Questions for Learning and Research

The Devon Heritage Centre section of this website is an education learning and research resource linked to the Brian Blakeway Archive at the Devon Archives and Local Studies Centre.

It focuses on Devon buildings, vernacular architecture and changing agricultural practices, recording aspects of how houses and machines developed in complexity.

It hopes to encourage viewers to visit the Devon Heritage Centre in Sowton, Exeter, to see the original illustrations and other material in the Brian Blakeway Archive, as well as all the other material in the centre.

The following two paragraphs by Jo Cox, Devon Buildings Group (DBG) about the ‘goose stuffer’ as shown in the galley on the ‘Animals, People, Machines‘ page, show how research helps us understand the development of agricultural technology and human society more broadly:

‘Poultry-keeping on Devon farms has left relatively little surviving material evidence. There are a few impressive pigeon houses though pigeon holes are commonly found in farm buildings and sometimes in farm houses. It can be difficult to distinguish a purpose-built goose house from a dog kennel. An unusually elaborate example of an unmistakeable goose house at Beetor Farm, North Bovey, was recorded in 1990 by John Thorp of Keystone.  It was built with a stone lined tunnel that exited on the edge of the farm pond, impossible for a fox to cross. The tunnel expanded into a stone-lined goose house, largely covered with turf, which must have made it draught-proof. A stone slab on the top could be removed to pull out a goose when required. Identifiable hen-houses or hen-lofts are rare compared, say, with Kent, where it was possible in the 1980s, at any rate, to encounter the little ramps or ladders used by hens entering a loft over a stable or some other animal house. The agricultural improver, Marshall, was startled and disappointed to find hens unhoused and therefore scarcely managed at all on some Devon farms: ‘Fowls roost in the cool open air; frequently in trees; in a state of nature. The Fowl, in its native woods, probably bred only once a year; and, of course, produced no eggs at any other season; and I think, we may fairly infer, that the nearer they are suffered to approach that state, the less fruitful they will prove (Rural Economy of the West of England, 1796, Vol.1. 273-74).

‘Brian’s drawings of farm machinery for sale at Markstone Farm, Lifton, 1990, included this device, which he identified as a goose-stuffer, in the manner of French equipment designed to enlarge the liver for foie gras. Research by Peter Child with the help of Joan Grundy of the Historic Farm Buildings Group, establishes that this was in fact a chicken-crammer, to speed up fattening. This is a glimpse into what we would consider a rather dark corner of historic poultry-keeping, though probably no worse than aspects of modern breeding and management. Crammers appear to have been introduced into Sussex the 1860s, including commercially available machines by Hearson and by Neve. Lewis Wright, in his The New Book of Poultry, 1902, 104 stated that: ‘a skillful fatter can cram, by either of the machines named, 200 to 300 birds in an hour’ and ‘With ordinary care there is not the slightest cruelty involved’. The machine Brian recorded appears to be a vernacular version of Hearson’s machine, date unknown. Presumably Markstone Farm specialised in producing chickens for the table.’

The following questions aim to provide different ways of looking at the pictures in this archive.

Energy and physics

  1. What sources of energy are shown?
  2. What other sources of energy would have been available?
  3. How relevant are these in the modern world?

Social, cultural, political, philosophical and scientific change

The pictures of Markers Cottage show how the cottage changed as a dwelling and working space between c1450 and c1850. This period, from pre-Tudor to early-Victorian, saw enormous social, cultural, political, philosophical and scientific change. Yet the use and structure of the cottage appear to have changed slowly compared to modern norms.

  1. What were some of these social, cultural, political, philosophical and scientific changes?
  2. Why does the structure of the cottage appear to have changed comparatively slowly?
  3. Was Markers Cottage a typical village dwelling for people between 1450 and 1850?

Relationships between people and animals

  1. What was life like for different groups of people and animals in the past?
  2. In Dartmoor longhouses people lived close to their animals. How might that have affected the relationship people had with their animals compared to modern forms of animal husbandry?
  3. What did animals eat, and how has that changed?