The Denny Abbey & Farmland Museum situated just off the A10 a few miles north of Cambridge is well worth a visit, particularly for anybody interested in agriculture and old farm machinery. We were invited to attend the Stationary Engine open days held over the May Day holiday weekend.
The Abbey itself, administered by English Heritage, is a mish-mash of original church and subsequent developments of farmhouse over the centuries but within the shell, the structure is more impressive with many vaulted arches and high ceilings. The separate refectory building is an impressive barn-type structure, which stands empty to view the archaeology uncovered so far, in common with the main abbey.
The stationary engines belonging to the Museum are housed in the site's workshops and are looked after by a trio of volunteers, who also keep a few of their own engines on the premises. We joined another exhibitor from Cottenham a week before to add a little more to the display. On show were Ruston PB and PT (both in original condition), a trio of Lister Ds (with generator, Argosy & Lister water pumps), Wolseley WDII & Fowler P-series engines, plus 3 corn mills, a Kenrick of West Bromwich & two different Corbett examples from Wellington, Somerset.
For a farming museum, there are not many tractors on display, only three to be precise. A grey Fergie takes pride of place at the entrance, a tired Fordson N is close by in the play-area and a nice Farmall M is in one of the barns. However, the implements make up for it, with many horse-drawn items on display. One item that can't be missed is the large sail-reaper in front of the Refectory building, drawing comparisons with the Massey Ferguson combine harvester stored close by.
Some of the implements are gathered together in groups, reflecting their usage. One such group is a selection of machinery used for sugar beet, not only for harvesting but also for preparation of the crop as well. Nearby, there is another selection of horse drawn ploughs and within the large barn are various corn mills, cake mills, chaff cutters, root cutters etc used with stationary engines.
Another common feature of museums of this type is usually a row of period "rooms" or even a cottage as at Church Farm Museum at Skegness. Here we have both with a typical farm-workers cottage with parlour, kitchen and 2 bedrooms, together with a village shop. The "rooms" housed in a row of stables or cow-sheds encompasses the usual wheelwrights, blacksmiths, dairy, etc, but also includes a farm auction and a fen-man's hut looking out over a diorama of reed-beds, reflecting the history of the area.
Unfortunately, of the few visitors we saw on quite a cold & windy day, many seemed to have come just for the abbey and were not particularly interested in the machinery on show. That is a shame as there is plenty to see and the Custodian of the collection made us most welcome on this our first visit.
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