Country Life Collection

The granaries on three floors once held thousands of tonnes of grain, and make excellent exhibitions spaces to tell the story of the Ayrshire rural economy of the last century. Their agricultural machinery, hand tools, photographs and documents, let the visitor step back in time. The unique collection of their clothes, both for working in and for best, are distributed throughout the galleries and room settings. The philosophy of Godliness, honest poverty, and hard work, which made them what they were, are comprehensively displayed.

Our country life collection reflects all aspects of rural work and domesticity and is arranged within a number of inter-related themes:

  • The farming year. The work of the farmer through the seasons is represented by a wide selection of farming machinery and tools. These range from large ploughing and threshing machinery to sickles and graips. Activities covered include ploughing, harrowing, fertilising, sowing, and harvesting, and all are explained with interpretation panels.
  • Dairy work: Items illustrating both hand and machine milking are available as well as many related exhibits, especially those referring to cheese and butter making.
  • Poultry work There is a superb collection of prize cards from poultry shows that took place in the last ten years of the 19th century as well as many of the tools of the trade e.g. incubators, egg boxes, mechanical fowl plucker, and utensils that document the widespread practice of preserving eggs.
  • Bee keeping: There is a traditional bee skep and stand, and honey-sieving machine for separating the honey from the comb.
  • Transport: Horse powered and man-powered transport is represented, ranging from pony traps and coup carts, to sledges and penny-farthing bicycles.
  • Laundry work: The exhibits cover all aspects of laundry work, and demonstrate the developments that have taken place over time. There is a traditional Lion cast iron clothes boiler and later electric washing machines and spin dryers. Scrubbing boards, carbolic soap and dolly blues are featured, together with a large selection of flat, box and goffering irons.
  • Crafts and Trades. A variety of crafts and trades are represented in the large collection of tools. These include blacksmith, joiner, carpenter, sawmiller, saddler, shoemaker, cooper, stonemason, road maker, slater, and pattern maker. A number of these are represented by complete tool chests that have been donated by the families of local craftsmen, and larger pieces of machinery are also on display. These include a floor standing morticing machine, a bench mounted hand drill, a cast iron floor standing fretwork saw and an early electric Wolf drill. There is also a very early blacksmith-made bench vice. In addition there is an extensive collection of craft related books and catalogues, and a large number of accounts are available, detailing repairs or furniture sales.
  • Darvel Lace There is an extensive collection of objects originating from Stirling Bros. Lace Mill in Darvel that closed down in 1988. These include sample lace, designers’ patterns, punched cards, company records, letters patent and photographs.
  • Printing The entire contents of David Morton and Son’s Dalry printing studio has been acquired by the museum. This includes an impressive Columbia printing press, Arab-plattan presses, guillotines, and cabinets containing entire collections of block letters and their frames. This collection is currently not on display as there has been no suitable place available, but plans are underway to renovate and display it.
  • Domestic Room settings. Three of the rooms that might have existed in the 19th century Miller’s dwelling have been recreated, plus there is also a representation of an 18th century Cottar’s bothy, containing an outstanding collection of Scottish eighteen century furniture.
  • The 1870’s parlour displays a fine collection of furniture including a stained mahogany dresser with carved and mirrored panels, a mahogany veneered chiffonier, a drop end upholstered sofa, horsehair rocking chair and 4 balloon-back chairs, armchair in black and pink silk, rosewood six-drawer kneehole accountants desk and Palace pedal organ with original stool and user’s handbook. The furniture is complemented by a variety of accessories including brasses, lamps, domes, stuffed birds, clock, ceramics and textiles.
  • The bedroom contains a large ornate double bed of black and pink painted cast iron, a large black stained wardrobe with carved and mirrored panels, a Kilmarnock chest, an oak bidet, an enamelled hip bath and matching hot water jug, a dome topped blanket chest, and mahogany swing mirror. There is an extensive collection of textiles including a turkey red paisley patterned quilt, Ayrshire blankets, embroidered pillowslips, damask towels, a lace-trimmed nightgown and men’s woollen combinations. There is also a pair of black leather boots with original receipt, and numerous ceramics.
  • The Kitchen is fitted out with a large black range with double ovens and upper rack (reproduction), a pine dresser with original black paint finish, 2 large deal tables with fold up leaves, one with traditional porridge drawer, 2 joiner made kitchen tables, a circular knife polisher, and a large ceramic water filter on cast iron stand. There are numerous dishes, pans and utensils that might have been found in such a kitchen, including a rare early slicing machine, and a display of table linen.
  • The Bothy. This illustrates the typical one room dwelling of 18th century lowland Scotland and contains an outstanding collection of period furniture. There is an open cast iron range, a large aumbry with upper cupboard and drawer base, a deal table, a pine settle, a round headed cradle with original paintwork, a hardwood child’s chair, Scots bible chair with drawer and bible shelf, a nursing chair and armchair (both in pine) a large girnal with original paintwork, Press beds and a large pine kist. Pewter plates, wooden ladles and a fiddle reflect the minimal possessions that the cottar might have owned.

We also have an outstanding archive of photographs, drawings, newspapers and records which we are happy to share with visitors. They cover farm accounts, mill and estate records, agriculture, dairy work, uniforms, and of course dress and costume.

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