Farm life from days gone by
Kate Chapman goes behind the scenes of the historic Village Church Farm Museum in Skegness, which is proving popular as a unique visitor attraction.
Visitors to the popular museum at Village Church Farm can see what life in a Victorian farmhouse was really like, explore a farm labourer’s thatched cottage and marvel at antiquities including a rare steam traction engine.
Run by manager Naomi Walton and a team of dedicated volunteers, Village Church Farm Museum is centred on the town’s oldest property – a Grade II listed farmhouse dating back to 1766.
The site had always been home to a farm up until it ceased working in the 1960s. Now it offers visitors the opportunity to explore its four acres, also home to beautiful gardens, an orchard, a barn dating back to the 1800s and a traditional labourer’s cottage. Steeped in agricultural history, the museum first opened to the public in the mid-1970s and has been giving visitors a peek into Lincolnshire farm life from days gone by ever since.
Naomi says: “This really is a special place. It’s a key part of local history and really unique – there are things here that you’re just not going to find anywhere else!
“The farmhouse is the second oldest building in Skegness, after St Clement’s Church. Records show it was a dairy farm at one point, but we also have newspaper cuttings which tell us that a stonemason once lived here and over time at least 14 different families lived in the farmhouse. It was a big farm, farmed by tenants, but gradually the land was sold off by the Earl of Scarborough as he worked towards turning Skegness into a tourist attraction.”
The farm was sold to Lincolnshire County Council in the 1960s. Formerly known as Church Farm Museum, the council first opened it as a visitor attraction in 1976 as part of the Museum of Lincolnshire Life. The authority withdrew in 2010 and the museum became a charitable trust run solely by volunteers.
As well as the farmhouse, which is actually Georgian, but set out as it would have been in the Victorian era, there are barns and stables full of historical displays, a labourer’s cottage, shop, tea room and a function room on site. The museum also has a campsite available for members of the Camping and Caravanning Club to use.
Naomi explains: “The farmhouse is a large one and is predominantly set out to reflect the Victorian era, as that is what most people recognise and are familiar with. The public get to see the Victorian range in the kitchen, the washroom, the dining room – pretty much everything. It’s a well set out farmhouse.
“We also have the mud and stud cottage that dates back to the 1700s. Withern Cottage was brought over to our site in the 1980s to preserve it. It came from Withern, near Louth, and is perhaps more like the hovel most people would expect farm labourers to have lived in. It looks a bit like a witch’s hut!
“We’ve also got lots of tools and machinery – including tractors and not forgetting ‘Bob’, our rare steam traction engine on display too.”
The engine, built by Richard Hornsby, still works and is believed to be more than 130 years old. It is one of only five such machines remaining in the world, and one of only two in England.
Naomi explains the engine spent many years in Tasmania before it was returned to Lincolnshire, where its refurbishment began. It is hoped that eventually visitors will be able to enjoy the experience of taking the machine for a drive themselves.
The museum hosts a calendar of special events throughout the year, including its popular 1940s weekend in May with displays dedicated to the county’s involvement in the world wars, a civil war re-enactment, a folk music event and this year it held its first May Day event, which proved extremely popular. Naomi says more workshops and exhibitions are in the pipeline for 2024, in order to attract more visitors to the museum, which is one of Lincolnshire’s best kept secrets.
“Last year we had just over 5,000 visitors and this year we’ve already had more than 6,000 people through the doors, so things are on the up, but we’re always looking for ways to bring in more people.
“We hold archery sessions most Saturday mornings, unless they clash with other events. We’re also exploring the possibility of holding blacksmithing workshops, tractor ride experiences and our chairman is a builder by trade, working in the restoration of old buildings. He’s looking into the possibility of hosting workshops around how to build modern stud cottages.
“We want to focus on traditional, heritage skills and get the community involved. It’s all about putting on things that you wouldn’t usually find in this area.”
Naomi is currently working on a textile exhibition for next year, which will showcase some of the other unusual artefacts that have come into the museum’s possession, including a stunning example of a Victorian mourning dress and a wedding dress dating to the 1900s.
The museum is dog-friendly, and the majority of the site is wheelchair accessible – apart from the farmhouse, which due to being listed is prohibited from having a lift installed.
“We’re always looking for volunteers and have a whole range of opportunities available for anyone who is interested in helping out,” says Naomi.
“We’ve got a great team here who are involved in all kinds of things, from working in the tea shop to donning Victorian dress when we have school parties visit. We also have a retired teacher who looks after Bob. He’s happy to teach anyone about mechanics – how to run and drive our traction engine.
“Our volunteers always give our visitors a warm welcome. The museum is dedicated to sharing the story of Lincolnshire farming life. There’s a lot of local history here – we really do have something for everyone.”
The Village Church Farm Museum is open every day except Thursdays. Entry is by donation, although for some events there is a fee. For more information visit churchfarmvillage.org
Photographs: The Village Church Farm