History of the Binder

In this addition of my blog I will be talking about the binder and knotting mechanism. The binder is a later improved version of the reaper. The reaper was an implement that just cut the crop, rather than combining it with the processes of cutting and tying it into sheaves.

Picture 1 - Binder

The binder was invented in 1872 by Charles Withington. The binder cuts the cereal crop a couple of inches of the floor and ties the cut crop into sheaves. These sheaves are then ‘stooked’ in the field, resembling tipis, by the farm labourers who are following behind the machine. The stooks were then left to ripen out in the field before they were carted in.

Picture 2 - Carting Corn

The original binders used wire to tie the sheaves, but this gave various problems during operation and also when it came to harvest, so, William Deering then invented a binder that used a twine knotter that was invented by John Appleby.

The knotter is a bit like the sowing machine: the machine pushes a needle in and pulls loops in nanoseconds as it passes by. In the same way, the knotter on the binder loops the twine around the cut crop onto the knotter beak, which then opens and grabs the twine as a knife cuts it to length. The beak then turns to tie the knot and releases once it has done its rotation. This all happens in the space of a second. Below is a picture of the knot the knotter mechanism produces.

Picture 3 - Tied knot

The knotter mechanism revolutionised agriculture and the same mechanism is still used today. There have been variations on the knotter, for example, August Claas adapted the knotter with a limited floating beak. It was then patented in 1921 and is still used in their bailers to this present day. Below is a picture of the CLAAS logo on one of their combines. You can see the knotter needle and beak is used as part of the company branding.

Picture 4 - Claas Logo

Ben Preston – Heritage Farming Apprentice


Hello From Shine a Light

Hello we are Sophie Towne and Josh Giles the Skills for the Future Collections Management Trainees at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

We are working on the Shine a Light project which is focussing on behind the scenes developing our stored collections. Over the next year we will be working hard to reorganise our stores to make them more accessible to staff, researchers and the public.

So a bit more about us…

I am Josh! I studied history and have always wanted a job working with museum collections. History has always been fascinating to me.  Objects from the most mundane to the most weird and wonderful excite me. So being here in the Norfolk Collections Centre seems like the perfect job…..

Fresh out of university I volunteered at Swaffham Museum and managed to work hands on with their collections. I then went on to work as part of the Visitor Services team here at Gressenhall which was a great experience. This role as part of the Skills for the Future project is my first paid job with collections and so far it has been very enjoyable if quite challenging.

I’m Sophie! The first few weeks at Gressenhall were a flurry of introductions, inductions and computer e-learning. I’ve already learnt loads in just a short space of time, like how to manoeuvre a gigantic silk press into a freezer and the best way to photograph a guillotine.

I have some experience of working with museums, however, I have never attempted anything quite on the scale of the Norfolk Collections Centre.

Our story so far…

The first week, we were confronted with this… row upon row of racking full of objects

The first week, we were confronted with this… row upon row of racking full of objects

Some of our favourite objects that we have found:

These are seven statues of Saints from the first row of racking.

These are seven statues of Saints from the first row of racking.

We have lots of support and training from other members of staff:


Dave Harvey from conservation teaching us about Pest Management


Fraser driving the forklift and Dave Savage in the cage helping with heavy objects








And we like to have a bit of fun:

Josh posing with saint statues for social media

This is Josh (above)  posing with the saints and our resident manikin for social media and Sophie having far too much fun with the strapping machine:


Most importantly we have been making the collections more accessible.

Here is our Mammoth tusk having its new case unveiled:


And I am sure you will be hearing more from us in the future.

Josh Giles and Sophie Towne

Protecting Coppice Re-growth

Lots has been going on in the landscape surrounding Gressenhall this summer; the fields are awash with the colour of wildflowers and the air is buzzing with bees and butterflies to mention but a few. However, as is the case with many land based activities it’s always good to be thinking about the seasons to come and the tasks associated with these seasons. Some of you may have seen in my previous posts that we coppiced a coupe of hazel in the woodland here at Gressenhall over the winter of 2013 / 2014, well now that summer is in full swing it’s a good time to check up on the coppiced hazel stools to see how the hazel re-growth is doing.

picture 1

A very healthy coppice stool with lots of re-growth. It’s located in an area often frequented by people, perhaps keeping the deer away.

In the UK we have a number of deer species roaming through our countryside; some of which are native and others which have been introduced. Deer’s pose quite a threat to a coppice system as they have a tendency to munch off the tasty new seasons re-growth, if this is left unchecked the hazel stools will eventually die out, which would completely destroy a coppice woodland. In a stable, fully functioning eco-system the population densities of grazing species are maintained at a sustainable level by a top predator(s); in the past this would have been the case in the UK with species such as wolves, bears and lynx also roaming our countryside.

Now that we’ve lost these species it’s important that we take measures to protect any coppice re-growth to ensure the survival of coppiced woodlands, which in some cases are also classified as ancient woodland.

There are several methods which can be used to protect coppice growth, the method that we trialled at Gressenhall this year was to cover up the coppice stools with brash wood from the trees that we had coppiced (brash wood is the twiggy branches from the crown of a tree).The theory is that the brash wood would allow the re-growth the opportunity to grow woody enough so that it is unpalatable to deer.

Another method which was used at Oxburgh Hall this year is to weave brash wood into a basket like structure around the coppiced stool. The principle is similar to the last method; the baskets should provide the new growth protection until they grow over the baskets. By which time they should be woody enough to be left alone.

A hazel stool protected from deer by a woven basket at Oxburgh Hall.

A hazel stool protected from deer by a woven basket at Oxburgh Hall.

An additional technique which is often used on large scale coppicing projects is the use of temporary electric fences. This is perhaps the quickest and most efficient method if a large coupe has been coppiced. The idea is that deer are completely excluded from the freshly coppiced coupe, hopefully providing complete protection to the new re-growth. Obviously this method will only be suited to certain circumstances where the presence of an electric fence is not a problem.

Perhaps the oldest and most traditional method of deterring deer from browsing a freshly cut coppice coupe is simply the presence of humans. Ben law suggests in his book ‘the woodland way’ that this is one of the main reasons why woodsmen would traditionally live in the wood for extended periods of time (sometimes full time). This is an interesting theory, as the hazel stool pictured at the very beginning of this blog post is in an area that is often used by people, even though it has no protection the re-growth from this stool is extremely strong.

Unfortunately the method that we’ve been using at Gressenhall has been rather unsuccessful, with much of the new growth being browsed off once it had grown above the brash shields. This makes me think that the brash was either not piled high enough on top of the stools, or that the brash had not provided enough of a physical barrier to protect the new growth below. In contrast the method used at the National Trust site of Oxburgh hall has been quite successful, with the majority of the stools showing strong re-growth within the woven baskets.

Obviously there are a number of variables that may have influenced the rate of browsing within the two woodlands, for example muntjac deer are much shorter than roe, or even fallow deer, and will therefore be deterred from eating re-growth with a relatively low shelter. I think that we will be constructing a similar structure to those at Oxburgh Hall around our coppice stools this winter, and will wait to see the results next spring.

If you’re interested in coppicing and traditional coppice crafts please feel free to have a look at my personal blog: coppicecrafts.blogspot.com
You’ll find lots of information about hurdle making, coppicing, green woodworking etc.

Also, we’re going to be busy working in the woodland over winter, if you’d like to join in with our volunteer team on Mondays please do get in touch: lee.bassett@norfolk.gov.uk

In related news, the hazel nuts are ripening up nicely. We will have to be quick to get to them before the squirrels though!

picture 3

Lee Bassett
Heritage Landscape Mangement Trainee

Engineering an Opportunity

My name is Robert and I am the Heritage Engineering Trainee. At the beginning of my traineeship I was long term unemployed since college, and I was in the same position as many young people and wondering what I wanted to do as a career. When I found out about this traineeship I jumped at the chance. When I got down to the final seven I was absolutely psyched as not only was I in the running for the job but a childhood dream of working with trains. So far in my traineeship I’ve worked on live steam locomotives, static steam pumps/boilers, pumping/line shafting equipment as well as metal working and use of cutting gear and hand tools.

robert blog 2

Admiring an engine on a site visit

I knew I was quite good before but I realised I was limited and the skills I’m acquiring and making something like repairing my mother’s electric lawnmower or 1000w drill no longer seem beyond me. So thanks to the Skills for the Future programme, not only am I training in my favourite field but I am also achieving more than I thought possible before.

Examining an engineering diagram

Examining an engineering diagram

I hope to one day have a full time job in engineering, which for me is something I really want to spend the rest of my life doing. This now is quite possible with the head start I’ve got with my traineeship.

Haymaking by Hand

A few weeks ago, my fellow trainees and I were lucky enough to go on a one day scything course.
Since that day I have become slightly obsessed with the satisfaction of the job and how much fun making my own hay is!

A scythe is an agricultural hand tool used for cutting, mowing grass, or reaping crops. Since its heyday (please excuse the pun!) it has largely been replaced by horse, and then tractor power. It is still used commercially in some areas of Europe and Asia.
The scythe has been around for many hundreds of years and according to the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the scythe was used by the ancient Romans. It was first noted in around 500BC and has been widely used ever since, with many developments (such as the cradle scythe) being devised from it.


Hay is a vital crop on any farm, even on a modern commercial basis. It is dried grass stored safely for animal fodder, particularly for grazing livestock such as sheep, cows and horses. Haymaking is a multi-step process beginning with the growing of grass then cutting, curing (or drying), processing and storing.
Initially hay was cut by teams of scythers, left to dry in swaths (or piles) – which have the colloquial name of ‘haycocks’; on the field then pitched loose onto a horse drawn wagon.
The loose hay was then taken into an area designated specifically for storage of the hay. It had to be an area that was slightly raised up, or positioned on top of a hill in order for the ground to be dry. A haystack was then built. Due to the haystacks own weight, the hay would compress and cure by the release of heat from the residual moisture in the hay. The haystack was separated from the rest of the farm (to prevent eager, hungry livestock!) and was often thatched or sheeted to keep it dry.

On the scything course which we attended, we managed to successfully mow the top end of Gressenhall’s orchard.








Once the hay was cut, myself and my fellow trainee Lee, returned over the week in order to turn the hay. The hay must be turned once a day in order to allow the air access to as many individual strands as possible. When turning it is also important to ensure the hay is moved onto a dry patch of grass. The moisture from the hay will seep into the ground below it, therefore if you turned the hay onto the same spot then it would stand less chance of drying out correctly.

On the Thursday (4 days after it was cut) we brought Bowler, one of our 5 Suffolk Punch’s, and the wagon, up to the orchard and collected the hay. It was a beautiful sunny day and the experience is one I will never forget! Bowler was fantastically well behaved (having never been up to the orchard with the wagon) and Lee and I were taught by Richard (Farm Officer) how to correctly use pitch forks to the optimum ability. Jpeg
JpegThe hay was then stored on the wagon by piling up the sides first, then filling in the centre. This method ensures the hay supports itself, and theoretically won’t fall off on the return journey. Once the team returned to the farm the wagon was stored safely in our front barn (we are hoping to make a haystack soon but in the meantime the hay remains on the wagon). Ever since that day we have been feeding the hay to the cows and sheep which are in the yards.

You’ll all be happy to hear that they love it!

Dani Chatten- Heritage Farming Apprentice