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Stooks and Sheaves - keeping traditional farming practices alive 11 October 2007

Traditional harvest of stocked sheavesRecent travellers along the Castletown bypass can’t fail to have been delighted by the glorious sight of freshly stooked sheaves of wheat in the fields to the left of the roadway at Balladoole. A once commonplace rural vision of many years past, this traditional farming practice has now all but disappeared from most of the countryside.

The changing demands of modern society has - in a similar vein to many other traditional ways of life - had a huge impact on the agricultural industry as a whole, and has had a dramatic effect on what farmers do, and how they do it.

However, since the 1930’s, Manx National Heritage has worked carefully to ensure that the National Folk Museum at Cregneash retains its true traditions and appearance while still ensuring the continuance of a living village.

This means that in addition to preserving artefacts and buildings, Manx National Heritage keeps alive traditional skills, such as thatching.

Manx National Heritage is responsible for the upkeep of most of the surviving thatched buildings on the Isle of Man. Vital to this task is a supply of straw which has been harvested in the traditional way. Modern combine harvesters break the straw, making it useless for thatching purposes, but one farmer still uses the methods of a hundred years ago, and his support has been crucial to Manx National Heritage for many years. Traditional harvest of stocked sheaves

Andrew Moore’s family have farmed at Balladoole, just outside Castletown, for generations and he still uses a traditional reaper-binder to harvest wheat. After the wheat has been cut and bound into sheaves, it is gathered and stacked by hand into rows of stooks. It is then usually left for three weeks to ripen before being collected and stored in larger stacks. The wheat from the stacks is traditionally processed using Manx National Heritage’s own specially acquired threshing mill and wheat comber. Once the grain is extracted using the threshing mill, the comber sorts and bundles the remaining straw which is then supplied to Manx National Heritage’s Maintenance Team for use in ensuring the continuation of the thatching traditions at Cregneash and the Niarbyl. Reflecting on the success of this longstanding partnership,

Brandon Ellis, Property Manager for Manx National Heritage commented:

“Andrew Moore and his family’s continuing commitment to, and support of, the work of Manx National Heritage in helping maintain a practical working knowledge of traditional crafts and skills is greatly appreciated. Apart from the more obvious practical benefits of maintaining a local supply of good quality thatching materials, the traditional farming practices employed at Balladoole continues to make an important contribution to sustaining the Island’s social and agricultural heritage.”

The National Folk Museum at Cregneash is part of the award-winning Story of Mann and remains open until the end of October, ending with the very popular special event to celebrate Hop Tu Naa on 28th October.

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