The Agricultural Room
The agricultural room is devoted to the influence of agriculture and countryside
pursuits on Bishop's Castle and its South Shropshire hinterland. The items are from the museum’s collection of tools
used in agricultural work in and around the home and farm.
there are examples of horse-tack, nothing displayed was either horse-drawn
or horse driven. Everything required manpower and muscle. Mechanised
farming began in earnest in the 1800s, leading to the introduction
of steam driven machinery on the larger farms. On smaller holdings,
largely because of the expense, hand operated tools and machinery continued
to be an important feature of agricultural life until well after the
Second World War. Manpower was cheaper and smaller farms simply could
not afford large machines. Some farming tasks, such as hedge-laying,
have never been effectively mechanised, and still rely on a knowledge
of the old country crafts.
Sheep farming played an important part in the economy of the area, as it still does today. In the centre of the photo above is a hand-cranked shearing
hand clippers would have been attached. The recent Foot and Mouth epidemic
many small farms, meant that no shearers could come onto
the farms for fear of cross- contamination. Machines such as
these were taken out
of mothballs, greased up and put to good use.
On display in the agricultural room
1 of 10: Pig Jib or Pig Crack
The pig crack is a long table used in the meticulous cleaning of the pig
carcass. The pig was an important animal in most country households. There were sties in most
gardens, including those in towns. Pigs are easily fed and managed - they eat anything and
get fat. They supplied the family with meat, bacon and ham, while any surplus could be sold at market.
This particular example is fitted with iron wheels so it could be moved easily.
The crack was also often used as a milking table if the householder was lucky enough to own
a goat which was tethered onto the table so the animal was at a more convenient height.
2 of 10: Tool Cupboard
There are many jobs around the farm that demand constant attention.
A trawl through this robust tool cupboard reveals tools as diverse
as a puncture outfit and a set of branding irons. This cupboard obviously
belonged to a meticulous fellow who liked everything in its place,
handy for when things needed doing with no fuss or delay.
3 of 10: Rat Trap
There are no manufacturer’s marks on this huge rat trap which
leads one to conclude that it was custom built. It may have been
a collusion of farmer and blacksmith putting their heads together
to come up with a powerful solution to a powerful foe. Judging from
its scuffs and scars it was no stranger to the barn!
4 of 10: The Blacksmith
Apart from shoeing horses a blacksmith had many other functions.
He would have made nails, repaired plough shears, built gates etc.
There are records of women blacksmiths in Shropshire. In fact South
Shropshire boasts one even now. Until very recently she lived here,
with her family, in Bishop’s Castle town. Happily she still
works in the district keeping up those traditional links with our
5 of 10: The Fleam Knife
Like farm machinery, all livestock had to be looked after. The
fleam knife was an instrument used for blood letting.
This was a technique, not confined to animal ailments, which
entailed making a nick in the animal’s neck vein and allowing
it to bleed. The theory was that the bad humours of
the animal would be alleviated when enough blood was released.
At this point the wound would be staunched by the application of a handy
6 of 10: The Charm
Veterinary services were, and still are, expensive and any means
of bypassing this cost was of interest to a 19th century farmer.
As recently as the 1920s it was possible to buy a charm from a spell
maker who would peddle these charms at the various fairs that attracted
the farming community. This one was found in a barn wall at Woodbatch.
After recording, it was carefully reunited with the old Fynnon Salts
tin that contained it and returned to the now mended wall. You can’t
be too careful!
7 of 10: Dairy Yokes
Two 19th century yokes are hanging on the wall. Milking
was carried out twice a day. The buckets were carried in
pairs from the cow back
to the dairy. The yokes were usually carved from willow for
lightness. They fit across the shoulders and the buckets
suspended from hooks on adjustable chains.
8 of 10: Hedging Tools
Keeping livestock safe in the fields needed
constant vigilance. To this end either walls or hedges were used.
Hedging is the preferred system in South Shropshire and to keep
a good thick low growth these hedges were pleached.
This meant driving stakes into the hedge at regular intervals,
splitting the trunks half way through and bending the split trunk
to weave into the hedge and stakes.
This promoted more growth low down, preventing boltholes through which livestock could escape.
This is prickly work and so protective clothing is essential. The leather
pleacher’s mitts are stout enough not to allow the thorns
to tear the hands and the gaiters protect the legs.
9 of 10: Ditching Tools
Ditching is another time consuming but essential chore around the
farmlands. Good drainage prevents flooded fields and so crops will
germinate and grow to harvest. The hooked and rather pointed spade
helps to reach down to the bottom of the ditch. And the thin tool
is used to place drainage pipes in the ditch.
10 of 10: Gin Traps
There are a number of cruel gin-traps hanging from the wall. These
traps were used to catch the wildlife that ate more than their
fair share of the farmer’s crops. Rabbits were the ‘prime
suspects’ and in all likelihood, to turn the tables, probably
ended up on the farmer’s dinner plate!
When sprung, the trap’s jaws would typically
snap shut on the animal’s leg often breaking it and if not, cutting
through to the bone as the animal struggled. Happily they are now banned.
Of the gardening items on display, the largest is the ‘man
and boy mower’ made by Silens Messor around 1857.
under-gardener or lad pulled the heavy cast iron mower, while
the head gardener guided the apparatus in a straight line. There were several manufacturers of garden
mowing machines. Amongst them a firm called Shanks. They made a larger
machine, with more cutting cylinders, which needed a pony to pull it.
More often than not, of course, there was no pony and so the lads became known as Shanks’s