Rural Museums Network Annual Conference 2015

Annual Conference 2015

The Preservation and Interpretation of Historic Farm Buildings


The Rural Museums Network annual conference for 2015 will be held in Scotland on 20th and 21st May. It is being hosted jointly by Urras Achadh an Droighinn/The Auchindrain Trust and Scotland’s National Museum of Rural Life.

The conference will focus on the preservation and interpretation of historic farm buildings. Many rural life museums occupy buildings originally constructed to house farming activities and processes, or dwellings that meet the needs of people involved in agriculture. Some museums collect examples of such buildings and present them as museum objects, but in general the focus in rural life museums can be on displayed contents or current operational needs. Within a sector where a wide spread of different approaches is both inevitable and desirable, to what extent should the visitor’s attention be drawn to the way a building was designed to support particular activities? What about the materials it was made from or the way in which it was constructed? And does it matter how such buildings are then adapted and maintained to support their new museum use: what are our philosophies?

At a time when traditional farm buildings are increasingly threatened by the impact of changes in agricultural methods, rural life museums will have an increasingly important role as the holders and preservers of the last remaining examples of what was once too common to be worthy of attention.

The first day of the conference will be based at Auchindrain, 75 miles north-west of Glasgow in rural Argyll. The museum preserves the last active survivor and now incomparably the most complete example of what were once thousands of joint-tenancy farm “townships” across Scotland. It is Scotland’s largest group of remaining vernacular rural buildings, and is recognised as a site of national importance. On the second day, the conference will move south (thus, for most of those attending, on the way home) to the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride. At the heart of this lies an 18th and 19th century model farm, Wester Kittochside, which is currently presented as it was in the 1950s. Guided study tours of both sites will provide an opportunity for people to develop an understanding of their nature and different significances, and of the management challenges arising from their new uses as museums for visitors.

A keynote talk will be delivered by Gavin Sprott, who as a senior curator with National Museums Scotland played a leading role in the development of Wester Kittochside Farm into the National Museum of Rural Life, and who is also a long-serving Trustee of Auchindrain.

Please click here to view the schedule of the 2015 conference.

Please click here to download the information and booking form for the conference.

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Settling House settles into new museum home

The restored Counting House at Stowmarket © Museum of East Anglian Life

The Settling House or Counting House from the old cattle market in nearby Bury St Edmunds has been removed, restored and is now on show as an exhibit at the Museum of East Anglian Life at Stowmarket.

Click here for the full story in an article by David Viner. It first appeared in Old Glory, October 2013 page 30, and is reproduced here by kind permission of the editor.


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2014 AGM and Conference

Traction engines in the S.E. Davis Collection

The theme for this year’s Conference was larger and working objects in museums.  On Wednesday 14th May we met at the S.E. Davis Collection at Astwood Bank near Redditch. Tim Bryan of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, Skills for the Future trainees from Gressenhall and Museum of East Anglian Life, and Hamish Wood from Avoncroft all gave presentations on aspects of their work.  We were then treated by Paul Davis to an introduction and guided tour of the amazing S.E. Davis Collection.

Approaching the inn in style, behind the Marshall traction engine 'Emily' © David Viner

Approaching the inn in style, behind the Marshall traction engine 'Emily' © David Viner

Paul Davis’s enthusiastic and enlightening tour around the 500 or so large objects the family have gathered together at Astwood Bank was rounded off with the chance for a trailer ride behind one of the family’s engines, the Marshall traction engine Emily of 1925, on the way to an enjoyable supper in The Why Not Inn nearby.

Avoncroft's windmill back to its best © David Viner

Avoncroft's windmill back to its best © David Viner

The next day we met at Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings at Bromsgrove for our AGM. This was followed by presentations by Sally Ackroyd, David Viner and others on the recent work of the Network, and updates from our members. After an introduction to Avoncroft Museum by Simon Carter we were able to explore the site.  Of particular interest was the spectacular recently refurbished windmill that is ‘sailed’ on occasions by a team of volunteers.

Many thanks to the Davis family and all at Avoncroft for their hospitality and a warm welcome, making for a truly memorable meeting.

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Digitising the Agricultural Heritage Distributed National Collection

The RMN is pleased to announce that it will be putting records from the AHDNC online.

Over the next few months Isobel Keith will be preparing records for inclusion on Culture Grid, the digital UK collections resource operated by Collections Trust. This will give the material a significant online presence and also create a base from which we can develop the AHDNC. The project is supported by Arts Council England.

As our digital consultant, Izzy is likely to be in touch with the museums referred to in the original reports for further information and possibly images.




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Steam ploughing tackle on the move!

A steam ploughing cultivator and harrows have recently been transferred from the Museum of Lincolnshire Life at Lincoln to the Museum of East Anglian Life at Stowmarket. The equipment was surplus to requirement at Lincoln, but just what MEAL needed. Both museums have pairs of steam ploughing engines. Lincolnshire Life’s were made by Fowler and MEAL’s by Burrell.

Cultivator and harrows arrive at MEAL © Museum of East Anglian Life

Transporting heavy equipment is expensive, and the move was grant aided by the Rural Museums Network and the Friends of MEAL. The Network’s contribution was itself funded by from the Museums Association’s Effective Collections programme.

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New home for rare threshing machine

A rare threshing machine that was at the Vale and Downland Museum at Wantage, Oxfordshire has been given a new home at the Brown and May Trust at Devizes, Wiltshire. The machine was made by Nalder and Nalder of East Challow, in what would have been Berkshire, but is now Oxfordshire. 

The thresher is dated at around 1900 and is typical of threshing machines. However, Nalder and Nalder patented a unique adjustable grading screen which could be used for other things – for example stone and coffee, as well as wheat. These threshers were exported to the British Empire and also Russia, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, USA and South America. More than seventy gold and silver medals were awarded to their products in the first 50 years.



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Farmers on Film

The farming community has long been a rich subject for photographers seeking to record rural life without nostalgia or sentimentality, and in recent years the subject has also received attention by documentary film makers such as Testimony Films.
The contemporary scene is no exception.  Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier have worked with dairy farmer Steve Hook and his father to chronicle their endeavours to produce and sell organic unpasturised milk and cheese at Longleys Farm at Hailsham, East Sussex.  Their 90 minute film ‘Moo Man’ has just premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Utah:
Currently broadcast on Channel 4, Monkey Kingdom Films’ five part series ‘First Time Farmers’ looks at the trials and tribulations of Britain’s youngest farmers, including Somerset’s Flossie Biss who combines sheep farming with her GCSE exams:
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Fringe Meeting at MA Conference

Conference delegates will have an opportunity to catch up with the Network’s recent activities and plans at a fringe meeting of the Museums Association Conference and Exhibition on Thursday 8th November 12.30 – 14.00.

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Rural Museums in the Museums Journal

Two members of the Network receive attention in this months edition of the Museums Journal. Louise Grey interviews The Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton for the series on UK specialist collections, and Jane Weeks reviews the new Abbot’s Hall displays at the Musuem of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket.

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Abbot’s Hall Reopens

Congratulations to the Museum of East Anglian Life on the reopening of Abbot’s Hall following a £3m HLF supported refurbishment.

Read more about the museum.

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