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.

agricultural room

Although 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 machine. Sprung-steel hand clippers would have been attached. The recent Foot and Mouth epidemic that devastated 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

tool cupboard

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

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

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

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 colourful past.

5 of 10: The Fleam Knife

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 spider’s web!

6 of 10: The Charm

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

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

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 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

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.

in the garden

The 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 Pony.

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