2020 Virtual Heckington Show – WWW.2020VIRTUALHECKINGTONSHOW.ORG
The annual show is a highlight for the quintessentially Lincolnshire village of Heckington and the thousands of visitors who flock there each year. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, preparations are well in hand for a 2020 Virtual Heckington Show to be held instead on 25th and 26th July. Lincolnshire Life will be taking part and we have been speaking to some of the exhibitors and local groups you will be able to meet online rather than in person.
Heckington Show committee chairman, Charles Pinchbeck spoke to Lincolnshire Life to explain how the virtual show was planned.
“It is the first time in our 150-year history that we have had to cancel the show as we didn’t plan to hold them in 1915-18 and 1940-44. As many of our regular visitors will know we have a great record of overcoming challenges such as the 2018 hurricane and of being quick off the mark.
“In 1945, we held a committee meeting on VE Day and held a show 12 weeks later. When the country first went into lockdown in March and the situation was evolving we wanted to see if it might be possible to hold something in four months’ time. By May, it had become clear that social distancing is going to be here for some time to come and that made both setting up the show and inviting people to it in any numbers was impractical. The reluctant but right decision was taken to cancel.”
WHAT ELSE COULD BE DONE?
The committee wanted to look at what they could do to carry on the essence of Heckington – something to look forward to and the chance to still participate in this great community and social occasion over the weekend of 25th and 26th July. Anything that involved people gathering was obviously out of the question but they have found innovative ways of keeping the show spirit alive.
The sections for handicraft and gardening aimed at the local children and community are being offered online with competitions such as ‘My Lockdown Craft Project’.
The decorated house competition will be running as usual – a great opportunity for a family project and something that can be enjoyed safely by residents as they go about the village. A special part of the show is the chance to be together with family and friends. That will be difficult this year, but some streets are planning re-runs of the VE Day street parties over the show weekend.
“We’re very aware of the opportunity the show gives all our exhibitors to get in front of the public and the part we play in helping them to thrive,” said Charles.
“A great initiative from Jackie Goodall, our heritage secretary, has seen links to many of the heritage exhibitors who booked to come this year highlighted on our special 2020 Virtual Show website. There’s also some great show heritage with a great collection of show highlights over the years. You can even send us your favourite show memory – we’ll put the favourites on the website for everyone to enjoy. Just go to www.2020virtualheckingtonshow.org. We will also be uploading some great outtakes from the 150th anniversary film released in 2017.
“Heckington Show plays an important role in the continuing survival of Lincolnshire’s extremely rare Longwool sheep, hosting the official annual sale of breeding stock. This is vital in helping new breeders to start their flocks, and to allow the very best animals to be used in the breeding programmes of existing flocks. It’s fantastic that they won’t be missing a year, with breeding stock being offered online instead.”
AND WHAT ABOUT NEXT YEAR?
Heckington Show is staged by volunteers and the support and co-operation of suppliers and contractors means the committee has incurred very little cost this year. Prudence and good stewardship of all the effort put in over the years also means there are reserves to cover these difficult times.
The opportunity is being taken this year to do work on the ground. The landowners are improving the deep drainage of the site, and the newer areas are having additional seeding to strengthen the turf. Everyone is looking forward to welcoming the crowds back to an even bigger and better Heckington Show next year but meanwhile celebrate in your chosen way on 25th and 26th July and visit the virtual show online.
A MASTER OF GREENWOOD CRAFTS
A familiar face at Heckington’s Heritage Area, Wocko, the Woodman, reflects on rural life, woodlands and the art of coopering.
It is a great pity that Heckington Show has had to be cancelled this year due to the current virus outbreak. However, I will attempt to recreate the feeling of my little corner in the Heritage Area. My name is L Wyn Watkins, commonly called Wocko and known as Wocko, the Woodman.
I was brought up in the Erewash Valley in Nottinghamshire and schooled in Derbyshire. The first job I had as a young lad was working on the nearby Coop Farm, where they still had Shires and one brand new grey ‘Fergie’ tractor.
This was shortly after the end of the Second World War (see Heritage Area for more info). My mother cautioned me saying, ‘You don’t want to be a farm labourer, they are the lowest of the low.’ Yes, that was true in those days, but how different things are now. Unless you could milk a cow, lamb a ewe, and shear one, wind a hurdle, lay a hedge, repair a freestone wall, build and thatch a rick, you were set to hoeing turnips and digging ditches and given little consideration. These skills were common in those days. The horsemen were of a different class, looked up to and respected.
Nowadays these rustic skills and rural crafts are being lost, condemned to the time vault, and only seen on rare occasions such as this show. But all is not lost, with modern technology much of our agricultural heritage has been put on video record, kept in county archives and published on the Wibbly Wobbly Web. It is available to those who seek.
More people are getting involved in smallholding and green woodwork these days; getting back to nature, I think it’s called. It’s not only the newly retired on enhanced pensions, but I know a few young folk taking the hard road to self-sufficiency and independence.
DEER PARKS AND WOODLANDS
After a few years of adventure and misadventure, I had the opportunity to become the deer keeper and woodsman for Lord Cobbold on his Knebworth estate. My wife and I moved to Hertfordshire shortly after we were married and spent more than 40 years there, living in a delightful cottage by the lake, at the edge of a 300-acre oak wood.
The deer park had only just been established and much of my time was spent travelling the country catching deer to introduce to the park. The deer park had a distance of six miles of fencing, both internal and external. I was responsible for the erection and maintenance of it all.
I became unsatisfied with the standard of the ‘treated’ timber available for the uprights and searched for a better solution. The thought came to me, “There have been deer parks in this country since Norman times. How did they contain their deer?”
The riven oak paling of Moccas Park and Charlecote was one solution. Let’s combine old and new. Modern high tensile fencing and oak uprights. Most of our oak was over 100 years old and rather valuable, but we had a stand of sweet chestnut (castanea sativa), also some 600- year-old chestnut coppice stools. These were perfect. I soon learnt how to cleave the timber into suitable sizes for my fencing needs. No machinery, only physical labour and skill.
While working in the woodlands, I was continuously assessing the trees and looking out for suitable ones that I could use for my own work, as well as selecting material for estate work. When funds became available, restoration work was done on the main house and wherever possible I would supply home grown oak for these projects. Sometimes it was in the form of hand hewn beams, at the other end of the scale I would make hand riven plastering laths.
I supplied approximately nine miles worth for the ceiling of St George’s Chapel after the fire disaster at Windsor Castle. All this work has now been built over and is unlikely to ever be seen. I did leave my personal mark on the large items and on one or two of the smaller ones. Two diamonds, representing two Ws, one inverted over the other.
COUNTRY SHOWS AND CRAFTSMEN
Knebworth Park held events for visitors during the summer seasons and it was not long before I was asked to demonstrate some of my skills as an arena attraction; shearing, dog handling, and showing my woodland expertise. I enjoyed this exposure. Most of my working life I was by myself in the woods, or out on the park with the livestock. It appealed to the extrovert part of my personality.
I enjoyed it so much that for the past 20 years I have been travelling the country demonstrating the lost arts of the pre-machine age woodsman at numerous craft shows and country shows. Usually I would be making gates and sheep hurdles out of cleft wood. I have met so many rare and individual characters who I am proud to call my friends, and have gained their respect for what I do as I respect their abilities. Some of these craftsmen are regularly to be seen in the Heritage Area at Heckington.
Some years ago, I was at a show in Hertfordshire when I met an amazing individual. When you meet someone who knows what they are talking about, it’s wise to ‘shut up and listen’.
George Smithwick, sixth generation Australian cooper and wheelwright. What a character. We immediately recognised a kindred spirit and our friendship lasted ever since. He is now the face of Lost Trades, Australia (find him at Beveridge Coopers, Australia).
He taught me the basics of coopering, which being retired, I have now taken up as a hobby. I thought that it would be a challenge to do something precise instead of reasonably good enough. Understanding timber as I do and also geometry, the theory was not too difficult. After a while and lots of practice I felt confident enough to demonstrate wooden bucket making at shows.
TYPES OF COOPERING
• Wet coopering: Top quality materials are used and top quality work is required. The wet cooper’s casks will hold valuable liquids, often for years at a time. These casks must also be vapour proof to prevent the evaporation of alcohol. Oak is the main wood used as the wood itself adds flavour to the liquor, in some cases the wood is charred or ‘toasted’ to add a distinct flavour to the contents of the cask. Some modern wineries cheat by using stainless steel vessels and adding bags of oak sawdust for the flavour.
• White coopering: In other words Dairy Ware. White clean odour-free materials such as sycamore, maple, beech and hornbeam were used to make churns, bowls, dishes and butter barrels. Now alas, very rare.
• Dry or slack coopering: In the days before plastics and mechanisation, casks were used to transport a vast variety of goods, from corn to crockery, cement, fruit and ironmongery. Casks could be rolled aboard ships, stood up and stowed in the hold. One man could move more than 10 times the weight that he could lift. The nature of the casks made them strong enough, and resilient to withstand the buffeting of a long sea voyage or carriage by ox cart over often unmade and potholed roads.
TRADITIONS OF COOPERING
When the East coast herring fishing industry was at its height, salted fish were packed in casks and exported throughout the world. More than a million casks a year! In Nelson’s time a full rigged ship of the line might employ up to four coopers on board.
Today, there are only three or four full-time coopers left in the country. There are modern mechanical cooperages where all the operations are done by machines. I am not a fully trained cooper. I have not served a five-year apprenticeship under a master cooper. At best I would consider myself to be a slack cooper.
I can make barrels, but not up to the standard required to keep liquid for any length of time. My buckets are made watertight, which is why I find it frustrating when a customer asks for a hole to be drilled in the base as it will be used for growing flowers in.
With the exception of historical re-enactors and film sets, there is little call for wooden buckets. Empty they are quite heavy, and even heavier when full of water. There is another problem to consider: if the weather is dry, the wood will dry out and shrink, as the wood shrinks the hoops become loose and eventually drop off.
This leaves you with a few hoops and a pile of staves. The answer is to hammer the hoops down so as to tighten up the vessel. Failing that ‘binge it’ (give it a good soak inside and out).
Wood is a wonderful medium to work with; it can be quite forgiving. When the hoops are hammered down really tightly, any slight imperfections will compress and form a seal. To bend it, apply heat.
The cooper uses dry heat; all the shavings are put into a metal basket called a cresset. This is placed inside the vessel and fired. If necessary the inside of the cask is dampened with a wet rag to prevent it catching fire. When the wood is hot enough, ends are winched together, or closed using trussing hoops until it seals into the barrel shape we are familiar with.
After allowing the wood to cool and set, the trussing hoops are removed and replaced with permanent hoops. These must be measured and made precisely to fit the diameter and curvature of the vessel. If you use steam to heat your wood you have to deal with the shrinkage problem already mentioned.
Many shows will not allow this most interesting part of the job to be demonstrated due to safety factors and insurance issues. However, I do find that visitors are fascinated, especially how one works out all the angles. I refer them to a Mr Euclid, an Ancient Greek.
Getting the specialist tools can be a bit of a problem, it is many years since each brewery employed a gang of coopers. Most of the tools have been sold off to collectors or hung up as displays on pub walls. They occasionally come up at specialist tool auctions where they fetch a good price. The answer: make your own. It was part of an apprenticeship to make your own set of tools!
What timber do I use? When in Herts, I had a stock of oak and chestnut left over from my other work; I have a very small quantity of this left which I am saving for that ‘special’ task when it comes along.
These days I use recycled timber, mainly soft woods. Recently I had some Baltic pine recovered from roof beams of an Edwardian house. This was a treat to use. Slow grown, tight grained, dry and free of that resin that you find in fresh pine. It was of a quality unobtainable today, an absolute joy. Recently, I used some of this to make some lidded dry goods vessels for the two ladies who run the Forgotten Foods stand.
You may be wondering why we left our cottage by the woods. The family would have happily allowed us to spend out the rest of our days there, but it was time for one last adventure.
My wife had family roots in Lincolnshire and we had spent holidays here. I loved the Wolds, one of the least known AONB’s in the country. After living in the country for so long, Louth seemed like a big city. We eventually settled on the edge of Market Rasen, but close enough to walk into town. We are happy here and have a growing group of friends.
Meet me at the Heckington Show next year!
FLOUR TRADE FLOURISHES
As the lockdown was imminent, Heckington Windmill found that virtually their entire stock of flour was sold out on the last weekend of opening.
With people at home having the time to enjoy baking together, one of the concerns was around the availability of flour for home bakers. Demand for bagged flour rocketed from 5% of UK flour production to 15% and bagging plants simply could not cope with the surge, despite working 24 hours a day.
“Virtually our entire stock was sold by lockdown on 23rd March and with many of our volunteers falling into groups recommended to self-isolate, it meant we had to close for a period,” explained Charles Pinchbeck, the windmill trust’s chairman. “However as guidance on safe working became clearer, we found ways to reopen safely at the end of May and we’re delighted to be serving our community and our customers in this way.”
A key part of the regeneration project was the installation of a Ruston oil engine and this has been worth its weight in gold, as it means volunteers can keep milling while they await repairs to the sails.
“It’s also been good to get the amazing volunteer team back in action. Teams such as the engineers and bakers have enjoyed virtual get-togethers and we’ve been doing updates for all our volunteers and supporters.”
As the country gradually moves into its recovery phase, Heckington Windmill are looking at safe ways to offer more to the public over the summer. There is a lovely tea garden which it is hoped it will be possible to open soon, a great open air space in which to enjoy a cuppa and a slice of cake while maintaining social distancing – and admiring the stunning windmill.
Check the website for the latest information about what’s on offer at Heckington Windmill by visiting www.heckingtonwindmill.org.uk.
AT THE HUB OF LOCAL LIFE
North Kesteven District Council is finding new ways to bring all of the positive aspects of Heckington Show to the community.
Ordinarily North Kesteven District Council would be positioned in its Ringside spot, engaging residents and visitors on a range of topics and activities and explaining the services it delivers to help people in their homes, businesses and daily lives.
Coupled with its perennially popular cinema experience, popcorn bar and smoothie bike, this year’s emphasis was set to expand on the Council’s pioneering climate response. So watch this space as this is developed over the coming months in readiness for the 2021 Show.
The Show is also an ideal platform to engage with all residents – regardless of whether they’re from North Kesteven or not – on recycling right, encouraging more creativity, promoting more active lifestyles and being more environmentally conscious in our actions, all of which are core priorities.
It’s also a great opportunity to promote the District, its unique aviation heritage and its myriad charms to visitors and locals alike, encouraging them to discover more.
More on this and what else the District Council gets up to can be found 24/7, year-round at www.n-kesteven.gov.uk
For many years the Council has sponsored the junior cycle races, building its association in recent times with the creation of a champion of champions challenge – a Victor Ludorum – for the adult riders over the series of Saturday races.
Last year the Council was very pleased and proud to be a partner in the celebration of the Show’s 150 years of cycling – making it the oldest continuous cycle race in the world!
Despite the rain, who recalls the spectacle of the penny farthing races and the collection of vintage bikes from the Lincolnshire Transport Museum hosted on the Council stand?
Recognising the growing popularity of cycling, North Kesteven District Council is focused on promoting the area’s excellent roads, routes and byways that make it ideal for both a sedate flat ride out and a more challenging hill climb or two.
Its cycling strategy and programme of cycling events is ever evolving as it seeks ever more opportunities to encourage more people to take to the saddle more often, and watching the enthusiasts and elite sports riders on the track at Heckington is a part of this.
With quiet country lanes and picturesque villages it couldn’t be easier to explore North Kesteven on two wheels. Cycling has many benefits, not only for the cyclist’s health but for the wider quality of the environment in which we live, work and spend our leisure time, as well as for overall environmental sustainability.
Cycling is also flexible – you don’t have to cycle at a fixed time, and it is something that you can do as an individual, with friends and family, or as part of a cycling club. Cycling can be enjoyed as a hobby, purely for pleasure, as a competitive sport or as a practical means of getting from A to B.
Finally, and notwithstanding all the positive health, wellbeing, and sustainability outcomes, we must not forget the simple fact that cycling can be low cost and great fun.
For all these excellent reasons we want North Kesteven to be a district where everyone is inspired to cycle.
NATIONAL CENTRE FOR CRAFT & DESIGN
Craft activities organised by the Council’s National Centre for Craft & Design (NCCD) are always a popular draw, giving children of all ages a creative distraction and an opportunity to take the weight off their feet.
Last year we were making houses from cardboard, a win-win celebration of 100 years of council housing, the 10th anniversary of NK starting up a 300-home building programme and the recyclability and re-use of cardboard and paper materials.
This year we’d have been gearing for the re-opening of the NCCD following a £1.2m remodelling and refurbishment, but that’s been delayed by the ongoing situation.
As with the rest of the Council, although the doors of the NCCD are closed and the lights are off, it’s been really busy online as the creative emphasis has gone virtual.
They are keeping you fuelled with creative ideas and inspiration on their social media platforms and have a group on Facebook called NCCD Family & Community. The group is packed full of art, design, craft and dance activities, challenges ad prompts to keep you and your children creative across all levels of age and ability. Check it out.
MRS SMITH’S COTTAGE
Seeds sown at last year’s Heckington Show have borne fruit and flower this summer, helping the garden at the refurbished Mrs Smith’s Cottage to flourish in Navenby.
From a miniature garden set up at the Show, the seedlings were in part transplanted to the historic garden in readiness for its planned opening in June, but this has been put back until later in the year.
Meanwhile work has continued on roof repairs and a reinterpretation of this window into the past, so that visitors can eventually see in person how Mrs Smith lived a humble but fulfilling life in a traditional Lincolnshire Cottage.
There’s lots of content and material on the website, www.mrssmithscottage.com, with details of aspects of the building, its past, its present restoration and its future presentation, and there has been lots of activity throughout the spring, including a live-streamed Tea Dance for VE Day and an Open Gardens event.
Those seedlings have also grown funds too, with additional plants sold for donation, raising in excess of £500 and bringing wider joy.
Even while leisure centres have been closed we’ve been helping people to move more and stay active – as we do at the Show on our static bikes for turning pedal power into art or a smoothie.
Our leisure partner Better has been providing ‘virtual’ exercise classes online and via an app.
Staying active and motivated when you are adjusting to a new routine is always a challenge. But there are plenty of ways to keep your body and mind healthy even when you can’t get to the gym, pool or court. On demand access to workouts are available for free on the Better UK app, available from the Apple or Google Play stores, or at www.better.org.uk.
There’s also broader wellbeing and fitness advice at www.n-kesteven.gov.uk or from health trainer Debbie Chessum, who would usually be at the show to chat through people’s individual circumstances.
Debbie is also available to support North Kesteven residents on 07733 368676 or by email: Deborah_Chessum@n-kesteven.gov.uk
In 2019 the Council pioneered an on-site digital hub in the NK Marquee, which would have made a return, to help people through the pitfalls and problems of getting online and getting the most out of their devices.
If you are discovering digital connectivity for the first time and struggling to make it work for you, there are digital hubs across the District in Ruskington, Osbournby, Heckington and new ones set for Sleaford and Waddington; but whilst these are on pause, digital support co-ordinator Rachael is continuing to offer help remotely. She can be contacted by phone on 01529 308110 or email: Rachael_Gordon@n-keseven.gov.uk
RECYCLING RIGHTS AND WRONGS
One of our more popular – and appreciated – levels of engagement at the Show is our mission to demystify the rights and wrongs of recycling. Always trying to make it fun with a hoopla, circus games or hurling the right thing into the right bin, the simple message is that wherever you are in Lincolnshire, the core recycling mix is the same.
Paper and card, light coloured plastics, glass bottles and jars and metal tins, cans and foil can all be recycled – and please ensure they are loose, clean, dry and free of grease and lids. No one wants plastic bags, crisp packets or plastic film in their recycling bins, or black and dark coloured plastics.
A simple guide to what goes in your recycling bin and A-Z guidance on what goes where for most things can be found at www.n-kesteven.gov.uk/recycle. The same information applies wherever you live – or check out your local council’s website.
VIRTUAL EXHIBITIONS AND TOURS
Whilst you can’t visit them, the visitor sites operated by North Kesteven District Council are being brought closer to home.
Cranwell Aviation Heritage Museum’s showcase exhibition ‘Boom – 100 Years On’ was due to launch in April, celebrating the centenary of the opening of RAF College Cranwell. As you are unable to visit the centre to enjoy it in person, the Council has brought some of it to you at www.heartoflincs.com, along with other exhibitions made available on the Heart of Lincs website.
Cogglesford Mill and Navigation House are also offering a sense of place on this website and Heart of Lincs’ social media accounts – and watch this space as they prepare new ways to engage visitors more fully, and in person, going into the summer.
ACTIVITIES TO TRY AT HOME
Pattern and texture
• Take a piece of paper (any size) and divide it into six sections.
• Look around your home or garden to find six different patterns or textures.
• Use each section to draw or trace each pattern or texture.
You could also make a viewfinder to help you really concentrate on the different textures and patterns. Don’t forget to share your drawings on Facebook if you can.
Stuck at home? Make a home!
Build a bug hotel from toilet roll tubes, a secret spider palace or a camouflaged creepy crawly camp by following the guide with Hill Holt Wood Ranger Gav.
• Go collecting!
• Get cramming
• Decorate the tube
• Find a nice shady spot in the garden
• Cover the tubes
• Let the bugs move in
ACTIVITIES TO TRY AT HOME
Nature Paint Brushes
You will need:
• Twigs or sticks
• Leaves, flowers, or other natural materials collected from a walk in the park, countryside or garden
• Masking tape or string
• Poster paints (you might need to add a little water to thin the paint)
• Everyone will start with a twig, and some of the materials you collected on your walk.
• Hold the materials at one end of the twig, and wrap some tape or string around to secure it.
• If you are struggling to keep everything in place you might need a friend to hold things together for you.
• Now it is time to paint!
While painting think about these questions.
Share what you have learnt with a friend.
• What texture is the material you collected?
• What shape are the leaves?
• Why did you pick that material?
• Are there any differences between materials?
Share your creations online by tagging @mrssmithcottage on Twitter, @mrssmithscottage on Instagram, or sharing it with the Heart of Lincs page on Facebook.
PRESERVING TOOLS OF THE AGRICULTURAL TRADE
Heritage tools collector and exhibitor Arthur Crust reflects on his passion for restoring treasured historical farming tools.
With a precious collection of over 400 agricultural and land tools sourced from all over the world and gathered over 40 years, Arthur “Colin” Crust has been a popular regular exhibitor at Heckington Show’s Heritage Area, where he enjoys sharing his knowledge with visitors.
Seventy-eight-year-old Arthur, who has lived in Little Cawthorpe, near Louth, all his life, grew up on his father’s farm where he worked from the age of 15 and has used hand tools all his working life. His remarkable collection of heritage tools is made up of various ancient types for working the land and land drainage, including forks, spades and hedge tools.
Although Arthur doesn’t make the tools himself, he enjoys spending time renovating and restoring them to their former glory while also tracing their working history. Arthur says he hopes that what he does in restoring and preserving these tools means that his knowledge will be passed down to younger generations.
“To restore the tools, the main challenges are getting the rust and tarnish off and polishing them up to make them look as good as new, while also making sure they still look original,” explains Arthur, who sources all his own tools at auctions, car boots, eBay and specialist magazines.
“People who come to visit us at the stand are interested, as many have not seen or used many of the tools before and have no idea what they are used for.”
EXHIBITING AT SHOWS
Arthur says he was first introduced to exhibiting at country shows through Trevor Oliver, whom he met when he was working at the church at Little Cawthorpe.
“I remarked on his collection of tools and mentioned that I also collected hand tools and would he like to see them? He said they were good enough to exhibit at shows and arranged for me to do Spilsby Show, which was just the beginning.”
Arthur usually exhibits at nine country shows each year, some are two days and include a third day to set up beforehand. He says he has enjoyed his 10 years as an exhibitor at Heckington Show, “because the management are first-class and the people are always very friendly,” and has made lots of friends old and new.
The shows always generate lots of interest from visitors. Arthur and his helper Andy Peart are always busy each day, from opening to close, answering a variety of questions about whatever tools are on the display.
“Some days we don’t get a chance to have a break for our lunch it’s that busy,” says Arthur, who had planned this year’s Heckington Show exhibition around the theme ‘Potatoes: From the field to the shop’.
“I really enjoy exhibiting at the shows and love meeting and explaining what the tools are to the young ones who have no idea, as well as chatting to the ‘old timers’ who often remember using some of them.”
Arthur has in excess of 400 tools in his collection (which grows bigger every year). One of the oldest is a Barley Hummer which he believes may be 100-150 years old, as well as a hay knife bought from America, which could date back to the times of the first pioneers.
Recently he also bought a Shandy Barrow from West Sussex, which is his latest restoration project, which was used for small seeds and dates back more than 100 years. Other heritage tools in his collection include a one-handed scythe, stoke mower and a drowning knife, and Arthur is proud to say that each one “can still do the job they were made for”.
Where once there was a hand tool for every job on the farm, Arthur is concerned that these tools will never be used again.
“This is a dying craft – there is no one to show them or restore them now,” says Arthur, who over the many years working on his father’s farm has used many of the tools himself. “After the Second World War, these tools went out of fashion as mechanisation came in and there was less labour available. Sadly, many of these tools went into the skip which is why they are so scarce, so it’s important that these heritage tools are preserved for generations to come.”
SPIRITS CAPTURED IN A RURAL CRAFT
Dating back to pagan times, corn dollies were originally made as gifts to the gods in the hope of a good harvest. In Lincolnshire, the tradition continues to inspire new designs.
Accoring to Angela Riley of Ceres Crafts, who has been making corn dollies for more than 35 years, pagans believed a corn spirit lived in the wheat fields and was captured in the last sheaf of corn gathered from a field.
“This sheaf was split and distributed throughout the village for each household to make a corn dolly that would protect and ensure the necessities of survival throughout the winter,” explains Angela.
“In the spring the village came together and threw the dollies into the ground with the wheat seed, as the dolly rotted the corn spirit was released into the field thus providing the hope of a good harvest the following year.”
Based between Lincoln and Sleaford, Angela, who has a stand with her work at Heckington Show each year, regularly travels throughout the county delivering talks and corn dolly making demonstrations to WI, gardening and craft groups. Ceres Crafts was born when visitors to her show stand kept asking her for contact details, so she appropriately named her craft business Ceres, after the Greek goddess of harvest.
“I enjoy meeting the people of Lincolnshire and I want to get the message about this dying craft out there in the hope that I will inspire people to have a go themselves,” explains Angela.
“I like the family nature of the Heckington Show and on a smaller level the friendly nature of the Heritage Area, where there are people who have become friends, who I look forward to seeing. I always come away after a hard but really enjoyable two days at Heckington Show with lots of new contacts, new friends and talk enquiries.”
MAKING CORN DOLLIES
According to Angela, a simple corn dolly may take approximately 15 minutes and goes through two processes, while a more complicated design such as a Mordiford Heart would take about an hour and involve nine processes.
“As a rule of thumb, the more complicated the design, the longer and more processes it takes to create the finished design,” explains Angela. “It takes variations of the same processes to make each type of corn dolly. What differs is the number of parts required to form the whole.”
Corn dolly process:
• Plait or braid the required number of parts to the required length.
• Shape these into the forms needed to make the completed design.
• Allow drying time.
• Construct the parts of the dolly to form the whole.
Angela says that while anyone can learn to make a basic corn dolly very quickly, only a few have the opportunity to learn and refine the process.
“This means encompassing everything from the mechanics of design and the skill involved in knowing why procedures are done in a certain way, to the stories, history and folklore surrounding each design, and finally knowing when to stop!”
The main challenge Angela faces is obtaining the raw product, a specific wheat type, to make her designs as modern wheat grown for food is not suitable as the stems are too short.
“I use a traditional variety of wheat called Maris Widgeon, but unfortunately I don’t know of anyone growing the wheat in Lincolnshire. When I began my journey there was one supplier in Horncastle, but sadly no longer.
“I am aware of only three people who grow corn dolly wheat in the country. My supplier is in Burton on Trent. The way the wheat has to be harvested (it cannot be done by machine) and the manual way each straw is prepared for use, I assume, precludes its viability as a crop, as does its grown height in the field (it grows to 6ft).
“I also use raffia, which can be obtained from any garden centre (however not all raffias are made equal!), a pair of scissors and a ruler.”
Angela says that while the process and materials of making a traditional corn dolly with wheat, raffia and cutting device has not changed, many counties still have their own designs, as well as traditional ones which appear throughout the country.
“These designs differ slightly from village to village and county to county,” she explains. “Makers in Norfolk, for example, may not create a dolly to the exact design I do, as with every craft, practitioners evolve their own creations and embellish traditional designs. But the essence of the dollies as gifts has never changed; instead of them being made and given as a hope for a good harvest only, they can now be given as gifts for major events in our lives including engagement, marriage, birth, success in business, happiness in a new home and indeed protection.”
One of the most challenging pieces of work Angela has made is the Lincolnshire Corn Dolly design. “It’s called a ‘Lincolnshire Flycatcher’ and is a chandelier that was hung in barns during the harvest celebrations. As you can imagine its size made the endeavour time consuming and that, along with the drying time and construction, gave myself and my husband a week’s work. However when it was complete it was impressive to say the least and I donated it to a local charity as a prize in their harvest raffle.”
INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION
Angela’s first job was with an agricultural museum where, as part of the educational offer, Angela and the staff made a simple corn dolly with some of the children who visited and so her “addiction to the craft” began.
She says she enjoys her craft, “because it helps to push the stresses of the day job to the back of my mind and I can take time to create and work with natural materials in an environment that for the most part is tranquil.
“I am lucky that I have an understanding husband who tolerates the boxes of wheat, ribbon, raffia and my work box stacked in our spare room and who answers the telephone (when I am at work), to the lovely ladies of the Lincolnshire WIs and gardening clubs who call wanting to book a talk.”
Angela explains that she feels it’s important to pass specialist rural crafts knowledge on: “I can count on one hand the amount of practitioners I am aware of in Lincolnshire. However, there are others spread throughout the country, as well as a Guild of Strawcraftsmen who spread the corn dolly word along with other straw-based crafts. (Visit www.strawcraftsmen.co.uk for more information.)
“I do have concerns about the future of rural crafts; unless we can inspire a new generation to take part in the enormous amount of rural crafts practised throughout the county and country they will all gradually die.
“If this happens the wealth of knowledge and experience about living and working with old crafts in the countryside and what that means, which has been previously passed on from generation to generation, will be lost for ever.
“I don’t want to be part of the generation in which that happens, hence why I pass on my knowledge to anyone who wants to learn.”
HERITAGE LINCOLNSHIRE – THE NEW NORMAL FOR OUR OLD COUNTY
Heritage Lincolnshire is a local charity working to conserve the rich history of the county for the benefit of people who live and work in the area. Dominic Franks spoke to its new CEO to find out about its current projects.
When I first moved to Lincolnshire, nearly 18 years ago now, people would often look at me vaguely when I mentioned the county. As though they knew that it existed but weren’t entirely sure where it was. They knew perhaps that it played an important part in the complex history of our country but they didn’t quite know how.
From the Vikings to the Founding Fathers of America and beyond, there is a rich legacy of history and heritage to be found between the golden beaches of the east coast and the flowing waters of the Trent. It’s something that Heritage Lincolnshire’s Greg Pickup was hoping to rediscover for himself when he was appointed the role of CEO just six months ago. But as we all know, in these past six months a lot has happened in the world. Looking at ideas for how the charity will adjust to a post Covid-19 world, I caught up with him via a Zoom call.
Originally from the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, Greg would visit Lincolnshire for holidays as a child and fondly remembers various stays in holiday parks along the coast where his mother once won a darts competition – the prize being a week’s stay in a static caravan, in October! Lincolnshire then later played an important part in his life when, as a grants officer for the National Lottery he assessed the Lincolnshire Heritage at Risk project.
Greg said: “The project was a survey of all the listed and historic assets in the county to find out what condition they were in, which then provided the county with the best information about the state of the historic environment, giving the team incredible data about what was at risk and what they could help with. Heading up the amazing team at Heritage Lincolnshire feels like coming full circle back to the county.”
Originally formed as a Building Preservation Trust set up to secure funding for the conservation of historic buildings at risk and undertake archaeology work, Heritage Lincolnshire has since evolved to include activity projects for the wider community. This means that it’s always busy for the teams.
Their current building project, which is very close to completion, is the Old Kings Head in Kirton. A 16th century former coaching inn, it was in a perilous condition when it was first brought to their attention. The charity managed to secure funding not only from national grants but also by involving the community with a crowdfunding campaign.
“I believe that it’s not just the preservation of historic buildings that’s important to the county but also the effect this has on the wellbeing of its people,” said Greg. “Imagine walking past an eyesore in the centre of the village, rotting away in plain sight and the effect on people as they walked past it every day. Restoring the building restores spirit in the community.”
Over the past 25 years Heritage Lincolnshire also learnt that they needed to adapt to how the charity approaches this kind of project and what happens to the building after it’s restored.
“We realised that if we can be involved in the building’s end use, we have the opportunity to generate income that can be put back into the charity,” explained Greg. “With The Old Kings Head we’ve made the decision to run it ourselves, so it will become a B&B, café and community space, which will help us capitalise on the nearby RSPB Frampton, keeping visitors in the county, which is always a bonus.”
The restoration has continued throughout lockdown and is a couple of months from finishing. Greg is excited for how beautiful it is already beginning to look and the many delights and discoveries uncovered during the restoration.
Another project that is also coming to fruition is the Layers of History project which is about helping people to engage with their historic environment, giving the public the skills to read the landscape and buildings they pass every day.
“What I love about this project,” Greg said, “is that it opens up this world to a different audience who wouldn’t normally engage with heritage.”
The success of this project has spurred him on to thinking about the next which he is keen to be broader and more diverse and to include all kinds of communities, feeling the need to respond to what’s currently happening in the world.
“I believe the perception of Lincolnshire is not particularly diverse but if we look back in history and look at all the people who come to live and work here, it’s actually extremely inclusive and this is worth celebrating. It may mean asking some of the difficult questions and bringing up a thorny and possibly contentious history but there’s a story about Lincolnshire that we’re not currently telling.”
One that he knows will be appealing to a wider audience.
Heritage Lincolnshire’s next building restoration project is currently under wraps but they’re very excited about it and will be able to make an announcement once things get back to some semblance of normality. Clearly the pandemic has had a big effect on the charity with a number of the team having to be put on furlough and projects have stalled but will restart soon.
Greg has been heartened by the way the people who work there have welcomed him into their community. “My team are extremely passionate and much more educated than me about Lincolnshire. I feel lucky that they have afforded me the trust to be at the helm, particularly whilst there’s been so much confusing advice coming from every angle. I’m so touched to see that everyone has pulled together from the inside and to see how incredible everyone has been at keeping each other going through all of this.”
Membership is really important to the charity and a great way that we can all contribute. While it’s been a tough year, Greg believes that what they’re doing is really important work and whilst he’s confident Heritage Lincolnshire will survive, the more people who sign up as members, the better they will be able to continue their amazing and vital work, into the future.
One lovely bit of good news is that it’s been confirmed that Heritage Open Days, the nationwide scheme which allows the public access to buildings and other sites of interest, will now go ahead in September and that all kinds of sites across Lincolnshire will be open in some format, depending on how the new social distancing rules affect each location. Some could literally open their doors while others will be able to be viewed virtually online via tours accessed through your mobile phone or Facebook. Dates will be announced soon on the Heritage Lincolnshire website and social media channels.
The charity will also be taking part in the online version of their local Heckington Show. The plan is to create an online gallery of photography to showcase recent projects.
For now, however, Greg says that not only is he looking forward to being back at the office with his team but he’s also excited about being able to finally discover and rediscover lots of bits of the county that he may have been to fleetingly but not had the time to get up close to.
“I’ve only recently discovered how beautiful the Wolds are but with the onset of Covid, I’ve not been able to really explore and can’t wait to be able to journey through the beautiful landscape.”
He knows that there’s a lot of talk about the recovery from Covid and how the UK as a whole can contribute: “Domestic tourism will become really important and so there’s a huge opportunity for Lincolnshire to really shine. I feel that what people are looking for in the wake of the pandemic is open space and social distancing and where better to do that than Lincolnshire?”
I think he’s right. The stunning scenery and incredible history is what we have in droves and something that not only Heritage Lincolnshire but all of us who have a passion for this county, can capitalise on.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO…
The influence of Sir Joseph Banks, one of Lincolnshire’s most famous sons and a pivotal figure of the Enlightenment, is to be found worldwide.
A naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences, Sir Joseph Banks accompanied Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery around the world, on the HMS Endeavour, and he also visited Newfoundland, Iceland and Holland.
He was responsible for the establishment of Kew Gardens and the development of its early collections and took a leading role in the development of the Australian colony and the Indian Pacific region. In so doing, he was also patron to many explorers and plant hunters, such as Matthew Flinders, and Francis Masson.
In Lincolnshire, Sir Joseph Banks took a great interest in agriculture, and particularly wool production. He established a wool carpet mill at Louth, and promoted turnpikes and canals across the county including the Horncastle-Tattershall canal.
He also took an active role in the Lincolnshire Medical Benevolent Society, and in Horncastle Dispensary. In 1800, he commissioned John Rennie to produce a scheme to drain the East and West Wildmore Fens to increase food production; this was in response to years of famine in the county.
Members of the Sir Joseph Banks Society, which was founded in 2006 and whose patrons include Sir David Attenborough and Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, have been helping to spread the word about this remarkable historical figure’s achievements and for the past 10 years their stand has proved a popular draw at the Heritage Area of the Heckington Show.
“The aim of the Sir Joseph Banks Society is to stimulate interest in Sir Joseph Banks’s life and achievements through education, research, publications and events as well as by strengthening Lincolnshire links with Oceania,” explains Paul Scott, the charity’s trustee and curator.
“Generally at the Show, we have highlighted the work and aims of the Society. However, at the past few events we have featured our part in the Love Lincolnshire Plants Project, which is a partnership with Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, The Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union, Lincoln University and the Natural History Museum (London). It is a Heritage Lottery Fund supported project to both conserve a historic county herbarium and to create a new herbarium for Lincolnshire.”
The Society, whose president is Professor Libby John, pro-vice-chancellor of the College of Science at the University of Lincoln, also features other collections, such as the Seaward Herbarium, the Lane-Claypon botanic watercolours, the David Robinson archive and local enclosure records relating to Joseph Banks. Visitors can also sign up for membership, as a volunteer or to receive an email newsletter.
It has also published three books to date: Joseph Banks at Revesby by David Robinson, Rooted in Lincolnshire by Jean Shaftoe and its own Garden Plant Guidebook by Pat Hickson.
SIR JOSEPH BANKS CENTRE
Joseph Banks Ltd is a Social Enterprise business based in the Sir Joseph Banks Centre in Horncastle. Its voluntary directors include representatives from the Sir Joseph Banks Society, Lincolnshire Community Foundation and Linkage.
This “not for profit” organisation has three primary objectives: to provide training and real work placement opportunities for people who experience difficulty in securing paid employment; to support the development and growth of the Sir Joseph Banks Society, who are also based in the building; and to maintain the superb Grade II Listed building it operates from.
Current activities at the centre include retail, horticulture, and arts and crafts. It also houses the Horncastle Tourist Information Centre and offers meeting rooms for hire.
Volunteers from the Society, together with paid staff and trainees, run a successful gift shop and also help to maintain the superb Joseph Banks tribute garden and Banks Room. The Society aims to offer a safe and supportive environment for people to train and develop their potential towards permanent work. It also supports local craftspeople, giving them the opportunity to sell products within the shop – and there is a Joseph Banks Crafters’ Guild based at the centre.
As a founder member, past chairman and currently the Society curator for collections, Paul Scott, writes many articles and papers on Sir Joseph Banks and also delivers talks in the county and beyond. Members of the society generally attend three or four shows a year and deliver about 20 talks.
“We also host groups at the Joseph Banks Centre in Horncastle,” says Paul. “Personally, I enjoy trying to make the work of Joseph Banks relevant to today, and in relation to that I enjoy our educational work with young people.
“We work to promote the life and achievements of Sir Joseph Banks, however much of that work is increasingly education and science driven with a particular emphasis on botany, plant science and conservation.
“The shows enable us to promote this work and give us the opportunity to demonstrate that we are not simply a history society.
“Disappointingly, quite a few people have never heard of Joseph Banks and those who have do not know of his main achievements, so questions tend to be requests for more information.
“Our patron Sir David Attenborough said recently: ‘Sir Joseph Banks was a very important figure in the history of this country. More should be known about him.’ Joseph Banks considered himself a Lincolnshire man and he made significant contributions to the county such as canals, roads and drainage. It is important that Lincolnshire people know this.
“We are always finding new information about Joseph Banks and meeting interesting people who are researching or writing about his work. There are an amazing number of people both here and overseas who are passionate about Banks. Our late president, David Robinson OBE said: ‘All roads lead to Joseph Banks.’”
For more information visit www.joseph-banks.org.uk
PROTECTING THE LONGWOOL LEGACY
The annual sale of Lincoln Longwools, which has taken place at Heckington Show for more than 30 years, will still take place online this year.
The sale plays a vital part in the breeding programme of what is now officially the rarest of the Longwool breeds and also introduces new enthusiasts to the opportunity of keeping their own flock.
PART OF THE COUNTY’S LIVESTOCK HERITAGE
World-leading, modern agriculture is still at the heart of the rural economy in Lincolnshire but it is vital to remember the associated livestock heritage. The county holds a unique position in British farming with four native breeds: Lincoln Red cattle, Lincoln Longwool sheep, Lincoln Curly-coated pig and Lincoln Buff poultry and a key role in a fifth – the Shire horse, which traces its ancestry back to a Lincolnshire stallion called Honest Tom. Their stories are told in the book Lincolnshire’s Farm Animals by Catherine Wilson with Sue and Alan Stennett, which is available via the Heckington Show website or from SLHA Books priced £8.95.
RAREST OF THE RARE
The value of Longwools commercially was for their meat and fleeces, when large fortunes were made from breeding flocks for wool export during the medieval period. In the 19th century rams were sold for record prices and exported around the world; their genes used to create robust and more commercially viable cross breeds in America, Australia and New Zealand.
The breeding records are held by the Lincoln Longwool Sheep Breeders’ Association (LLSBA). Founded in 1892, the LLSBA has approximately 120 members, who all share their enthusiasm and knowledge to preserve Lincoln Longwools. The Association records each birth in the breed which has become enormously rare; recognised this year as the rarest of all Britain’s Longwool breeds by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) with only 250 registered ewes. Whilst Lincoln Red cattle have prospered, Lincolnshire Longwool numbers have dwindled to the point where it could be in danger of meeting the same fate as the Lincoln Curly-coated pig, which in its pure breed has not survived. Indeed, the RBST was founded in 1974 as a direct result of their loss – it was Britain’s last local breed to become extinct.
Their importance nationally has been recognised by the RBST’s Longwools initiative this year, which aims to bring these sheep to the forefront of rare breeds appreciation.
RBST chief executive, Christopher Price said: “Longwool sheep are striking animals thanks to features such as long fleeces and pricked ears. Their grazing encourages biodiversity on farms and their tasty meat and natural wool offer good commercial opportunities for their keepers. These breeds made a huge contribution to rural communities when the UK wool trade was booming and it would be devastating if they were to disappear from our landscapes now.
“In general, the Longwool breeds have seen a steady decline and some of the breeds now have very low numbers. But it is not too late to secure their future, which is why we have launched our new Love a Longwool campaign.”
LOCAL SUPPORT AND AWARENESS
Charles Pinchbeck was appointed president of the LLSBA in 2019. “I have been passionate about this breed since I was a young man,” he said. “When I started the Longwool classes at Heckington Show in 1984 we had 12 sheep the first year and we now often exceed 100 – more than the County Show and the largest gathering of Lincoln sheep in the country.”
Charles has looked at how Heckington Show can support the breed as well as be a really effective shop window. The day is rounded off with a shearing competition to find the heaviest fleeces – and save the exhibitors having to clip their sheep when they get home – while also hosting the official breed sale, which this year will be online. It falls at the perfect time to buy breeding stock and plays an important part in the breeding programme. It’s also a great entry point for new breeders too. Ian and Louise Fairburn (chairman of the LLSBA) started their flock with sheep bought at the 2004 Heckington Show. With the support of James Sutcliffe of Meridian Meats, the Show holds a prime lamb competition to demonstrate the quality of the meat from Lincoln lamb.
In 2019, the LLSBA celebrated their 125th anniversary with an exhibition at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in Lincoln. A rare portrait of Henry Dudding – the greatest Lincoln breeder of all time and one of the country’s greatest livestock breeders – was borrowed from the Lincolnshire Archives. The publicity produced a companion portrait of his shepherd, Richard Aves, which was still in his family and a treasured heirloom.
The LLSBA have also been able to initiate the return of Lincoln sheep to Riseholme College. They only had a Welsh breed (Lleyns) but following a visit by Louise and Charles they acquired 12 Lincoln Longwool ewe lambs to re-start their breeding flock and to raise awareness with the many students who pass through the college each year.
NEW SHEPHERD OF THE ASSOCIATION
Charles was appointed president last year following the death of Maurice Parker, probably the last of the great Lincoln shepherds, who had been president for a number of years.
“Maurice had been shepherd for the Read family for much of his life, winning many championships for them,” Charles explained. “When he retired he started his own Bain Valley flock and achieved great success with that too. Maurice passed away just before Heckington Show last year. His funeral was a wonderful country affair – the beautiful church at Hemingby was packed to overflowing and mourners were greeted by one of the sheep from Louise Fairburn’s flock, with a strong Bain Valley pedigree.
“I was subsequently approached as someone already involved in supporting the breed and keen to be active going forward. It was quite an unexpected honour and I’m delighted to be able support the breed and the Association in this way.
“As well as running Heckington, I’ve stewarded the Lincoln Longwools at the Lincolnshire Show since 2004. Knowing the show system and all the breeders has helped make it go really smoothly for everyone, and helps promote the breed through this fabulous shop window.”
Charles has engaged his whole family in caring for Longwools. “When we had the Cowgate flock at home for lambing, our children enjoyed bringing their classes from the village primary school next door to see them. Now in their twenties, Tom and Alice are the regular stewards for the huge Lincoln Longwool section at Heckington.”
VILLAGE RALLIES TO CELEBRATE SHOW WEEKEND
Plans are already in place for a bigger and better Heckington Show next year but meanwhile the community looks forward to a fun weekend.
Lincolnshire Life spoke to Jan Palmer, chair of Heckington Parish Council about the impact locally of the loss of the show.
“Heckington Show is a fantastic event for the village every year, with between 34,000 and 37,000 people attending,” said Jan. “This in turn makes for a very busy village for the last week in July… chaos on the streets, busy shops and other facilities, but everyone just gets on with it and although we end up shattered, we enjoy it. Many people have family and friends visit for the weekend and it is a chance to catch up.”
Jan acknowledged that it is disappointing that the show cannot be held this year, but this is in line with so many other events which have been cancelled due to the pandemic.
“As a ‘bridge’ for the lack of show and the disappointment that this will cause, the committee are very busy organising the virtual show, which will offer something for everyone to get involved. The house and business decoration has been very popular for the last couple of years and it is hoped that more will take part this time. There is a Garden and Allotment Photo competition, craft projects and poetry competitions. There is something for all age groups.”
After many weeks of lockdown, the show would have been a welcome distraction for many people in the village; a chance to experience their much loved, bustling get-together. Local charities and organisations will also miss the income they rely on generating at the show.
“If people can travel by the end of July and businesses are in a position to open to offer food etc, do have a ride to the village and see the decorations,” said Jan. “I am sure you will get a wonderful welcome to our super village, and we look forward to better times next year.”