WEALD WOODFAIR 2000
Last year your Webmaster found a reference to the Weald WoodFair on the WWW some months after the event. So this year he took himself off to the Bentley Wildfowl & Motor Museum near Lewes on the Saturday to see the event for real.
Running since 1996, the annual event revolves around forestry and timber, and although many of the exhibitors were professional foresters, tree surgeons, woodland managers and such like, there was plenty to fill the hours for anyone simply wanting to spend a day in the countryside... From marquees selling English food to demonstrations of ancient textile making, to trying your hand at making a bird box courtesy of the BTCV.
HARDWOOD FURNITURE FROM 'EYE OF THE HEART WOODWORKING'
One of the first ports of call was the stand of the International Tree Foundation manned by Desmond Gunner who told me that their work involves getting children interested with woodlands and trees through educational talks and school visits. A mission the webmaster wholly agrees with.
A particularly interesting stand was run by the High Weald AONB Unit. The acronym caught your webmaster off guard - the kind soul manning the stand enlightening him that it meant an 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'. Although largely agricultural in land usage the rolling hills of the High Weald AONB covers parts of East and West Sussex, Surrey and Kent. It's an area rich in history and natural history.
There were lots of people showing their extraordinary skills at working with wood. Wood sculptor Tach Pollard - who carves faces and forms into the natural contours of wood blocks was busy with another creation as I walked past.
On the 'Pleasure of Wood' stand there was a collection of exquisite hand carved birds which have their feather effects applied by pyrography [burning to you and I]. The lady manning the stand told me that it can take 130 hours to complete one of the carvings.
In another tent, Stephen Spooner displayed a quite amazing piece of carving in the vein of Grinling Gibbons. Chatting with him Stephen told me that his skills are often called upon for restoration work where a damaged or decaying 18th century original needs to be copied.
Another tent was occupied by members of the Sussex Woodcraft Society which is a society of amateurs who have a common interest in working with wood.
Several woodturners were on hand, as well as a whole range of different wood products such as hand-carved apples and pears, plates [or perhaps the technical term is platters since they were made of wood], and toys. Overheard among the morning's banter of woodturners was the regret by one individual that no one had bought any of his work on the previous day. Hopefully this situation would have been reversed, because by mid-afternoon the WoodFair was a-throng with people, enjoying that rare commodity this summer - sunshine!
ONE VERY SOLID DINING TABLE
Furniture making is another very obvious end product of the timber producing process and one of the marquees was devoted to Furniture and Finished products; ranging from dining tables and chairs, to turned bowls and vases, oak flooring specialists, and even 'wooden pebbles'.
Outside this marquee 'Eye of the Heart Woodworking' had an exquisite dinner table on display; made of beautiful burred walnut if I am not mistaken.
One particularly interesting stand within the marquee was that of wooden instrument makers Richard Osborne and Nick Benjamin. To make an object from wood is one thing, but then to make one which can actually produce music is quite another - at least in the eyes of your humble webmaster who thinks that sharpening a pencil is a major accomplishment.
With the WoodFair being a trade show for professional foresters as well as end-users of timber, there was quite a large range of equipment on display - chippers, mobile sawmills, Husqvarna and Stihl chainsaws, and log splitters.
The caretaker of the English Woodlands stand - they are a forestry and woodland management company - related to me news of a recent project where they had renovated a wooden footbridge [one of those types you might expect to find in the ornamental garden of a stately home], and were about to become involved in another with a 72ft span.
At this point the Tannoy public address system broadcast that storyteller Pat Bowen was about to start telling stories in the 'Glyndebourne Wood' - another of the designated WoodFair 2000 areas. Pat was listed on the Countrylovers.co.uk website last year, but since the only communication we had ever had was by remote e-mail, what better opportunity to put a name to a face?
On the way to the wood I passed members of the South of England Hedgelaying Society whos 150+ members try to keep alive the traditional skill of hedgelaying.
The wood turned out to contain a whole range of activities and demonstrations...
Members of the Sussex & Surrey Coppice Group - which promotes the local coppicing industry and coppice products - provided a range of demonstrations... Making besom brooms, hurdling, and charcoal making. The SSCG has both a 'working' membership and other members who are just interested in this sustainable method of woodland management.
In another corner of the wood there was a whole batch of other demonstrations taking place. Someone was kilning pottery - Roman style. There was an ancient weaving display, bronze casting, construction of a Saxon sunken building, a modern cook using the reconstruction of a prehistoric oven, and someone working with a pole-lathe.
As far as I could tell most of these demonstrations fell under the guidance of the East Sussex Archaeology and Museums Project [ESAMP], although some leaflets were available for Ancient Crafts and Technologies courses at the University of Sussex. It's amazing what they teach these days.
I also caught up with a demonstration of the use of heavy horses, by members of the Working Horse Trust.
Horse drawn timber extraction is coming back into favour in some places, since it is less harmful to the environment and also allows timber to be extracted from woodland which is inaccessible to modern logging tractors. The Trust includes volunteer members who were on hand to chatter to anyone interested in the pair of heavy horses at the Show.
Finally, I found Pat Bowen. Seated on a log in a small dell she was surrounded by a crowd of spellbound children listening to her tales. Afterwards she told me that she likes to bring her storytelling into relevant environments and that she is going to take some of the winter months off to write her stories down on paper.
Returning to the main Show field there was time for more wandering around the exhibitors. Sussex Journeymen had a large display of traditionally made basketware laid out on the grass, and the basket-maker was hard at work on another one when I passed.
Next door was a neat pile of Sussex trugs - shallow baskets made from wood strips and typically used in old times for carrying vegetables and fruit. Trug maker Peter Marden was on hand, slaving away at shaving the thin strips of wood which form the pan of the basket. Although not particularly practical when pootling round your local supermarket, it is wonderful to see such dedication to maintaining a craft in the face of disposable plastic carrier bags.
Nearby the Sussex & Surrey Coppice Group had another display which included woodland products for sale, including a lovely range of walking sticks and canes, many with individually carved animals' heads. What patience these skilled wood carvers must have!
Close by was another person who gets the thumbs up for maintaining traditional craft skills - that of the wheelwright. Surrounded by a collection of wheels in various stages of completion it's interesting to reflect that while the industrialised world has generally turned to the pneumatic tyre for its vehicles, huge swathes of the world's population still use wooden wheels, presumably made in a similar fashion.
Couldn't resist this little fellow...
My last port of call was the stand of Lurgashall Winery which I had passed earlier in the day, declining samples of the various wines and meads at the time. However, as it was almost going home time it seemed appropriate to sample the Silver Birch wine which sounded rather exotic and interesting. Among the many other country drinks available from the winery are damson, walnut and bramble wines, and a sloe liqueur.
I don't know successful Weald WoodFair 2000 will have been financially [it is backed by East Sussex County Council], but from the number of cars in the car park there must have been plenty of visitors at the event. Next year the dates are Friday 21st September to Sunday 23rd. Further details will be found on the E. Sussex County Council website nearer the time. If you are at a loose end that weekend I'd thoroughly recommend a visit [weather permitting] as I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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