Denny Abbey and the Farmland Museum can be found in Waterbeach, six miles north of Cambridge. The Abbey is a partly ruinous building with a fascinating history and is cared for by English Heritage. The Museum, which grew out of a local schoolboy's collection, occupies adjacent farm buildings. Although some people might skip around in half an hour, I spent a full two hours wandering through and look forward to making a return visit.
The World Of Work
Lets look at part of the museum first, just because that was the way I went around.
We start off by visiting a number of outbuildings which each look at an aspect of rural life in the Fens and the villages of the Fen edge. As you enter some of the buildings audio recordings spring into life. No music or any fancy editing, just the steady country voices of local people talking about what they know best.
Willow trees are plentiful in the area and basket-making has long been an important cottage industry. Baskets can serve all kinds of purposes but what on earth is that weird contraption on the extreme left of the picture? That's a real local speciality; it's an eel-hive, used for catching eels. It is baited with worms and submerged in the watercourse. The eels are enticed into the trap and sharp inward-facing spikes prevent their escape.
More information about eel-catching could be heard from the recording of the old-timer in the fenman's hut next door. There was also a fine collection of drainage tools hanging on the wall. Each of these spades has a specific use - the long, narrow one, for example, is used to dig a narrow channel to lay drainage pipes.
A little further along was this reconstruction of a dairy with butter- and cheese-making implements. There was also a fine collection of old milk bottles on the shelves.
In the old threshing-barn there were displays of tools connected with the various crops which were important in the locality. And what a magnificent old barn it was too!
Outside were more agricultural implements like this McCormick tractor, probably made at the McCormick/International Harvester factory in Doncaster, England, maybe some time during the 1950s.
Nearby was an old Massey Ferguson combine with an 8ft cut - tiny compared to some of the monsters in the fields nowadays.
Many other agricultural implements were scattered around amongst the buildings, but around the back of one of the buildings was a wheelwright's workshop. There was so much gear in here that it was probably much more cluttered that any craftsman's premises would ever have been. As a photographic subject however it was fascinating. So I'll leave you with some pictures....
I'll be back in a day or two with pictures of some more domestic scenes - the interior of a village shop and a 1940's farmworker's cottage.