Take a Trip Down Memory Lane
PUBLISHED: 12:33 09 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:26 20 February 2013
There's an innocence and uniqueness about Oakham Treasures that makes it quite right that it should describe itself as a 'museum' in inverted commas. It is a vast collection of obscure objects and memorabilia that together make up a kind of museum...
Oakham Treasures in Portbury, near Bristol, has been created by Keith Sherrell, a 5th-generation Westcountry farmer with a lifelong passion for collecting memorabilia from days gone by.
From stuffed deer heads to a dentist's treadle drill, from hundreds of blow lamps to old boots, from children's toys to milk bottles, it's all here, including my personal favourite - a tin of oil for massaging dogs! As Keith says, "You won't have a clue what you've seen when you walk out of here, there's too much!"
The story really begins in the 1960s when Keith was dealing in farm machinery. "I tended to do a bit more buying and a bit less selling, and it just rolled on from there," he confesses. "Collecting is something I've been doing for years and years - too long to remember - a lot of people said that it ought to be open to the public and not just be something for us to stick in the shed at the back."
The museum has two parts, offering a unique snapshot of retail and farming history. The agricultural section of the collection is dominated by a massive display of about 60 old and vintage tractors, from a 1919 Fordson to a Massey Ferguson of 1976, but other big names like John Deere, Allis Chalmers and Titan are included. Polished and shiny, it's like passing through a history of modern farming.
Also in the main tractor shed is an antique grocery van, an American fire engine dating back to 1920, complete with wooden wheels, and a small group of mini lawnmowers.
Other farming machinery on show includes a set of engines for water pumps and a huge batch of sheep-shearing equipment. Moving on to the second shed, there are bicycles hanging from the ceiling to maximise the space.
The retail side is largely presented through a series of mock-up old-fashioned shops: a haberdashery, pharmacy, off licence, hardware store, confectionery shop and grocery store. Many of the packaged food and confectionery items are unopened and so still include their contents - probably best left uneaten by now!
Oakham Treasures is a truly bizarre but wonderful form of farming diversification that offers a unique snapshot of the way we used to live
The sea of never-ending items on display in huge glass cabinets does not end with the shops. The unsuspecting visitor is confronted with a mass of oddities ranging from famous toys to shoe-cleaning kits, sports racquets to Christmas decorations and weighing scales to cameras. Not forgetting an impressive collection of 40 old post boxes and 1,500 enamel signs lining the walls.
Visitors from Somerset can go in search of local brands, such as Fry's, Babycham, Wills Tobacco and Harvey's Bristol Cream, but exhibits come from across the country and even include pieces from Europe and elsewhere. Some of it is rare and some of it unique.
Keith is surprisingly modest and perhaps a little blas about his achievement. He and his three farm staff, without any external input from design experts, have turned their hands to being museum curators admirably. The Oakham Treasures is now run by himself, his wife and three daughters. Keith claims that he is not really a nostalgic person but concedes that people used to take more care when creating a product in days gone by. Nor will he admit to having a favourite object. "It's gone beyond the stage of favourites; there are just too many items," he says.
Many of the bits and bobs have been bought through job lots at auction but it is also a very modern collection in that quite a lot has been obtained via the internet. "eBay has had its fair share out of me. The only thing I don't like about eBay is that you can't kick it, feel it and pick it up - I do prefer a proper auction; an auctioneer, and a wet day when there are not too many other people there."
There's been a farm shop at Oakham since 1990 but Oakham Treasures has only been open to the public since July of this year. Already Keith has been pleased by the response. "The reaction has been absolutely marvellous. I've not had a bad word about anything. The more people I speak to, and after reading the visitors' book, it's probably beginning to sink in that it is a bit unique."
So, with five sheds packed full of oddments, will Keith now be able to control his acquisitive habit? "Probably not," he admits. If there's a bargain out there he'll be after it and will try to squeeze it in somehow.BY MALCOLM RIGBY
Oakham Treasures, Portbury Lane, Portbury, Bristol, BS20 7SP, is open from Tues to Sat 10am-5pm. www.oakhamtreasures.co.uk