My favourite MEAL object

The museum is due to open for the 2010 season at the weekend and I’m paying the collections a close inspection. I think most curators have favourite objects within their museums. Mine is a gamekeepers van made for the Paul’s estate in Kirton near Felixstowe. Built in the late 19th century the van is rather stately object but it is not for aesthetic reasons that I am so attached to it.

It was made at the Robinsons carriage works in Benhall Green, the village where I live. In fact the carriage works was a stone’s throw from our house and neighbours often find bits of old iron and blacksmith’s equipment when they dig up their gardens in the spring. The works were a considerable enterprise at the end of the 19th century, employing over 15 people. Mary Watson our 86 year old neighbour remembers vividly the carriage works as her father was employed there. Mr Watson held the enviable title of being one of the first people in Benhall to own a car and for many years was the village taxi driver.

Aside from the ‘archaeological remains ‘ there’s no trace of the works in Benhall today. Shut down in the 1950s the only remnant of this rural enterprise is the street name ‘Forge Close’ given to the group of houses which now sit upon the old Robinson’s works. Mary Watson moved away from the village for many years living in Norwich, before returning to Benhall in the 1990s. She now lives in one of the houses on Forge Close on the spot where her father earned his living.

To me the carriage represents the sense of continuity which is so precious to rural communities. Whilst change is inevitable and embraced (especially by young people live in the countryside), small communities have a palpable desire to connect with what has gone before so that they’ll be resilient in the future.

If any readers have stories or photographs of the Benhall Carriage works MEAL would love to hear from you.

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