Friday 2 November 1990

Avant-Garde Furniture Left To Museum

Curator Jack Field with the unusual table and bookcase,
holding a picture of a threshing machine.


Warminster's Dewey Museum has recently received its first legacy - two unusual items bequeathed in the will of Miss Muriel Arnold of Longbridge Deverill, who died in May.

They are a table and a bookcase, made from the wood of one of Wiltshire's first portable threshing machine. The timber used, which is drilled with hundreds of holes, once formed the riddles and sieves of the thresher which is believed to have been made by Messrs. Marshall and Sons.

Mr Jack Field, Curator of the Dewey Museum, said: "We are indebted to Miss Arnold for leaving us a couple of fascinating historical pieces. The Arnold family's thresher, which provided the timber for the table and bookcase, was used on their farm at Broadchalke during the last century. The family moved to the outskirts of Warminster just before the First World War, bringing the table and bookcase with them."

"These two pieces of avant-garde furniture were probably made about 150 years ago. Miss Arnold used both of them up until the time of her death. We have cleaned and polished the furniture, and hope to display it as part of our Festival '91 exhibition next year."

Simple threshing machines were first introduced in the 18th century but by 1803 more elaborate, portable, threshers made their impact on English agriculture. In August 1830, farm labourers, worried by the number of threshing machines in use, assembled in Kent and started to smash up threshing machines. They feared that the success of the horse-powered threshers would rob the working classes of their livelihood during the winter months.

The demonstrations and attacks were known collectively as "The Swing Riots", after a fictitious 'Captain Swing' whose letters to landowners threatened destruction to those introducing the new machines. The riots soon spread to several other counties including Wiltshire.

Local historian Bruce Watkin, in his book A History Of Wiltshire, notes "The first incidents in Wiltshire were in mid-November 1830. There was arson at Amesbury, Everleigh and Winterslow by the 21st of the month. By the 23rd it is said that all the threshing machines in the Salisbury area had been smashed. Wiltshire lost more threshing machines than other counties but the damage to local farming was not severe."

Report and photograph by Danny Howell.