Farm museum holds open day in aid of Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI)

Victorian machinery and old account books give a taste of long-ago farming life at a specialist museum near Alnwick.

A farming and household museum is hosting a special open day this week in aid of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI).

Armstrong’s Household and Farming Museum, at North Charlton Farm near Alnwick, was set up 30 years ago by Sylvia Armstrong and is a private collection focusing on farming and rural life.

Located in traditional farm buildings this interactive museum evokes memories of a bygone era.

The original cart shed is now a traditional farmhouse kitchen, taking the visitor back to when people cooked on a black range. There are traditional scales, pots and pans, biscuit tins and packets.

The stable next door houses areas devoted to dairy, vintage hand tools and many Second World War memories. There is also an archive of farm literature on display going back well over 50 years. Most of this literature includes has links to Northumberland and includes mart catalogues, account books, farm sale and land particulars.

The Victorian parlour displays a collection of ladies and gentlemen’s’ clothing, shoes, christening robes, hats and jewellery.

Sylvia’s collection started very much as a hobby and captures the end of many eras. In the museum’s main room, the former byre, are children’s shoes like Start-rite and there is a wide collection of toys.

Sylvia’s museum collection started back in the day when she was a farmer’s wife living in the Cheviot Hills above Wooler.

She said: “I realised that when people spring-cleaned their homes, moved farms or died, very often they or their families had a sort-out, and what was no longer useful went to the tip or the fire.

“I’m not one to waste anything, so I started to collect these things that people no longer wanted. I never turned anything away, and I always collected the story behind the things I was sent.”

The result is a collection of historical and cultural significance and a primary source of information for historians that covers more than 150 years of rural history.

Sylvia added: “The farm record books speak volumes about how rural business was conducted, and the everyday objects give a moving and immediate insight into how their former owners actually lived.

Elderly visitors find the museum a very moving experience: “It’s wonderful to see the smiles, as forgotten memories of younger, often happier times are rekindled.” But it’s not just the elderly who are gripped – children are fascinated by the toys which the museum has collected which are often beautifully made and in good condition.

“They didn’t have as many things, in those days,” Sylvia said,” but they were made to last, and often more important to the children than the toys bought today.”

The Armstrong collection also contains things from all recent times. There are objects from just the other day, rubbing shoulders with proud relics of Victorian times or from the First World War.

It’s virtually impossible to visit it without coming across something you won’t have seen or used yourself. As Sylvia says: “It’s part of the magic of the collection. There is something here that involves everyone – you would be amazed what pleasure you see on people’s faces as they remember something, or see for the first time how their parents and grandparents must have lived.”

Recognition of the museum’s importance, and Sylvia’s role in collecting and conserving it is well established. She is the proud holder of an MBE, presented to her a few years ago in recognition of her work in building up and looking after so vital a piece of history while at the same time raising significant amounts of money for charity.

There is a natural synergy between what is truly a family farming museum venture and the nominated charity RABI.

Dating back to the 19th Century, RABI provides care and support for farmers, farm workers, farm managers and their families.

Explaining why she and husband Charlie were so keen to open the museum for this important rural charity, Sylvia said: “Over the years we have opened the doors of the museum for individual charities, and as you can imagine, we are delighted that we are supporting a charity in aid of the agricultural community.

“The history of agriculture and farming is exactly what this museum is about, so we really do hope that those who attend will enjoy seeing so many items from farming, family and rural life of a bygone era. ”

Margaret Brown, Northumberland co-ordinator for RABI, and one of Sylvia and Charlie’s daughters, said: “We are delighted that this private museum, which has raised thousands of pounds for charity over the years, is opening its doors in aid of raising funds for RABI.

“This really is a fantastic collection and a real labour of love with one main aim – to ensure that our farming past does not get forgotten in this vastly different age and throwaway society.

“I would like to thank Mum and Dad for giving their time to help raise essential funds, so we can carry on supporting people who need help.”

Armstrong’s Household and Farming Museum will be open on Friday from 11am-5pm. For more information contact either Sylvia on 01665 579443 or Margaret on 01668 281745. The museum is also open every Friday by request for private parties.

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