone who has volunteered, worked or even visited the Museum and ask them to write about their time here, or to undertake recorded interviews. The exact process is yet to be decided, but if you have any exciting or interesting stories to tell about your links with the museum, then please do not hesitate to contact me:


The Doomsday Machine

As a Heritage Gardening Trainee, I get to spend one day a week at the National Trust’s Peckover House in Wisbech. This is always a good day. The team of gardeners there are great fun to be with and the gardens themselves are a lovely place to work. (Well worth a visit too!) Having come to realise that you can have the most wonderful location and a terrible working atmosphere at the same time, good rapport within the team is not to be dismissed lightly. Fortunately, Peckover suffers from no such problems and I know I’ll miss it when my time under Skills for the Future is up.

Laughter – and cake for that matter – is what I think about when I think about Peckover, and one recent day in the gardens was no exception. Peckover gives you the opportunity to use a variety of machines – lawnmowers, aerators, scarifiers etc – but it is the Piranha shredder that has now gained a special place in my heart. This huge, red, Italian-built monstrosity had been out of action since I arrived, but had now been miraculously brought back to life through the combined efforts of Peckover’s very own Jenny Windsor and Damon Hill (not the racing driver) – a man who can seemingly repair anything and who works at Peckover’s sister property at Oxburgh Hall.

Myself and National Trust trainee gardener Holly were tasked with shredding a Mount Vesuvius-sized pile of garden material one recent Thursday – a daunting task at the best of times, particularly when there are lots of rose prunings to work through. Finding your way around any new machine can also focus your mind, and this was a very large, vicious-looking thing. We needn’t have worried however. For both Holly and myself, this was the machine we had been waiting for since last September. Clad like cut-price Robocops, we immediately realised that this was the machine that could eat anything. As random thoughts pop into your head during any repetitive activity, I was immediately reminded of an old episode of Star Trek which featured a giant doomsday machine lumbering through the galaxy consuming planets and any passing starship that didn’t have William Shatner in it. (He was usually required for the next episode.) The Piranha shredder was just such a machine and we were loving every minute of it.


The pile of material was disappearing worryingly quickly. We were enjoying ourselves too much. There is something inherently enjoyable about destruction – about munching your way through a problem – not least when you’re left with beautifully textured compost. There was nothing this machine couldn’t cope with. Holly and I began gifting each other nice chunky sections of shrub and tree – we wanted to share the pleasure. Even beneath the Robocop headgear, you could see the smiles. Open-mouthed, we would stare into the abyss and watch shrubs with the girth of a supermodel’s waist disappear past the spiked drum and thrown out of the machine as a fine mulch. At one point I think I even saluted the Piranha as a vast chunk of garden was digested and spat out the end. Holly laughed.

The process was deceptive too. What came out seemed a lot less than what went in, if that is possible. We wondered whether some of the material was going over the wall and landing on the busy road behind the garden. We thought we may have been causing a traffic jam, but no, Wisbech’s transport system was unaffected. Everything was indeed going on the compost heap.

Before long, the pile of material to be shredded had disappeared completely. We switched the Piranha off with regret. With our ears still ringing, silence fell across the town and birds started singing once again. We lovingly brushed the machine down and towed it back to the machine shed. We retreated to the gardeners’ retreat above the stables smiling from ear to ear. The team thought we were odd, but we understood. The doomsday machine had worked its magic and swallowed another two willing victims.

Michael Jordan, Heritage Gardening Trainee

Farmhouse Redevelopment

Since September last year I have been a Heritage Gardening Apprentice with the Skills for the Future Training programme. The first 6 months have been an amazing experience, working at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse and other sites such as Peckover House, Wisbech and Narborough Hall in Norfolk to name just a few. Each week at work is always exciting and different, due to all the horticultural training and time spent at college.

The farmhouse garden has been designated for redevelopment and is my main task during my training period. The aim is to reflect a farmhouse garden between the Victorian and WW2 eras, whilst incorporating visitor and educational groups’ needs.

One of my favourite training experiences was learning all about garden design with Kay Davis, a volunteer and former Skills for the Future gardening trainee. In February the design process began with us mapping the garden, not an easy task in the snow! Since then a first draft/design has be produced and development has begun. Most of the work being carried out so far has been to turn the soil and remove the many varieties of weeds and other unwanted or out of place plants. The hedge surrounding the garden has been beautifully re-laid by the landscaping team including two Skills for the Future trainees Tom Watson and Hannah Southon. With a lot of turf cutting taking place the various beds and areas are beginning to take shape. Some soft fruit has been planted due to a generous donation from Mr. Jo Rayner and his wife, thanks again.

Due to a limited budget in these austere times we are trying to raise as many plants from seed (donated by various staff, visitors and friends), not always easy when there is no greenhouse on site. At this point we would like to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Chambers and Mrs. Travette for the shared use of the Scarning School poly-tunnel.

The goal for next week is to finish the cutting of the turf, feeding and turning the soil in preparation for sowing seed direct to the soil. Here’s a before picture, watch this space for more updates!


Scott Tampin, Heritage Gardening Apprentice.

Skills for the Future Programme

Magnolia Tree

The Magnolia tree in the chapel border at Gressenhall is from a genus of about 210 flowering plant species in the subfamily Magnolioideae of the family Magnoliaceae. It is named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol.

magnolia tree

Magnolia is an ancient genus. Appearing before bees did, the flowers evolved to encourage pollination by beetles. To avoid damage from pollinating beetles, the carples of Magnolia flowers are extremely tough. Fossilised specimens of Magnolia acuminata have been found dating to 20 million years ago and of plants identifiably belonging to the Magnolianceae dating to 95 million years ago.

The natural range of Magnolia species is a ‘disjunct distribution’, with a main centre in east and southeast Asia and a secondary centre in eastern North America, the West Indies and some species in South America.

Magnolia grandiflora is the official state flower of both Mississippi and Louisiana. The Flower’s abundance in Mississippi is reflected in its nickname of “MagnoliaState”. Historically, magnolias have long been associated with the Southern United States.

In parts of Japan, the leaves of Magnolia obovata are used for wrapping food and as cooking dishes. Magnolias are used as food plants by larvae by some species including the Giant Leopard Moth.

Magnolia art


Scott Tampin, Heritage Gardening Trainee, Skills for the Future