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Shugborough Hall

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Shugborough Hall Park Farm

The farm is still a functional farm with sheep and Longhorn cattle.

The park farm was built by Thomas Anson as a model farm for other farmers and landowners to visit and perhaps copy.
The house, therefore, had to be of some status and quality. Its architect, Samuel Wyatt, was also employed on many other projects at Shugborough, and had already built perhaps the most famous farm building in the world, the Great Barn at Holkham, the Norfolk estate of Anson's father-in-law.

Entrance hall
Wyatt did not start from scratch, he had an existing building to adapt. He took
some care over this - giving the front elevation symmetry, and inserting an elegant if modest central staircase. Just how elegant you can see by standing in the well of the staircase and looking upwards. He also provided an expensive floor to the entrance hall - not of local stone, but of limestone known as Hopton Wood Stone, from Wirksworth in Derbyshire, which he also used in the main house at Shugborough.

Almost certainly the hall would also have housed a good quality longcase clock. Our example is from the collections of Welsh Folk Museum, St Fagan's and was made by Thomas Evans of Denbigh.
The Kitchen.

This was the heart of the house, where food was cooked and eaten, and gossip exchanged. Elizabeth Wheelock and her maid worked long and hard, in front of the massive open range. Many houses at this time had a simple barred gate which could only be used to boil and roast. Old fashioned isolated households might still have a 'downhearth', an open fire designed for burning wood rather than coal. But in the 1800s Shugborough Park Farm was held up as a model enterprise, so we have fitted it with a fireplace
which represented the very latest in cooking technology.

In 1789 Thomas Robinson took out one of the earliest patents for a fireplace which offered a 'range' of facilities - a hob for a kettle or pan, an open fire for boiling cauldron, a spit for roasting and the real innovation, a small side oven for baking. It is this fireplace which our museum technicians have rebuilt.

We could not find a surviving example of Robinson's range to copy, so as a basic pattern we used a simpler grate lent to us by the Judge's Lodging in Nottingham. This earlier grate consisted of no less than 53
pieces. From these our technicians made wooden patterns, incorporating Robinson's innovations as described in the original patent paper.

Craftsmen at Ironbridge Gorge Museum then cast all the pieces in iron, and eventually we were able to install it. We also dug down in the front of the fire to make an ash pit, a hole into which the finer ashes were saved for use in the earth closets of in spreading on the country tracks. When we began to dig, we were exited to find the original pit! Finally we copied the mechanism of a clockwork spit lent by the Castle
Museum, York. The range may have been of the latest design 200 years ago, but it is far from perfect. The box like side oven has no internal flues and so heats from only one side.

The chimney has always been a smoker and was probably much cursed by Elizabeth, who would have used both wood and coal as fuel. We have tried to improve the performance of the flue in order to constrict the throat. It would have helped considerably to have the fire lit all the time, as this would have increased the draw of the chimney.

Meat store and stillage. Originally there was a meat safe here, where meat and other consumables could be kept cool, free from flies and other pests. The salting sink is in the back room or 'stillage'. Preserved fruit and jams were an important part of the household economy, but were kept in stoneware jars rather than glass bottles. Glass bottles were known much earlier for beer, spirits and wines, but they were too expensive for preserves. Stoneware jars were sealed with solidified fat (for jam) and dried cow or pig bladders (for pickles).

The staple drink for the household was beer, brewed in the brewhouse near the mill. Mst was fairly weak, but strong ale was drunk on special occasions. We do not know whether the farm also made cider, but small quantities were made in the area. The cider press shown here was used just a couple of miles down the road at Bishton Hall.

The Back Kitchen

The back kitchen or Scullery saw much of the hardest work for Elizabeth's servant. A number of features were built in here: A stoneware sink, probably fitted with a hand pump. A small hob grate for heating small
quantities of water and providing general warmth. In between these a small independent furnace and copper boiler, for heating water and washing. These were fairly new labour saving devices in the days of Elizabeth Wheelock. It would be heated with a stick fire and used for boiling whites after they had been soaked and scrubbed.

In Elizabeth's day, a weekly clothes wash was still uncommon, thought the idea was shortly to catch on as the Victorian housewife came to grips with ever increasing availability of cheaper cottons and linen. In
1800, however, the servant would probably wash once or at most twice a month. She would have used some soft soap and hot water, but would still have relied heavily on cold soaking the wash in lye. Lye was an alkaline liquid made from steeping wood or bracken ash in rain water. It was a very strong cleansing liquid which damages unprotected hands very quickly.

A brick built bread oven, or wall oven. These were standard fixtures in houses or cottages of any size and were a very economical way of providing a damp heat needed in bread baking.

The fire of sticks or heather was lit inside the domed chamber, and the door left open to provide a draught. The smoke either came out into the room or in some cases slipped up a flue built into the front of the oven. Like this one many ovens have a 'tell-tale', a special brick set into the back which turns a different colour when the right heat has been reached. Our 'tell-tale goes black because it was made with no lime. Then the fire and ashes are raked forward and fall down the front slot. The door is shut firmly. The oven takes nearly two hours to heat and the bread takes from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size of loaf.

Water for washing up had to be heated in a huge cauldron set over the fire; when ready this was lifted down, the black sooty bottom would mark only the floor, and the pots were washed in it. Soap was expensive, so hot water, fine sand, twigs and finger nails were used.

The Parlour

The farm had plenty of visitors and the moor important would be welcomed down from their horses and carriages, through the front door and into this room - perhaps for a drink of sherry, madeira or strong ale.

The room would have been Elizabeth's pride and joy, for there she kept her best possessions. Though not
rich the Wheelocks would have been able to afford a few luxuries - decent furniture and an occasional item of decoration such as an oil painting. Silhouettes or watercolour sketches of the family were cheaper, and easier to make at home. Tableware would have been ceramic, but their older pewter ware would be kept for decoration and occasional use.

Most work was done during daylight hours. The only artificial light was from candles. In this room these might be carefully hoarded beeswax candles bought in Stafford. In the kitchen and other work areas they would be home-made wax or tallow dips.
Fashionable if sensible clothes were also within their budget. This was made possible at least for Elizabeth because of the fashion for light-weight cotton dresses at the end of the 18th century. Not only was fabric cheaper to buy than rich silks, but the styles were simple to cut out and sew at home. Upstairs is the servants bedroom

The Dairy

The dairy was used to produce the estate's butter and cheese (cheese press left). This was not only used on the estate but also sold at local markets. The Shugborough butter was marked with a diagonal pattern on top to denote it was produced on the estate. To make the cheese, the milk would be heatedand rennet added to separate it into curds and whey. The whey would be drained off and the curds cut into small pieces before being placed in a mould. The mould would then go into the cheese presses to squeeze out
the remaining whey for three days. They would mature in six weeks.
The original estate dairy was sited on the ground floor of the Tower of Winds.

History of the mill

Before 1800 Records show that there has been a mill on this site for at least four hundred years. In the late 1500s the mill appears to have been used for fulling - a process by which newly woven cloth is pounded by hammers in a solution of urine and mud known as fuller's earth. The cloth then shrinks and thickens and becomes more restistant to water.

Between 1659 and 1670 the mill, which was owned by Lord Paget, was converted from fulling to paper-making and appears to have continued producing paper until the end of the 18th century. In 1799, however, Thomas Viscount Anson bought the mill and surrounding land with a view to building a new home farm for the Shugborogh estate.

Milling at the Park Farm
From estate records it is not clear whether Thomas Anson demolished the paper mill to make way for the
Park farm or whether it was incorporated within the new buildings. What is certain is that, by 1809, a corn mill was in operation at the farm producing 'stone flour' for the Anson household. Several years later in 1827, an account of Viscount Anson's establishment at Shugborough shows that a Thomas Pickering was employed as a miller at the farm, for which he was paid £39 per year.

Little else is known about the mill during the 19th century, although it is thought that the old wooden water wheel was replaced by an iron wheel between 1850 and 1860. The mill was last used in the 1940s when
tenant farmers on the Shugborough Estate were allowed access for grinding, pulping and chaff-cutting between September and March each year. During the 1960s the water wheel was removed and the mill became derelict.

Restoration of the mill
During the 1980s a decision was taken to restore the mill to working order. All that existed of the old mill fittings were the original shafts, the crown wheel, the stone nuts, two pairs of mill stones, a sack hoist and a
flour dresser. The water wheel, spur-wheel and pit gear were missing, the overflow and culvert were blocked, the millpond was filled with debris and the wheel pit had been filled with concrete.

The task of restoring the mill was both lengthy and expensive and involved diverting the supply to the mill pond, draining and dredging the pond, repairing the mill-race, installing a new overflow and clearing the culvert. To get the mill-gear into working order a new wooden water wheel was built and installed in-situ. New cast-iron pit and spur wheels were made, a new wooden axle was cut and the two sets of millstones
were dressed.

Today the mill is fully restored and working much as it would have done in the late 1820s when Thomas Pickering was miller.

Water Wheel Facts.

The mill pond has enough water to drive the mill for 2 hours. The miller then has to wait until the pond refills via the Sherbrook stream off Cannock Chase.
The wheel is 18 feet in diameter and 5 feet wide. Working off an 11 foot head of water, it develops 8 horsepower.

There are two pairs of stones: French burr stones on the up stream side for flour production, and millstone grit peaks or greys for grinding barley for animal feed.

The water mill at Shugborogh is used today as an integral part of the farm producing flour and animal feed.

Corn Dolly's Origins.

The corn dolly's origins are ancient. Variations of it can be found all over the world.

Farmers used to believe that the spirit of th Corn remained in the last sheaf to be harvested. This had to be preserved to ensure a successful crop next year. Often the last sheaf was made into a Corn Dolly, Harvest maid or Mother of Earth to hold the spirit of the corn over the winter.

It is thought that the earliest type of corn dolly is the cornucopia or Horn
of Plenty. The Neck or traditional dolly found in Britain is a variation of this form. Over the centuries more elaborate types developed, particularly in the East of England.

During the last century farming methods and machines were developed. Superstition became less important when these new agricultural techniques helped to ensure more reliable harvests. The corn dolly and other harvest rituals died out.

In the last 40 years corn dolly making has been revived. Now they are made as ornaments and have lost their original meaning.

Harvest Traditions.

"Harvest home, harvest home,
We have ploughed, we have sowed,
We have reaped, we have mowed,
We have brought home every load,
Hip, hip, hip, harvest home."
(traditional harvesting song).

Harvest celebrations and rituals varied in different parts of the country, and even between farms in the same village. But some of these traditions existed throughout the country.

The workers would elect a Lord of the Harvest to organise the bringing in of the corn.

The last sheaf or 'neck' would be tied and all the workers would stand in a circle and throw their scythes at it. This meant that no one person was responsible for cutting the last sheaf, which was considered unlucky. This act was accompanied by a shout to let the neighbours know the harvesting was successful. This was known as 'crying the neck'. The neck was often made into a corn dolly.

The harvest procession with the last load back to the farm was loud and colourful. In the evening the harvest supper took place, a great celebration of a successful harvest. A corn dolly would be present throughout.

The corn dolly was kept in the farmhouse until next year's crop had been sown. It was then broken on the field to make sure the spirit of the corn made the next crop grow.

Although the corn dolly and harvest traditions are pagan in origin, these rituals were gradually absorbed into the Christian calendar. These celebrations are now preserved in church harvest festivals.

Making a Corn Dolly.

The Straw
Modern wheat varieties have short, solid brittle stems to enable combine harvesters to work effectively. It is not possible to make corn dollies out of this straw.

The straw needs to be pliable and tough. It needs to be hollow so that a new straw can be inserted to extend the length. It also has to be specially grown and scythed by hand, as combine harvesters damage the straw.

Wheat is most often used, but corn dollies are also made from rye and oat straw.

Plaiting and braiding

Most dollies are made by plaiting the straw.
Only the top of the straw is used, between the ear and the top joint. Before use it is dampened ('tempered') in hot water for about an hour. This makes the straw more pliable.

To make a traditional dolly or neck about 150 straws are needed. About 80 of these are used to make a cigar-shaped core (A). A 5 straw plait is then woven around the solid core (B). This gives the dolly its familiar spiral pattern. At the end of the core the plait forms a length of briad which is bent round to form a loop (C). A number of corn heads are inserted at the opposite end to finish the dolly (D).


Most types of corn dolly are decorated with a ribbon bow.
The colours are traditional and have their own meanings.

White is for purity
Blue is the colour of the corn flower, and also stands for truth.
Red is the colour of the poppy and the blood of sacrifice.
Yellow represents the sun and ripe corn.
Green stands for fertility and new growth in spring.

1 - Dock Lifter. This tool was used to lift out weeds with large tap roots, such as docks and thistles. Tools such as this were often carried by the farmer while walking the land. Using the foot rests, the prongs are thrust down either side of the weed's stem. The whole plant, including the root, is then levered out of the ground. Other farming machinery.
Hay Kicker. About 1900 The hay kicker was used during the haymaking process. As it was pulled along it would flick the cut grass ensuring it would dry evenly to make good quality hay. The manufacturer is unknown and it could be a British made model, or possibly an 'osborne' kicker made by the International harvester Company. The donor remembered it being used by his father at Roewen, Conway, north Wales around 1905, and it was later used in the Stafford area. Originally horse drawn, it has since had a tractor drawbar added.