This Saturday, 8th September, from 11am- 3pm we will be opening up our Stores to the public again as part of the Heritage Open Days scheme. You will be able to visit the Seed Warehouse (just off the Wash, maps available from the Museum) and see all of the work that goes on behind the scenes including conservation cleaning, our new library space and some of the collections we can’t fit in the museum!
Saturday will also be another chance to come and visit our Roman Corndryer. This structure was excavated from Foxholes Farm in 1974 and to protect it was lifted in two huge pieces and brought to the Seed Warehouse site. It is the only intact Roman Corndryer that you can visit in this country and possibly in the world so make sure you take this opportunity to see it!
One of our volunteers, Heather Hodgson, was present when the Corndryer was excavated and lifted and she has shared her memories below. If you visit on Saturday you can also see some of her cinefilm of the occasion.
In 1974 I had the good fortune to be on the Foxholes Farm excavation. After a field walking session over the field, Roman and Iron Age pottery were found. Redlands had the rights to extract gravel so there was a need to excavate. The report explains all the relevant details. The excavation was conducted by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust and the work was done in front of the of the gravel extraction. Towards the end of main excavation the last section of land was stripped on the edge of the valley and a chalky smear appeared in the soil. On investigation it revealed the outline of the corndryer as it was gradually revealed it became evident that we had something special. So careful excavation revealed an impressive unique structure and plans were made for the possible lifting and preservation.
Robert Kiln, chairman of HAT contacted Pynfords for their expertise in this kind of work. A mould of the corndryer stokehole was made with expended polystyrene, this was then used to make a new stokehole. Pains taking effort was taken to underpin the base of the corndryer with re-enforced concrete which was then had to be cut in two for transportation. Each section of the corndryer was then protected by timber ply shuttering and sand between the board and the walls. The sections were carefully loaded on lorry trailers. It was quite scary to see the lift, would it be alright or was it too heavy? Fortunately every thing went well and I did happen to have my camera with me to cover the event.
Arriving at the Seed Warehouse more fun and games getting the sections into the space where it now resides. The main square section was very gently lower on to industrial skates making sure it was carefully balanced. Then chains were attached to the section base and also to ratchet on the supporting pillar of the room where it now resides. Gradually is was moved inch by inch in through the doors and manoeuvred around the pillar. I am still amazed how they managed to with hardly any room, it did take a very long time. The same procedure for the stokehole section, being slimmer was a little easier, then carefully placed together.
Over the following months we (Heather Hodgson and Esme Freeman) reconstructed the stokehole and rejoined the sections, can you see the join?