The Rural Life Centre is in Tilford, Surrey near Farnham in southern England. It is a museum of country life assembled by Mr and Mrs Henry Jackson and is run by a charitable trust. It covers over 10 acres of field, woodland and barns, and comprises a large number of implements and devices marking over 150 years of farming. There is also an arboretum with over one hundred species of trees. The museum displays farming through the seasons, local hop growing, tools and crafts allied to country industries and needs. The social history of village life from the 19th century is displayed covering school life, domestic work and trades. There is an example of an old fashioned rural post office and village inn. It also hosts the 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge Old Kiln Light Railway.
There are a number of different buildings on the site. The Village Hall. This typical wooden village hall building came to the museum from Lindford, near Bordon where it had been in use since the 1960s. It was attached to the Methodist church, but was used by many other local organisations. Originally it was a portable army hut, possibly dating from the first world war.. Along with the building came all the contents, from prayer books to a table football game. The Granary. This 18th. century granary was originally located in Borelli Yard in Farnham, but redevelopment of the site necessitated its removal. It was dismantled by local archaeologists and given to the museum where it has been rebuilt in its original form. Granaries were used to store grain. The building stands on nine staddle stones which prevented rats and other vermin from entering. Within are the pieces of equipment that would have been used in the handling of cereal crops. The Cricket Pavilion. This beautiful all wooden 1883 cricket pavilion, which stood on the Holloway Hill recreation ground at Godalming, was scheduled for demolition when it was to be replaced with a new lottery funded building. Fortunately it was offered to the museum and they were able to ensure the survival of this unusual building. The building is covered in split wooden poles, like the chapel, in a style which is thought to be fairly localised to this area. The roof, now covered in cedar shingles, was originally thatched when first built and the whole ground floor, save the changing rooms at either end, would have been open to the verandah. The building now houses a collection of local cricketing and other sport memorabilia, their groundskeeping displays and their temporary exhibitions.
Eashing Chapel. Originally constructed in 1857, this delightful wooden chapel was rebuilt and restored on site in 1996, clad with cleft sweet chestnut. After many years of disuse at Eashing, the building was offered to the Rural Life Centre by the Surrey Historic Buildings Trust. The trust were concerned about the dilapidated condition this historic building was getting into and also the threat of demolition and replacement with a modern structure. After its retirement from public use as a library, the former chapel had been wheeled across Eashing Bridge to a new site below a steep sand bank. Here it had been used for various agricultural purposes, including as a chicken coop, and for storage. The windows had been replaced with chicken wire and sheets of polythene and, generally, the building was allowed to fall into disrepair. Its proximity to the bank allowed water to come into contact with the back wall and roof causing widespread rot, and the structure was overgrown with brambles and weeds. The Stable Block. The horse was vital to village and country economy. It was needed to pull the many vehicles in the museum collection which were typical of the rural scene. The animals, therefore, needed to be well looked after. This stable was originally situated at a house in nearby Frensham and it is just one section of that property's stable block. Within it are a Danish woodburning stove of the 1930s and a selection of heavy horse harness alongside the standard items for this type of stall. Another item on display is a saddle from a pack horse, once used to deliver goods in the Selborne area of Hampshire.
Post-war Pre-fab. Pre- fabricated houses were a quick and cheap answer to the post-war housing problem. The pre-fab provided a modern lifestyle with an innovative indoor toilet and bathroom. The "Arcon" Pre-fab at the museum incorporates items recovered from Bristol and represents the domestic life of the 1950's. The kitchen is equipped with the latest gadgets and the television is a modern luxury, but a far cry from the flat screen! Outside you will find a Garden shed converted from a wartime Stanton air-raid shelter. The Laundry. The laundry display contains a collection of washday implements from before the advent of automation. Included are a large box mangle, washboards and tubs, along with some of the cleaning agents in common use. On event days theirr Victorian laundry is open for business and you are welcome to pump your own water, scrub a shirt, use a dolly and mangle. Heating & Lighting. Heating equipment from early times - cresset fire dogs, basket, fork and straight spits - is on display. You will find cookers and heaters ranging from paraffin appliances to the elaborate wood-burning stove, Grand Rapids and a Victorian cast iron radiator. Methods of lighting on show include the candle lantern, Aladdin lamps and the Tilley table lamp which was pressure paraffin powered. Gardening. In the horticulture display are tools of all descriptions - secateurs, sprayers, a Victorian cloche, trugs, mowers, a Victorian lawn edger, a hollow bamboo pole made into a hand lance for fruit tree spraying, a Victorian lawn sprinkler and many other items. One of the hand lawn mowers was advertised in the Country Gentleman's Association catalogue of 1894.
The Shepherd's Hut. A fully equipped hut as used by the shepherd during the lambing season. The hut would be towed onto the Downs for the shepherd to live in, surrounded by all the tools and equipment he required. The Centre's shepherd's hut was built at Tasker's Waterloo Foundry in Andover between 1910 and 1920. When it arrived Carol Sacha, then the museum's curatorial adviser, wrote an article which well describes its use: "Huts such as this were lived in by shepherds during the lambing season when they had to keep a constant watch on the ewes and could not go home each night. The hut might be towed several miles from the farm to the sheep. Though the hut looks spartan, it must have been welcoming after long cold nights and spring weather. In a copy at the museum of the 1894 Country Gentleman's Catalogue there is an advertisement for a similar machine costing £3.10. Incidentally, a shepherd's wages, according to J. Alfred Eggar in 1870, were 35 shillings a week and £5 at Michaelmas. He also received a cottage and a garden rent free, half a ton of coal, 50 bavins (which are bundles of fire-wood), £1 a year for the keep of a dog, and six pence for every lamb reared. Shepherds were highly valued men." Plough Gallery. This contains the horsedrawn ploughs; including a Sussex wooden turnwrest, c.1900, and a metal balance and reversible, c.1920s. These are just some of the museum's large collection of agricultural implements which span the years from man to machine power. On the ground are a wide selection of horse-drawn ploughs together with balance ploughs made by Davy Sleep of Plymouth and Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies of Ipswich. The latter company also produced the two furrow plough displayed. Above, on the shelf, are wooden ploughs of the early 1900s including examples made by Cook's of Cambridgeshire and Dickinson & Burne of Guildford. Even earlier models are represented by the Sussex turn-wrest ploughs which came into use during the late 1800s.
The turn-wrest plough has a wooden beam and body. The mouldboard, or turn furrow, was also made of wood and could be moved from one side of the body to the other, allowing the plough to be reversible. The ploughs on display were last used in 1900 and would have been drawn by a team of four bullocks. Waggon & Hay Loader. Just two of a wide variety of horse-drawn vehicles in the museum including a number of unusual examples from the reserve collection of the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading. Hops and Picking. This display contains the equipment used in this very important local industry. Farnham hops were of the highest quality and fetched the highest prices in the 1800s. Hop picking was usually carried out in September, whole families taking part, picking from six o'clock in the morning to five in the evening. On display are the baskets used to pick and measure the quantity harvested each day. The hops were then taken to kilns for drying before being packed by compression into hop pockets using the machine shown here. The "pocket" was a large hessian sack measuring 7 feet by 3 feet. Other tools on show include those used to cultivate the ground before the bines were planted in the hop gardens. Hop growers in the Farnham district included Sam Bide, Ben Caesar, Alan Tice, Parratts and Marshall. Their hops were regarded as the best in the country and fetched top prices at the Weyhill Fair, near Andover in Hampshire. Thatching & Harvesting. In the handtool building you will find housed the tools used for thatching corn and hay ricks and stacks, cottages and barns, along with harvest tools like the large hayrake. The handtool display covers many crafts including a large collection of edge tools made by the local renowned Moss family.
The Wheelwrights Shop. The classic book "The Wheelwright's Shop" written by George Sturt in 1923 (he also wrote as 'George Bourne') is a special feature at the Rural Life Centre. This is the countryside associated with the well-known craftsman and writer who was born in Farnham in 1863 and died at his home in the Bourne in 1927. Here you can see some of the tools from his wheelwright's shop set out in what is now one of the most complete such workshops left in the country. The majority of items come from the Hawkins family workshop, in business at Hillgrove in Sussex from 1767 to 1961. Everything from their business was fortunately saved, including the ledgers covering their entire history which are now part of the museum's archives available to serious researchers. Other tools and equipment came from the Horder family of Loxwood. Sussex; D. Coleman of Chobham, Surrey and George Instone of Cove, Hampshire. Among the most prized artefacts are tools which once belonged to Sidney Wheeler, an apprentice of George Sturt's, which were actually used in the shop which was the setting for the book.
The Wealden Iron Furnace. The Weald around the Surrey and Sussex border area was once the heart of the country's iron production industry due to the abundance of timber to be turned into charcoal. Charcoal was the only fuel that produced sufficient heat to smelt iron until Abraham Darby perfected the use of coke for iron smelting and steel making, and the industry moved north to the coalfields. The last furnace in the south closed down in 1813. Museum volunteer Gerald Baker, has been the driving force behind the iron furnace project, which has taken about five years to complete. His interest gave him the idea to build a half-scale furnace complete with bellows and hammer at the Rural Life Centre. There have been several 'burns' in the furnace, proving the efficiency of the bellows, but currently there isn't a big enough supply of charcoal to enable iron to be made - despite being only half-size, this furnace will still need four tonnes of charcoal when in action! Actual smelting of ore is still being considered (due to potential dangers involved) but a charcoal burning programme has already been initiated at the museum and this could become another regular feature for visitors. The Forge. A fully working reconstruction of a village blacksmith's workshop complete with all tools for farriery and general ironwork can be demonstrated to schools and other groups when pre-booked. Many of the items came from George Instone's shop at Cove. This is a working shop and is currently used by three blacksmiths who undertake commissioned work and also run forge-work craft courses. To find out more about them and their work please visit their website.
The two world wars changed the whole way of life in Britain; not just in the town and cities, but also rural life. Anderson shelters were issued nationwide to families as protection from enemy air raids. It is estimated that 3.6 million shelters were erected. After the war many of them were used as garden sheds. The Anderson shelter was designed in 1938 by William Paterson and Oscar Carl Kerrison at the request of the Home Office. It was named after Sir John Anderson, who then initiated the development of the shelter. People earning up to £5 a week were given the shelters free by the government; others paid £7 for them. They were designed to accommodate up to six people. The main principle of protection was based on curved and straight galvanised corrugated steel panels. They held up well to bombing raids, able to absorb ground shocks. It was later realised that Anderson Shelters were very cold and damp in winter months and were uncomfortable for families during long night raids. This led to the development of the Morrison Shelter which can be seen in the Wartime room. The Wartime room is an interesting insight into life during the war. Many people will still remember the familiar objects, including the imposing Morrison Shelter. The caged Morrison Shelter was designed by John Baker and is approximately the size of a double bed. It was designed to sleep a family indoors through night bombings, and could be used as a table during the day. The shelter was introduced at the end of March 1941 and was named after the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison. It was provided free to those households earning less than £400 a year. Many people using this shelter survived bomb strikes that reduced the house around them to rubble, leaving the Morrison Shelter (and its occupants) intact. Horse Ambulance. This was used during the first world war for bringing injured horses from the battlefield. Note that the axle is over the top of the cart. Shafts could be fitted at either end so that the horse could be loaded or unloaded through either ramp. To help support the horse in transit, a sling was suspended from the curved axle.
The museum has a fine collection of the tools used by the forester - from billhooks for brashing young conifers and general coppice work, including hazel, chestnut and ash; axes for felling trees and trimming the branches; saws of all shapes and sizes for felling, cross-cutting, pit sawing and so on; cant hooks for turning the logs; to larger items for moving the felled trees. The Timber Nib or Bob was an implement, drawn by horses, used to extract lengths of timber from the forest. Debris, soil and the risks of fouling stumps of felled trees made the task very difficult. The nib was first made to straddle the log, the pole was upended and the log was chained to the axle of the nib. The pole was then pulled down, thus lifting the end of the log off the ground allowing it to be towed without the risk of fouling. The Timber Carriage or Pole Waggon was used to transport timber from the forest to the sawmill. The carriage was loaded and drawn by horses - a very heavy job.
A recently built, permanent exhibition at the Rural Life Centre recalls the post-war lives of Polish displaced persons in Tweedsmuir Camp, Thursley. The Old Kiln Railway line is in operation most Sundays and bank holidays, in the main season, to provide rides for children of all ages! Please note that the railway is run independently to the museum and the Old Kiln Light Railway Society charge a small fee for rides to enable them to maintain the railway and rolling stock. For full details of their stock and the line please visit their website. The museum is fully wheelchair accessible. Assistance dogs are welcome. Disabled parking is located at the top of the drive with space for approximately 5 vehicles. More parking can be made accessible on prior request. The Old Kiln Café offers a seasonal family-friendly menu for light lunches and Sunday roasts, or bring your own picnic. Learn even more about the museum during an introductory talk and brief tour led by one of their long-standing volunteer guides. An extra £1.50 per person will be added to your admission price.
Location : Rural Life Centre, The Reeds Road, Tilford, Farnham GU10 2DL
Transport : Farnham (National Rail) then taxi or bus (19). Bus Routes : 19 stops 0.8 miles away
Opening Times : Wednesday to Sunday + bank holidays -Summer (March to November) 10:00 to 17.30; Winter 11:00 to 16:00
Tickets : Adults £8.50; Concessions £7.50; Children (5 - 16) £6.00
Tel. : 01252 795571