My first few weeks at Gressenhall

Aside

     My first few weeks at Gressenhall as the new public events trainee have been extremely interesting, even all the meetings (which were very handy for finding out who people are and what they do.) For the first couple of weeks I have been trying to get to grips with the site and all that happens on it. Hannah gave me a very helpful guided tour and again more introductions to various staff. I was surprised with the amount of people that worked on site, and am still seeing new faces four weeks in. I then got to work looking at all the events we have coming up and learning about what was needed for them, which in my second week included sourcing a tartan picnic groundsheet and a pool for Alice’s tears (Alice in Wonderland themed week in the summer holidays).

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   I have also been observing some of the formal and informal teaching that the learning team do, which included a lovely tractor ride round the farm with some year 7’s doing the home or habitat activity and watching the teddy bears picnic in the centenary wood with muddy museum café which was excellent and the children seemed to really enjoy it. Also I found it very useful seeing how all these spaces can be used for different activities therefore being able to incorporate all areas of the grounds in the event days. I am really looking forward to helping organise the upcoming events. Including the Radio 4 Gardener’s question time on Monday 24th and the Garden Show which seems to coming upon us at lighting speed!

  I can’t wait to get started on planning the events for later in the year, which includes Village at War and Ghostly Gressenhall, it looks as if they are going to be fantastic! I’m really enjoying my experience so far and am excited for the rest of my year here!

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Miriam Burroughs

Public Events Trainee

Poppies at Gressenhall

There are lots of poppies at Gressenhall, Scott Tampin, Heritage Gardening Trainee has been researching them.

The Poppy is a flowering plant of the family Papaverceae and many varieties can be found flowering all over the farm and workhouse site at this time of year. Ornamental Poppies are grown for their colourful flowers and some varieties are used in many cuisines around the world including European, Indian and Jewish. Some varieties produce a powerful medicinal alkaloid opium which has been used since ancient times to create analgesic and narcotic medicinal.

Poppies have long been a symbol of sleep, peace and death. Sleep because of the opium extracted from them, death because of the common blood red colour of the red ones in particular. In Greek and Roman myths time poppies were used as offerings to the dead and decorated tombstones. The bright scarlet colour also signifies resurrection from death in classical mythology. A magical poppy field threatens to make the heroes sleep forever in the novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’. The poppy appears on the back of a Macedonian bank note and is part of the republics coat of arms. The Canadian Mint in 2004 became the first producer in the world of a coloured coin in circulation and featured a poppy on its reverse.

During the First World War much trench warfare took place in the fields of Flanders and since then poppies have become a symbol of remembrance for those soldiers who died in the conflict and many others since. The California poppy, Eschscholzia californica is the state flower of California. Many have said that at one time the poppy should have been the county flower of Norfolk, but this has been abandoned due to the remembrance movement.

Patience is a Virtue

Working as a Heritage Gardening Trainee here at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse means experiencing a lot of variety over the course of my twelve-month contract. Occasionally this is manifested in not spending as much time in the garden as you would expect!

Things have been rather dry of late and so I’ve been taking the opportunity to pop into Cherry Tree Cottage garden at the weekends to do a bit of watering. All the vegetable seeds at Cherry Tree Cottage are direct-sown and require warmth and moisture to germinate properly, hence the extra-curricular efforts. When I do this I am usually wearing ‘civvies’, meaning visitors have no idea I actually work here, and which can lead to a few ‘honest’ assessments. One recent Saturday afternoon I was watering away when a visitor approached and opened the conversation by saying that the garden “didn’t look very good this year. No offence!”

I smiled and thought this one over for a moment before agreeing with him. It was quite true that there wasn’t an awful lot to see vegetable-wise at that time, but the consensus among gardeners generally is that everything has been about four weeks late this year. It’s been a balancing act as to when to sow some seeds, but on the whole I think things are currently looking fine, if a little immature!

The visitor’s comment did make me think about how everyone has an opinion, which on the whole is a good thing. Anyone with a passing interest in horticulture walks into Cherry Tree Cottage garden and forms an opinion, which may not always be flattering. A lot of our visitors are hardened gardeners or allotment holders who spend countless hours perfecting their plots. They may be completely unaware of the lack of permanent employed gardeners at Gressenhall, the extent to which we rely upon volunteers to do most of the garden maintenance, the restrictions on what we can plant and the materials to be used in Cherry Tree Cottage, not to mention the lack of any propagation facilities. Still, I always value these opinions and have had many a good conversation with gardeners since I started last September.

The one good thing is that we begin each year with a strong framework, established by the gardening volunteers over the past thirty years or so. Cherry Tree Cottage garden looks good throughout the year because of the structure provided by the box hedging, the trees, the paths and walls, as well as the hard work put into the flower borders. Every year is different however. Climate is inherently unpredictable and can cause the four week delays we’ve seen this year, or an early burst of growth in any other. Coping with this variability is one of the great pleasures to be had from gardening. Ultimately, it is satisfying to produce any decent horticultural display when conditions have been difficult. Gardens can be quite forgiving, things can catch up after a delay, plants can re-adjust.

On this particular occasion, I got the distinct impression that my visitor had been a regular at Gressenhall for a number of years. It was nice to see how visitors develop a sense of ‘ownership’ towards the place and how much they genuinely care how things are. I recommended that he come back in four weeks time, as there would be more to see. He nodded, laughed and went on his way. I carried on the watering and tried to chivvy the plants along a bit.

Michael Jordan, Skills for the Future Heritage Gardening Trainee

My first few weeks

Aside

 Since I’ve started working as a Heritage Farming Apprentice down on the farm I’ve been extremely busy! There has been so much to learn particularly regarding the care and working of the heavy horses, Ben and I have been taught how to feed, groom, and manage the stables, harness and hoe (the potatoes are coming on very well!) Alongside the intense horse work we have also been learning about the care of the other animals down on the farm by shearing the sheep and herding the cattle. 

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Richard teaching Ben how to drive

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Oxburgh Hall

On Tuesday 4th June Hannah, Tom, Ben myself and Richard took a trip over to Oxburgh Hall where the great national Trust employees informed us of the work going on regarding the maintenance of the 80 or so acres that the Hall is in charge of.  We were told that back when it was a house for a wealthy family, as a sign of their high status they kept swans with their sign engraved on their beaks! Damien- the head ranger- gave us a tour of the grounds with the view of possibly bringing one of the Suffolk Punches over to Oxburgh to do some logging for them.  This would be a great opportunity to combine the two museums and work alongside the National Trust. The land in their woods is fairly wet hence the reason that tractors and modern machinery is not such a viable options for the removal of the timber.

Damien also told us of the other projects they have on-going there including the removal of the silt build up in the river and the fixing of the sluice gate.  Not only did the day teach us of the land management but it also highlighted some points regarding people management and the running of a site.  Oxburgh Hall only has three outdoor staff, the rest of the people who manage and nurture the land are all volunteers therefore Damien’s job isn’t only to take care of the land but also manage the people and their time efficiently and effectively.

Overall the day was productive and interesting (it also helped that the sun shone for us!) and we are hoping that in the autumn some logging will be done and we will work together.

Within the next few weeks we have a lot planned down on the farm and away from site.  The potatoes need to continue being hoed, along with the de-weeding of the fodder beet that we planted in our first week. Next week we are off to Norwich for three days to complete our First Aid at work and later on we also have the Norfolk Show to prepare for and attend.

These first few weeks have been incredible and there are so many opportunities ahead of us that we are sure to be kept busy. I would just like to say a big thank you to everyone that has made this time so wonderful and I look forward to a fantastic 18 months!

Dani,

Heritage Farming Apprentice

When a plan comes together!

It has been great to see over the last couple of the months the library start to be utilised by many of our visitors for their own research. We have had family history researchers, recipe researchers, local village history researchers and industrial archaeology researchers to name a few.

The new space has allowed me, as a Skills for the Future Library and Archive trainee to ensure that the potential use of the library for research has been exploited at events. The research area is used to display samples of information that can be found by researchers within the library and archive:

At the ‘Workhouse Experience’ event, items were displayed that had been discovered in and around the workhouse (including pieces of building archaeology, household wares and toys), and placed alongside transcribed documents about the workhouse and the inmates.

At the ‘History Alive’ event we concentrated on material relating to the early beginnings of the workhouse; spinning records, the original Act of Parliament and dietary requirements for the inmates.

For the Garden Show being held on the 30th June 2013, we will  display copies of garden catalogues, tool catalogues, books on gardening during the war,  education books on gardening that came from local village schools and anything else we feel will be of interest to researchers.

It is great to have the time during these events to help people with their research and share information.

If you, or your organisation, are interested in using any of our resources in your research, or have any queries on family, local, agricultural, object or workhouse history or have your own stories or histories that you wish to share, then please do not hesitate to contact us. You do not have to wait for an event, you can contact us to make an appointment via email at www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/gressenhall

Helen Bainbridge, Museum Archive and Library Trainee