Wednesday 10 May 1989

Visit To Manor Farm Codford


Twenty members of Warminster History Society visited Manor Farm, Codford, last Sunday, writes Danny Howell, at the kind invitation of Mr. J. Collins, to see his private museum of farming and rural bygones.

A large room at the western end of the farmhouse contains more than 650 artefacts gathered by Mr Collins over the years. The room, which is in the oldest part of Manor Farmhouse, was formerly used by shooting parties for beer and lunch after a day's sport, and the collection began when one or two objects were hung on the walls for decoration.

Further bygones were added after Mr Collins restored and cleaned up items from the surrounding farm buildings for a two-day show called 'Vanishing Wiltshire'. He then realised how the everyday objects of his youth were fast disappearing and has been rescuing and making additions ever since.

His collection includes horseshoes from Roman and Celtic times to the present day, packhorse and sheep bells by Wiltshire makers, horse brasses, bottles and earthenware jars from local breweries, copper powder flasks and farriery aids. A good variety of lethal traps was also on display. These included two enormous gins, a fox trap, a pole trap made illegal in 1906, a spiked mole trap, and two rare traps for catching kingfishers.

The unusual items included an early form of fire extinguisher - a blue bottle containing a fire repellant powder, a nutcracker-like squeezer for altering the sizes of corks to fit various bottles, two different door keys hinged together, a hot-cross bun marker, some children's ice-skates, and a policeman's rattle from the days before whistles were issued to constables. Another law-enforcement item was a set of handcuffs from Northumberland, dating from the early 1800s.

A huge fireplace in the room featured roasting equipment, a revolving trivet, and a griddle for scones. A device, made of iron, standing in the hearth, was once used for cleaning the long churchwarden pipes. Pub landlords, years ago, owned pipes which were loaned to customers for smoking, and the pipes were cleaned by baking them in the embers of the inn's dying fire after closing time.

Among the local items was a First World War saddle bag, later used for collecting the fares on Couchman's bus, which took passengers to and from Codford and Salisbury. A good variety of branding irons included some from the late Henry Wales' Quebec Farm, near Chitterne. These particular ones were last used with paint, not tar, for numbering sheep. Others were used to brand rams for Wilton Fair. A wooden shovel and a fork had seen many years of hard use at the maltings in Warminster.

When asked about a ditching knife, Mr Collins explained that it was used by William Whatley, the last 'drowner' on Manor Farm. Water-drowning was the practice of shallow-flooding the meadows, by using a system of hand-dug ditches and dykes, to ensure an early bite of grass in the spring for the cattle and sheep.

The men responsible for this now defunct craft were known as drowners, and Mr Whatley worked on Manor Farm for about 50 years. Other ditching tools and scythes included examples from the Fussell's iron foundry at Mells.

Every object had a story associated with it, and Mr Collins' anecdotes of times past and some of the characters who had worked in the Wylye Valley, made the afternoon pass all too quickly.

A vote of thanks was given by Danny Howell and the visit concluded with tea and delicious cake made by Mrs Collins. A collection for St. Mary's Church, Codford, raised £20.