I’m back in the modern world after a weekend spent at Beamish museum making wooden rakes as part of their 1913 Show of Agriculture. My rakes are traditionally made using cleft timber and hand tools as working implements so I was happy to be asked to take part in their 1913 agricultural show among the veg stalls, weavers and displays of animals. It was a busy weekend with lots of visitors as befits this award winning museum. I was camping in the grounds for the weekend so had a chance to wander around in the evenings and early mornings soaking up the atmosphere – I can imagine it being pretty spooky on a misty night.
I was kitted out in costume and set off with my bag of vintage tools to their show site in the fields across from Pockerley Old Hall. Once the cars are gone, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you walk along the cobbled streets through town with brass bicycle lamps and wash tubs on sale and see old trams and buses going by. My own tool kit fits this era anyway as I work almost always with hand tools finding them much more responsive and versatile than most power tool equivalents. Over the weekend I demonstrated every aspect of making wooden hay rakes including lots of bashing of billets through my tine cutter to make teeth, shaving out and drilling the head by hand and eye and rounding up the handle with my homemade stail engine. Most folk just stayed long enough to knock through a few tines or reminisce about using rakes during the harvest but one or two either stayed on or came back several times and saw the full process.
The highlights for me were meeting Helen Moran and Jim Elliott. Helen is an expert in the history and making of corn dollies, a very old rural craft tradition. We chatted about old wheat varieties while I watched her nimble fingers weaving up another of her perfect patterns which range from simple knots and horseshoes to intricate fans and statues.
Outside, Jim was busy in the field ploughing with his horses. A champion ploughman, it was a pleasure to watch him and his team at work, making a better job of the work than the vintage tractors and quicker too.