John Taylor: Time machines...

editorial image

Milton Keynes Museum, at Stacey Hill, is a must for anyone wishing to take a trip down memory lane.

And for me it’s always a trip down memory lane, for it was there in the late 1970s that I was tasked with setting up a stores for the northern depot of Milton Keynes Development Corporation, which was then based at the premises.

The museum’s print shop is where the stores used to be (it had a basement in my day), with my office along the corridor adjoining the present tea room. But from one relic of the past to another, for today among the exhibits is a reminder of William Smith, of Little Woolstone.

Born at Church Farm in 1814 he was a farmer and landowner, who achieved great renown for his inventions of steam cultivating machinery.

At this time steam engines were too heavy to pull ploughs across muddy fields, and so William kept the power source stationary and hauled the implements across the land by means of winches and pulleys.

Some of his machinery he exhibited at the Gloucester meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society, and in 1861 he and Edward Hayes, of ‘Watling Works’ fame, held an exhibition of various steam powered farm implements at Stony Stratford.

By 1862 he had attracted 200 customers and through nationwide demonstrations his machinery proved to be a money spinner.

Quite literally in fact, for at Woolstone it threw up a hoard of old coins, including one which bore the inscription ‘Romulus and Remus.’ However, William’s pioneering came to an end in 1877, following a visit by an early trade union leader.

He was Joseph Arch and after the inevitable disputes William turned his acreage over to grass, and bricked up the machinery in a barn.

More recently it could be seen at a museum in Reading, until in July 2004 the items were acquired for display at the Milton Keynes Museum.