Festive flora at Gressenhall

Mistletoe (Viscum): A parasitic plant that grows on many of the apple trees in the museum’s orchard

mistletoe

The Word ‘mistletoe’ comes from the (old English mistiltan). It may come from the German word Mist which means dung and Tang for branch, since mistletoe can be spread from the droppings of birds as the move from tree to tree.
In pre-Christian societies across Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence and thus a symbol of fertility and vitality. The mistletoe used today in celebrations is thought to be the same type used by the ancient druids in their sacred rituals. Indeed they held the plant Viscum album to be holy.
With the arrival of Christianity this pagan belief like so many others was incorporated in to new religion. The earliest documented case of kissing under the mistletoe during the Christmas season dates from the 16th century in England, a custom that was very popular at the time. According to an old Christmas custom a man and a woman who meet under a hanging of mistletoe were obliged to kiss. The custom may be of Scandinavian origin.

mistletoe art

Holly (Ilex aquifolium): A prickly evergreen associated with Christmas.

varigated holly

European Holly (Gaelic: cuileann) was sacred to the druids who associated it with the winter solstice and wore wreaths of it on their heads. For the Romans, holly was considered the plant of Saturn (Jupiter) king of their gods. European Holly has always been traditionally had a strong association with Christmas. In heraldry holly is meant to symbolize truth. Henry VIII wrote a love song “Green growth the holly” which alludes to holly and ivy resisting winter blasts and not changing their hue “So I am and ever hath been unto my lady true”….or so he said?
In the extremely popular and best-selling Harry Potter novels, holly is used as the wood in the titular character’s wand.

harry potter wand

Between the 13th and 18th centuries before the introduction of turnips holly was cultivated for use as winter fodder for cattle and sheep. The less spiny varieties of holly were preferred, and in practice the leaves growing near the top of the tree have far fewer spines making them more suitable for fodder.
Holly wreaths are often part of the Christmas traditions, as is the popular carol The Holly and the Ivy.

holly painting

Chestnut tree (Castanea sativa): the provider of chestnuts a traditional Christmas food.

chestnuts

The roasting of chestnuts goes back centuries, when people turned up the heat on these nuts for more than just festive fare. Chestnuts became a staple in the mountainous regions around the Mediterranean Sea thousands of years ago, in part because most cereal grains couldn’t grow in these areas. These flavourful nuts are low in fat, high in fibre and full of vitamins and minerals. Evidence of its cultivation by man is found since around 2000 B.C. Alexander the Great and the Romans planted chestnut trees across Europe whilst on various campaigns. The Greek army is said to have survived their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C. thanks to their store of chestnuts. Dioscorides and Galen, wrote of chestnuts to comment on their medicinal properties – and of the flatulence induced by eating too many of them.
Roasting sweetens the nut’s raw, bitter flavour, which could also help explain its history of being eaten around Christmas when celebrations usually involve eating sweet things.
There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on when and where people began the tradition. Early Christians believed the nut symbolized chastity, which, although that theme does not tie in directly to Christmas, does to religion. Some historians say that roasting chestnuts dates back to the 16th century, when vendors sold them on the streets of Rome. Other scholars put their debut in Portugal for St. Martin’s Day, and in Modena, Italy for St. Simon’s Day.

Scott Tampin, Heritage Gardening Trainee

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Oats-So-Simple

In this addition of my blog I am going to be writing about the life cycle of oats down on the farm here at Gressenhall.

Drilling with horses

Drilling with horses

To start you have to get the seed into the ground, this is called drilling. (As you can see from the above picture). Here at Gressenhall we use a 92 inch Smyth Seed Drill. This drill can cope with the smallest of seeds from clover, to the bigger bean seed. The drill is horse drawn and the momentum of the horses pulling the drill drives gears, which are connected to the wheels, and this in turn drives the seed cups which then drop the seed down the spouts into the soil.

Rear view of drill

Rear view of drill


Seed cups

Seed cups

Around the year 1800, in Peasenhall Suffolk, James Smyth set up a production line in a field behind the church producing seed drills. James was born in 1777 which meant he was only 23 when he first started to produce his seed drills. There were many skills in the generations of the Smyth family ranging from woodwork to metal work and this is what played a major part in James Smyth’s initial success as he had a multitude of skills to start producing his machinery. Smyth drills were know as the Rolls Royce of machinery of its time and were even shipped out as far as Jamaica.

Richard on binder

Richard on binder

Once the crop is fully grown and is ready for harvest we then have to cut it using a binder. The reaper binder does not only cut the crop but also binds it into sheaves. The cut stems fall onto a bed canvas, which then transports it to two other elevator canvases which nip the harvested crop together whilst moving it to the binding mechanism. The binding mechanism bundles the crop and ties a piece of twine around the bundle. Once tied, it is ejected from the side of the binder. You then have a workforce going behind the bind ‘stooking’ the sheaves enabling them to dry out in the field.
Our binder is an Albion 5a and dates back to the 1940’s. It was produced by The Harrison McGregor Works at Leigh who were established in 1873 by Henry Harrison and Alexander McGregor. The ‘Albion’ range or harvest machinery achieved high sales and a high reputation around the world.

Thrashing set up

Thrashing set up

To get the seed from the cut crop we have to thrash it. To thrash this year’s crop of oats we used a Marshall thrashing drum being driven by a Burrell traction engine. Marshall, Sons & Co was a British company founded in 1848 making agricultural equipment. The company was based at Britannia Iron Works, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Early equipment consisted of steam engines and agricultural equipment and then later production saw diesel tractors such as the famous Field Marshall.

Drum feed

Drum feed

To start you feed the sheaves into drum at the top of the threshing machine. The grain is then separated from the straw by spinning teeth on the drum. The straw exits the threshing machine at the back via walkers. The grain continues its journey through sieves and eventually comes to the front of the machine where it is fed into bags.

Pitching up sheaves

Pitching up sheaves

Sacked Seed

Sacked Seed

This last month I have been working on a project that will enabled us to roll our own oats that we have grown here on the farm. This has involved finding a roller mill, an engine to power it and a space where we can roll and store the oats.
Well I can now say that we are rolling our oats using a Bamfords rapid roller mill. The roller crushes the grain between two big roller wheels which produces rolled grain that has a much bigger surface area and is easier for the animals to digest. The grain is fed to the rollers via a hopper above the roller. You are then able to adjust the flow rate of grain through the machine and also adjust how close the two rollers are together. (This is called kissing!)
Bamfords International Farm Machinery was one of the country’s major suppliers of agricultural equipment. It was famous for its balers, hay turners, chaff cutters and hay rakes which were exported all over the world. Joseph Cyril Bamford from the Bamford family went on to found the company JCB.

Roller Mill

Roller Mill


Before and after

Before and after

I hope you have enjoyed my ‘brief’ overview of the life cycle of Gressenhall’s oats.
Ben Preston – Heritage Farming Apprentice

Events, Events, and More Events!

It has been an extremely busy summer and autumn here at Gressenhall, not many weeks have gone by without an event. I have done everything from meeting the Gruffalo to selling 1940s newspapers. These first few months have really opened my eyes to how much planning and work running an event takes. But how rewarding it can be, watching people enjoy the day!

I have also started the adult leisure learning programme, which has involved organising a wide variety of courses including Art Attack! for Adults Christmas workshops, basketry and family history. It has also meant that I have visited quite a few Christmas fairs and attend an enamelling workshop at the V&A- All in the name of “research”. As we have now closed for the winter, we are starting to plan next year’s events which hopefully we can make as good as this year! Fingers crossed.

Miriam Burroughs

Public Event Trainee

Untitled1  Leading Art Attack! during the Summer Holidays.

 

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Art Attack for Adult!- Screen printed Christmas card workshop

 

 

Untitled-3Coin Striking at A Medieval Experience in King’s Lynn town hall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lavender bags at the Victorian Crack the Crime.

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