Rural trades and crafts

Rural Trades & Crafts

Although rural areas are inextricably linked with farming and agriculture there are a whole host of other, often related activities which were the mainstays of the rural economy.

These activities, many of which have now virtually disappeared, were the source of identity for the people who lived and worked in rural areas, often generating the ‘personality’ of an area, place and people names, stories and music.

It is proof that many of these trades and crafts are indeed in major decline due to the large numbers and variety of items which we have been given over the years. Each group of items or workshop collection, whilst a valuable addition to our artefacts, represents one more craftsman of firm which is no longer in operation.

It is vital therefore, that the Museum continues to take an active role in acquiring, preserving, researching and interpreting this material so that these valuable skills and crafts are not forgotten.


Rural Trade & Craft Collections

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:


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


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.


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.


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.


As every village of any size had its own blacksmith, it is unsurprising that we have a large collection of implements and equipment, often large groups given by individuals. Few of the smiths purely dealt with only one particular activity and the majority diversified into wider realms of farriery, agricultural and general smithing or wheelwrighting and occasionally tinsmithing.

Groups of tools from known forges or from one smith include:

  • Boswell, Donnington Forge, Chichester. Blacksmiths, farriers and wheelwrights.
  • William Budd & Son, Trotton. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights and builders. Wm Budd & Son were immortalised by Mavis Budd in her books ‘Dust to Dust’, ‘Fit for a Duchess’ and ‘A Prospect of Love’.
  • Gaius Carley, Adversane. Mr Carley wrote ‘The Song of The Village Blacksmith’ which he had printed and would give out to visitors.
  • Farley, Wadhurst.
  • Findon Forge – blacksmith unknown but may have been Ockenden.
  • Funnel, Ashington.
  • Kemp, Furle. A large collection (136 items) including several long-handled tools, several of which have been blacksmith repaired or modified. Little recorded about Mr Kemp but the collection suggests he was an all-rounder – blacksmith, farrier, wheelwright and tinsmith.
  • Peter Lockwood, Midhurst. One of the last local farriers working from a forge instead of entirely from the back of a van. We acquired his farriery toolkit just as last used and also his firetools. He and his father moved from Wiltshire to Midhurst in the 1950s; the premises had previously been occupied by the Charles family.
  • Arthur Plewis, Rochester. The largest individual donation the Museum has, as yet received. It is also detailed separately under ‘Wheelwrighting’ but inevitably contains blacksmithing items.
  • Messrs Berry, Mitchell and Black at Pyecombe Forge. A very important sample of tools used in succession, by the three families of blacksmiths at the birthplace of the famous ‘Pyecombe Hook’ shepherds crook.

Groups of items within this subject include:

  • Farriery – including further donations from other former smiths including Mr Wilkinson of Funtingdon Forge
  • Hammers
  • Tongs
  • Anvils
  • Bellows – a wide range of cylindrical and oval bellows

Cider & Brewing

The mainstay of the working man! And this isn’t simply a throwaway comment either. The production of farmhouse cider was an important element when the farmer was hiring labour to work for him and could be the deciding factor between a labourer working at one place or another.

The farmer however had to balance the time and resources he put into producing cider, which was not after all a commercial crop for him, against making a brew which fails to attract a sufficiently good workforce.

Here at the Museum we operate an historic press each year at our Autumn Countryside Show and following a fairly fruitless and confusing recipe for traditional farmhouse cider, have finally hit upon the successful formula of using whatever apples we can get, putting absolutely everything through the press and then simply leaving the juice to ferment, using the yeast from the skins and sugar from the fruit to complete the process. The result is not half bad.

With the raw ingredients grown in abundance in the south east, the brewing of beer has also been a long standing traditional activity and one which survives especially with the myriad smaller breweries which are still in production.

Groups of items within this subject include:


Wooden apple presses, with one or two screws depending upon their size. Mostly for smaller, farmhouse use, rather than big, commercial operations.


The apple pulping machines, colloquially known as ‘scrutters’ or ‘scratters’, are all of similar construction incorporating a hopper or chute feed to a rotating wooden drum studded with nails. The mechanisms were usually hand turned via an iron gear train comprising one large open spoked gear and a small pinion.

These machines did not seem to be at all mass produced despite their widespread use. It is interesting to note that of the many whole or part machines in the Museum collection, there are no two components alike!


Another, once common trade which has now virtually died out with only the widespread surname to suggest its importance.

Coopering was not only the mainstay of the foodstuff transportation and storage business but was an incredibly complex art to perfect, with its own particular group of tools and techniques which could only be handed down from expert to apprentice.

One of the very first donations to the Museum came from the old Tamplins Brewery, the last surviving brewery in Brighton and is a comprehensive collection of coopering tools used by their craftsmen.

Another, more personal collection was given to the Museum in 2003, belonging to the late master cooper Thomas Swain, who worked at the Watney’s Mortlake Brewery. Together with his tools, we also we fortunate to receive a great deal of information and images of Mr Swain’s life and family.

Groups of items within this subject include barrels and arts, and:

Hand Tools

Similar in principle to carpentry tools, but with subtle differences to enable the working of curved surfaces, for example:

  • Cresset (for firing inside of barrel to shape it)
  • Axe (for shaping each barrel stave)
  • Adze (for shaping the barrel chime)
  • Heading knife (for shaping the head or lid)
  • Hollow Knife (for shaping the backs of staves)
  • Round shave (for smoothing inside stave joints)
  • Croze (for cutting groove to hold barrel head)
  • Chiv (to shape the flat surface just below chime to take the barrel head)
  • Jigger (when the correct size Chiv is not available)
  • Topping plane (for smoothing the barrel chime)
  • Brace (for drilling holes in forming the head)
  • Compasses

Gamekeeping, Trapping & Fieldsports

A major aspect of rural life, particularly associated with the numbers large estates where all forms of flora and fauna seemed to be subject to total control. Fieldsports lead to the breeding of specific ranges of animals and birds to be hunted and as a result, gamekeepers to manage them, who employ various ways of restricting the spread of ‘vermin’, or animals which are undesirable to the success of the introduced fieldsports stock.

Some of the ways in which undesirable animals and birds have been caught over the years are both inventive and horrific in equal measure, but are important in giving an insight into both the way of rural life and also the attitude of some of the rural dwellers.

In 2005 we were kindly donated a hugely comprehensive collection of traps by Mr Drummond which enable us to present a very wide range of examples across this subject.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Gin Traps

Sprung-jawed traps of varying sizes used for catching rodents to deer and poachers. The jaws of the trap did not usually kill the animal, rather the fact that the trap was pegged to the ground so the animal could not escape and so starved or bled to death.

Cage Traps

A slightly more humane way of trapping animals, fish and birds, depending upon what was done with the animals once they were caught.


Both manual, ratchet-type scarers and trip-wire shotgun cartridge scarers.


A practice which happily still exists today, albeit somewhat more mechanised. The processing of leather into footwear, clothing, harness and other work-related items has been a vital part of human existence for millennia and not only restricted to rural areas, although the practice of harness making is for obvious reasons more widespread here.

Rural cobblers would of course had a different clientele with different requirements to their counterparts in urban areas and as such would have had a higher demand for agricultural labourers footwear and their repair.

Groups of items within this subject include:


This collection consists of five larger groups and a number of individually donated tools, various items of footwear and related accessories.

The larger groups were from the following cobblers:

  • Phillip Arnold from Surbiton, Surrey. Tools used by him c1900. His aunt had worked at the premises during WWII.
  • H Frost from Tunbridge Wells. 20+ items including leather decorating tools.
  • E H F Hall from Portsmouth Road, Woolston, Southampton. Apprenticed during WWI, Mr Hall worked at these premises between 1932-1970.
  • Jennings from the Golden Boot, Lower Street, Pulborough, West Sussex. Items including the shop counter, other furniture and the actual golden boot shop sign from Miss Knights shoe shop.
  • Mr Toffolo from Carshalton, Surrey.


Although dealing with the same material, items area very different and usually a lot bigger. Notable items include a superb saddler stitching horse.

Notable donors include:

  • H C Fagg from Ticehurst, East Sussex. Apparently Mr Fagg died in May 1979 and although some of his tools were accessioned in 1973, it would appear that the remainder were donated after his death by his niece, Mrs Holden.


With the decline in both working water and wind mills, the craft of the millwright was no longer needed and so their craft too died out.

Most of their work revolved around the maintenance of the stones themselves; dressing the stones involved cutting out the furrows on the stone and levelling off the raised areas or “lands” between in order to ensure a smooth grinding action.

Simply moving such massive stones required much skill, equipment and hands. Pulleys and wedges were used to manoeuvre the grinding stone into and out of place.

Groups of items within this subject include:

Thrifts & Bits

Wooden thrifts and removable steel bits used to dress millstones.


Driven under the millstones in order to lift out of place for dressing or repair.


A similar but much lighter duty occupation than blacksmithing, the products of which are generally domestic kitchen and tableware.

The Museum’s collection is mainly the tools and products of Allins of Midhurst which were donated by Mr C E Hett of East Harting and Roger Champion. We also have a dozen or so tools from Coxhead & Welsh, Grayshott, Hindhead.

Groups of items within this subject include:

  • Hand tools
  • Many shaping tools and hammers


Another once familiar and vital trade, present in most large villages and towns, which is now restricted to a handful of craftsmen across the country with the decline of wooden-wheeled vehicles and machinery.

The craft of the wheelwright has a similar concept to that of coopering, in that both are branches of carpentry, dealing with the same material, but both are very different, requiring specifically different tools and skills.

The life and practices of a wheelwright are perhaps more readily accessible than most old trades, to those who wish to discover more about the subject with publications such as George Sturt’s ‘The Wheelwright’s Shop’, based at his workshop in Farnham.

We are also very fortunate to have, not only a very large group of tools and equipment but also our own comprehensive diary via our biggest single donation from Mr Plewis in the mid-1970s.

When Mr Plewis retired, he donated the contents of his workshop to the Museum and although not absolutely everything would have been accepted, we still added over 700 items to the collections.

Along with his tools, patterns and works in progress, Mr Plewis had also kept a detailed diary, together with superb sketches, since he was a 14 year old apprentice which he donated, and also a large number of account books from his firm stretching back to the mid-19th century. This represents one of the most important historical collections the Museum owns.

Groups within this subject include:

Hand Implements

Besides the more familiar carpentry tools which the wheelwright uses there are a raft of other, more specific implements such as traveller, samson, spoke dog, boxing engine, face gauge, bevel stick, striker, spokeshave, jarvis, speel iron, tyre dog and spoke tongue gauge.

Wheels & parts

Patterns and part-finished wheels and their components; felloes, naves, spokes.

Woodland Crafts

The management and use of our woodlands used to be a much more interactive practice with craftsmen actually carrying out their trades in the woodland rather than, as in more modern times, woods being little more than large scale plantations from which the timber is mechanically harvested and taken away from further mechanical processing.

The practice of coppicing – cutting a tree close to the ground and allowing the resultant group of new shoots to grow for a number of years into straight poles – provided huge amounts of raw materials for a number of traditional crafts such as walking sticks, hurdles, rakes, and fencing.

We have a couple of particularly important collections, donated from workshops which were sadly closing down:

The Lintotts Walking Stick factory was based in Chiddingfold in Surrey and produced thousands of sticks which were exported all over the world. The range of tools and equipment was fairly small but totally unique.

The group Trug making equipment donated to us in 2005 by Robin Tuppen represented one of the last remaining manufacturers of this iconic Sussex product from their home in Herstmonceux.

The company which he ran had been in existence in one form or another since the mid 1800s and the method of production had changed relatively little over the years.

Groups within this subject include:

  • Walking sticks
  • Truggs
  • Hurdles
  • Rakes
  • Cloggs

Photo Gallery


1. Blacksmith – Pyecombe Forge, 2. Blacksmithing – WDOAM, 3&4. Cider brewing, 5. Coopering – Boxall, 6. Coopering – Swain, 7. Gamekeeper’s trap, 8. Leatherworking, 9. Millwrighting, 10. Tinsmithing hammer, 11. Tinsmithing pot, 12. Tyring, 13. Wheelwrighting, 14. Lintotts Walking Stick Factory, 15. Trugs, 16. Woven Hurdles, 17. Rural craftsman

Sign up to our Newsletter

Enter your email address to stay up to date