Domestic and lifestyle

Domestic & Lifestyle

Early in the collecting life of the Museum, domestic items were actively acquired – primarily as ‘set-dressing’ in response to visitor demand for further knowledge about the original inhabitants of our exhibit buildings.

Some items have indeed been used in this way although the domestic items that were able to be collected were appropriate to very few of our buildings; either being of an incompatible date, status or activity. In the late 1990s for example, an influx of domestic material suggests that these were the result of an appeal for furnishings for Whittaker’s Cottages; our 1860s cottages from Ashtead in Surrey. However, most of the items donated are generally from the 1920s or 30s, or considerably later.

As such we now have in our stores quite a range of domestic material. Some has an important historical story to tell (and complements other areas of our collections) but many items do not and, often having little provenance, are of relatively low importance.

Some groups of material that we have included within this part of the collection could be included elsewhere, crossing neatly-defined boundaries as they tend to do.

Running in parallel to the Museum’s main research collection, we have a smaller ‘Use’ collection which consists of historic material, but which is intended for handling, demonstrations or general ‘use’. These items run the risk of being damaged or worn out but as they are all either duplicate or unprovenanced, their historical value is quite low. As educational tools however, their value is high.

Many of the domestic items have been included within this collection and now provide a useful tool for school groups, course participants and other external borrowers.


Domestic & Lifestyle Collections


Collected generally as set-dressing items for the museum’s exhibit buildings, there is relatively little information about any of these items. The largest group, both numerically and physically, are the earthenware bottles which often do at least show the manufacturers and distributors details.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Earthenware Bottles

Ranging from pint to gallon sized, these heavyweight, refillable containers were used for a range of drinks from ginger beer to wine.

Custom & Belief

What had for many years been quite a small number of disparate items acquired much greater importance in the early 2000s when the museum acquired a hoard of deliberately concealed footwear from a building in Nutley, East Sussex.

Much debate has since surrounded this large collection of shoes and boots, attempting to discover the reason for its concealment, who owned them and where they came from, without as yet any firm resolution.

It did however make the grouping of such similarly important ‘custom and belief’ items much more sensible.

Groups of items within this subject include:


Various 2D and 3D objects relating primarily to Christianity although generally not including the variety of undertakers material found amongst general builders collections.

Deliberately Concealed Items

Besides the large hoard of around 66 shoes and boots from Nutley, other individually concealed items such as bones and coins.


As yet a small group of items but one which includes such items as witch stones and other charms.


A wide range of domestic items generally from the early 20th century and generally collected with the intent of using the items for set-dressing. The material is almost exclusively forms part of the ‘Use’ collection of items we can demonstrate, handle and lend.

It is not the aim of the Museum to progress the collecting of such items in the future unless there is a specific, historical requirement or the object is of sufficient individual importance.

Groups of items within this subject include:


Sweepers, cleaners and various materials for domestic housework.

Kitchen & Cooking

Numerous pots, pans and utensils.


Dolly tubs, possers, tongs and washboards.


Many of these items were, as with other domestic groups, collected with specific set-dressing purposes in mind.

A number of pieces arrived at the Museum as part of bigger groups of other material such as desks and counters from workshop donations. We do also have a number of quite unusual items in this collection such as plate-warming cupboards, but as these would have been used in the kitchens of a large estate house, their vernacular relevance to our collections is very small.

Our future collecting policy for furniture is to acquire specimens which are suitable and immediately required for dressing buildings at a given period from history, rather than attempting to build a definitive coherent furniture collection for which neither the space nor the expertise is readily available.

Groups of items within this subject include:

  • Tables
  • Seating
  • Cupboards


Most of the lamps, lanterns, candleholders and the like were collected for ‘set dressing, however there are some interesting, but largely unprovenanced early items including a cresset, candle moulds, horn lanterns, rushlight holders and some crude sulphur matches.

Items within this subject include:


Candle holders and candle lanterns.


Mostly hurricane-type lanterns.


This is not a group of items which the Museum has ever really contemplated actively collecting but one which has come about largely through the enthusiasm of a number of our visitors who, inspired by their visit to the Museum, have used their skill to produce replicas of our buildings.

We have only been able to accept a very few and are not looking to add to the collection.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Carts & Wagons

Some of which the original is already part of the Museum collection.


Exhibit buildings only.

Pictures & Photographs

This tends to be a disparate group of two dimensional imagery which does not generally fit into other three dimensional collections.

Groups of items within this subject include:

  • Paintings/drawings
  • Photographs/postcards
  • Posters


Generally shop fittings and contents, not a large or well represented collection.

Groups of items within this subject include:

  • Baker
  • Butcher
  • Ironmonger

Photo Gallery


1. Ceramics, 2. Witchstones, 3. Domestic, 4. Furniture, 5. Illumination at North Cray, 6. Barn scales, 7. Kitchen, 8. Butcher’s boy

Sign up to our Newsletter

Enter your email address to stay up to date