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Lovingly restored tumbrel rolls again

PUBLISHED: 07:11 16 November 2017

A century year-old horse drawn tumbrel has been restored and is now being used at Gressenhall. Pictured are (from left) Mark Butler-Stoney, Tom Butler-Stoney, John Goldsmith and Richard Dalton. Picture: Ian Burt

A century year-old horse drawn tumbrel has been restored and is now being used at Gressenhall. Pictured are (from left) Mark Butler-Stoney, Tom Butler-Stoney, John Goldsmith and Richard Dalton. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2017

A century-old farm tumbrel that was left to rot at the back of a barn for 40 years is rolling once again thanks to some painstaking craftsmanship.

A century year-old horse drawn tumbrel has been restored and is now being used on the farm at Gressenhall. Picture: Ian BurtA century year-old horse drawn tumbrel has been restored and is now being used on the farm at Gressenhall. Picture: Ian Burt

The tumbrel, or Norfolk tip cart, once played a vital role in the day-to-day running of a Norfolk farm and then provided hours of entertainment giving rides at local fetes.

But hadn’t been seen since the 1970s.

Now, thanks to a farming family with a love of heritage, and a talented carpenter, the vintage horse-drawn cart has been restored to its former glory.

The tumbrel was bought five years ago by brothers Tom and Mark Butler-Stoney from Mileham at auction following the death of North Elmham farmer Robert Bidewell.

A century year-old horse drawn tumbrel has been restored and is now being used on the farm at Gressenhall. Picture: Ian BurtA century year-old horse drawn tumbrel has been restored and is now being used on the farm at Gressenhall. Picture: Ian Burt

“I imagine this tumbrel would have been on his farm all its life,” said Mark Butler-Stoney. “He preserved it until the 1970s but then it fell into a bad state.

“We have a traditional Norfolk farm and one thing I felt was missing was some vintage machinery and when I saw it at auction it just looked like it belonged with us.”

The brothers bought it for £70 but it was “nearly all woodworm”.

Then a chance meeting at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse with well-known Norfolk artist Joe Godderidge and Mark Tasker who together still promote traditional horse-drawn farming methods, set them on the right track to getting it restored. They introduced the Butler-Stoneys to carpenter John Goldsmith from Cromer and he jumped at the challenge.

He restored or rebuilt each section piece by piece and it proved quite a feat of engineering as well as carpentry.

The wheels alone are made from three different types of wood - oak for the spokes, ash for the fellers (round sections of the wheel) and elm for the hubs.

“I knew nothing about making wheels when I started,” said Mr Goldsmith. “I had to make my own tools for the job and adapt ones I already had.

“I wanted to achieve a finish which looked like I had never been there, which is why it is not painted and you can see all the different grains.”

After a blessing by Rev Julia Hemp, Bowler, a 17-year-old Suffolk Punch worked by farm manager Richard Dalton at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse, was given the honour of taking the tumbrel for its first trip.

“I don’t believe anyone has seen a new tumbrel since the 1920s,” said Mr Butler-Stoney, “but this will now be good for another 100 years.”

From agriculture to political history

A tumbrel would have originally been used to cart manure from the livestock sheds and stables to the fields and bring sugar beet or turnips back to the farm.

It was also used during war by artillery units to carry tools and ammunition but during the French Revolution it gained wide celebrity as the vehicle used to bear prisoners to the guillotine.

It was the ultimate insult to be forced to travel in a cart used for manure and became hugely symbolic.

Mark Tasker, who has worked heavy horses for many years, watched the tumbrel’s first trip out behind a horse yesterday.

He said: “It is a fantastic piece of equipment and amazing to think the tumbrel had a huge role in political history.

“It is great how it all came together perfectly to get it restored and we could not have wished for a better day for it.”

The cart is expected to be used regularly at Gressenhall for education days.

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