Historic agriculture ox drawn cart

Agriculture

Considering the landscape and area of the country that the Museum occupies, it is unsurprising that our artefact collections holds a significant amount of agricultural and related implements and machinery.

Most items have been donated singly or in small groups by farms and retired farmers from across the region. However, one of the most important groups of material we have came from Mr Stevenson of Furnace Farm, at Coleman’s Hatch in the Ashdown Forest, during the 1980s. The collection of farming implements which we were given were wide and comprehensive, together with a significant number of wheeled vehicles and equipment. What was particularly significant about Mr Stevenson’s farm was that he used horses as his main form of motive power right up until the early 1980s; a tractor was present, but was mainly used as a stationary engine to drive the threshing machine.

The majority of the smaller items and hand tools are displayed in the Gridshell Store, whilst the large number of horse-drawn equipment items are housed in various locations across the Museum’s site.

A significant number of our horse-drawn implements are kept in working order, so that we can use them in our agricultural operations with our team of working heavy horses.

Our agricultural collections fall into a number of sub-groups:

Hand Implements

Agricultural hand implements cover such a wide range of activities that there is great difficulty in drawing a line where one subject matter ends and another begins. As such, in our collections there are instances where a similar implement is recorded under more than one subject heading – purely because of the differing end uses of the tool. The subject headings under which we have grouped items have been drawn up purely to deal with our own collection – other institutions may well employ different systems.

The timespan covered by the collection is approximately 1850-1950. Spanning the era are a few groups of well-provenanced items especially those from the Stevensons of Furnace Farm, Nutley in the Ashdown Forest, the Matthews of Kent Street, Cowfold and Mr Ron Peel of Lodge Farm, Forestside.

The age of the implements doesn’t generally stretch further back than this purely for reasons of practicality; such implements, despite being robust and built for purpose, would have led quite a rough life and as such would eventually wear out, to be subsequently disposed of, or more often, recycled into yet another tool.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Forks

A large collections largely covering pitchforks of various sizes and handle lengths.

Spades/Shovels

Both metal and wooden spades are covered in this group. Of particular interest are the wooden examples which were often constructed from one single piece of timber and used for grain handling.

Flails

A very simple tool but one with extremely ancient origins, interesting history and impressive craftsmanship. Although in essence, simply two pieces of wood joined together, it is the complexity of the joints which generate such admiration; traditionally using one painstakingly carved piece of ash, bent double to form a loop, with a length of leather threaded through.

Rakes

From fairly standard wooden rakes of the kind recognisable today, to huge, gracefully-curved hayrakes, which until recently it was thought unlikely they could be manually handled at all. This has since been disproved following the discovery of images showing even small boys pulling unfeasibly large mounds of hay with such implements.

Hay Knives

We have a significant number of hay knives, mostly of the more usual, broad-bladed shape, but also examples of the ‘electric’ narrow, serrated-blade knives.

Barn Machinery

Whereas many agricultural hand tools may have been hand-made produced by the local blacksmith, when a task called for a more complicated or larger machine, the farmer would generally turn to an established manufacturer and as such, our collections of barn machinery (and subsequently, field machinery) can more often than not be attributed to a known company. Such companies tended to be quite widely distributed throughout the country and those represented in our collection include:

  • Bentalls of Heybridge, Maldon, Essex
  • Bamfords of Uttoxeter, Staffordshire
  • Hunt & Co. of Earls Colne, Essex
  • Cannings of Finchdean, Hampshire
  • R&J.Reeves of Bratton, Wiltshire

Barn machinery covers those implements which were employed in a generally static manner in a covered environment (obviously most often a barn) and powered by some external motive force, usually horse, donkey, man, steam, diesel or water.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Chaff Cutters

A rotary bladed machine used to chop straw and hay into fine ‘chaff’ for use in animal feed and bedding.

Crushers/Grinders

Used to process cereals and similar materials for use in animal feed.

Root Choppers

As the name suggests, used to process larger, root crops for animal feed.

Winnowers

Machinery used to separate the cereal from the chaff.

Cleaners

A further processing tool for the refinement of cereal crops.

Field Machinery

The Weald & Downland region is well represented within this horse-drawn collection, particularly with wooden and iron bodied ploughs and various patterns of wood framed harrows, all made by individual craftsmen across the area.

Local manufacturers also feature significantly in the Collection, notably:

  • Cannings of Finchdean, Hampshire
  • Carter Brothers of Billingshurst, West Sussex
  • Penfolds of Arundel, West Sussex
  • Filmer & Mason and Weyman, both of Guildford, Surrey
  • Garretts of Sutton-at-Hone, Kent
  • Taskers of Andover, Hampshire

As to be expected, a fair proportion of the collection comprises products by major national or international concerns such as Albion, Bamfords, Howard, Lister-Blackstone, Massey-Harris and Ransomes.

By the end of the nineteenth century, these and many more were flooding the market with their products; Ransomes, for example, at late nineteenth century peak production, listed some 80 models of plough in their catalogue.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Distributors

Used to spread fertilizers across the surface of a field.

Ploughs

With a variety of different shaped mould boards depending upon the nature of the ground and the required finish, a common tool for initially breaking up and turning the surface of a field.

Harrows/Hoes

For further preparing the field surface for sowing.

Mowers/Reapers

A variety of different sized machines, some performing more tasks than others, but all used for the harvesting of cereal and hay crops.

Rollers

For flattening and preparing ground ready for seeding.

Drills

Similar to distributors but used to actually plant seeds and beans beneath the surface of the field.

Animal Husbandry

Not necessarily the rearing of animals for commercial purposes but rather the care and maintenance of what was until fairly recently, the most important form of motive power a farmer possessed.

There is obviously a fair amount of cross-over with the Equine collection although the significant amount of such material we possess dictated that this come under a separate subject heading.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Veterinary

A varied collection of instruments and treatments more specifically for the care of farm animals rather than domestic pets.

Oxen

Very common as a draught animal, able to perform extremely arduous tasks and very hardy. Our collection includes many items for controlling the animals such as leads and collars.

Troughs

What may seem a fairly mundane piece of farm equipment but which came in such a wide variety of shapes, sizes and materials. We have examples in wood, iron and slate.

Cutting Hooks

This is another group of items which easily cross between activities but which have been included here as their main area of use. The term Cutting Hooks has been used to differentiate from other forms of hook, such as grappling hooks and sack hooks.

Even in our collection of artefacts, the number and variety of these hooks is quite impressive, and when a manufacturers trade catalogue is consulted, the range is staggering.

Most hooks of this nature which we have were produced by commercial manufacturers and include:

  • Moss of Conford & Chichester
  • Whitehouse of Cannock, Staffordshire
  • Brades of Birmingham
  • Elwell of Wednesbury, Staffordshire
  • Fussells of Frome, Somerset
  • Gilpin of Cannock, Staffordshire
  • Nash of Stourbridge
  • Marples of Sheffield

Groups of items within this subject include:

Fag Hooks

The Faghook is a general purpose, curved cutting hook commonly with a canted blade for harvesting and clearing. The name was chosen as the most common name used in the central part of the Weald & Downland area but these hooks will in some cases have been recorded under the name given by the donor. Swop, bagging (but not bag – a different tool!), brush, brushing, fag, fagging and reaping could also be used.

Sickles

Similar in appearance to faghooks but with a serrated blade which is not canted.

Billhooks

This term covers a huge variety of wide-bladed hooks, used for a range of activities including hedging and coppicing.

Dairying

A large collection of material covering all aspects of the hand extraction of milk, it’s handling and processing into cheese and butter. We also have a small group of items dealing with the more modern, mechanical extraction of milk.

Many of the milk bottles within this subject group bear the details of the local farms from which the milk was produced.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Yokes

The wooden shoulder yokes used to help in the carrying of milk pails. Very well represented in the collection although mostly commercially manufactured and somewhat unremarkable.

Milk Churns

Metal churns in a variety of sizes used to transport milk from the farm.

Butter Churns

Small, table-top glass churns for producing butter in the kitchen to large, wooden barrel churns for production on a more commercial scale.

Equine

The large and varied amount of equine-related material in the collection warranted grouping it as a separate entity, rather than within Animal Husbandry as is the case with Oxen.

The Museum collection has strong regional connections with examples of typical harness used for most types of work especially cart, plough and timber hauling. Within the collection are several especially representative groups, notably those from the Duke of Norfolk’s estate, Ian Overy Farms in Kent (interesting to note that both ceased horse operation in 1948) and the Mark Matthews collection. Other important items include a set of harness made by Morley of Petworth, a good set of harness and three housings all with brasses inscribed ‘JH’.

We have an extremely large and comprehensive collection of shoes from a number of sources, dating from as early as the 11th Century.

Our collection of team bells is very significant and oddly rather difficult to explain why we have received quite such a large number of high quality over the years.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Harness

This collection deals with the larger, working animals and is extensive in its coverage.

Stable Furniture

Covering stall dividers, feed mangers, tethers etc.

Shoes/Boots

A huge collection of shoes covering those for specific medical needs donated by Mr Wilkinson of Funtingdon and a superbly comprehensive progression covering some 10 centuries from Ken Smith of Salisbury.

Bells

Dray or Team bells were worn by working horses as a form of early warning for other road users, indicating that someone was coming. We have single sets in the collection, doubles and groups of quadruple bells, used for a team of 4 horses. All the bells in a set are carefully tuned to complement each other. Many of the bells were cast by Robert Wells, the renowned maker from Aldbourne in Wiltshire.

Hops

Although the growing of hops has now sadly become a rarity in this area, the South East of England was once synonymous with the crop. Donations of hop related items have been fairly sporadic over the years and no large groups of items have been given. Those, usually individual donations which have however, are of an extremely high quality and historic value.

Many of the items are from the east of our collecting area although one of the most intriguing items, a cast iron press, came from 4 miles from the Museum in an area which is not usually thought of as prime hop country.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Presses

We have only a small number of presses but of extremely high quality; a traditional wooden press made by Garrett & Co from Kent and the ornate iron press manufactured by James Woodhouse of Alton in Hampshire and used at Bepton near Midhurst.

Wheeled Implements

Unusual implements include an extremely heavyweight box wagon with straked and tyred wheels, stripped down for the transportation of hop pockets, an ‘alley bodge ‘ used to deliver manure between the rows of hop plants and a ‘wim-wom’ which is a hand cart with large bobbin on top to facilitate the erection of the hop bine wires.

Hand Implements

Hop ‘dogs’ for uprooting used poles, binmens hooks for erecting and cutting the bines, forks for tending the plants and an important collection of tallies and tokens used to keep track of the pickers production.

Shepherding

The raising of sheep has been an integral part of life on the South Downs for many centuries and pervades many aspects of rural life.

The Museum collection of shepherding items is very specific to that way of life and will contrast greatly if compared to that from another sheep raising area of the country; tools, implements and practices having been adapted to the particular geography of the area and types of sheep favoured by the farmer.

Most particular are the wheeled shepherds’ huts which were taken up onto the downs during lambing time to give the shepherd a base from which to operate and which have now become such a popular collectors’ item for garden decoration.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Bells

Mainly clucket and canister bells and also one type which doesn’t seem to have an official name, but it is sometimes called a wide-mouthed bell.

Sheep bells were a part of the shepherd’s life, and extremely useful as they were fitted as a warning system. By listening to the bells the shepherd could tell in what direction and at what distance the sheep were moving. And by the tone of the bells he could tell the state of mind of his flock.

Bells were sometimes fitted to all the sheep in a flock, but this would be expensive for the shepherd, who owned the bells himself, though the sheep were his master’s. Alternatively they were fitted to dominant ewes, which lesser ewes would follow.

Crooks

The favoured type of crook used by the downs shepherd is the leg crook and most well know of all is that of the Pyecombe style; a tightly curled whorl at the end and often, where possible, made from old gun barrels.

Huts

The collection holds a large number of wheeled huts; many being shepherds huts, but some, although virtually identical, were used as general contractors or workmen’s vans. The shepherds huts has a small stove, a shelf and perhaps small wall cupboard for keeping the necessary treatments and usually some filled sacks to act as a bed.

Weights & Measures

Although primarily concerned with agricultural scales and weighing devices, this category does also include a small number of domestic devices.

We have some 15 sets of barn or platform scales in the collection and although many were manufactured by large national companies such as Avery, a small number seem to have been of individual manufacture.

Such scales were a common and necessary feature on farms and in mills, being used to weight grain, feed, and so on. Spring scales were used to weigh sacks of fleece and smaller, lighter items.

A similar, but much more portable form of weighing machine was the steelyard of which we have a number of examples and took the form of a balance scale.

Important to the accurate measurement of land was the measuring chain or Gunters Chain; a surveyors measure named after the man who developed it.

Items within this subject include:

Barn Scales

Steelyards