Shirburn Model Farm


Engine house. Date 1856 on spandrels of the Covered Way, by William Wilkinson for the Earl of Macclesfield. Flemish bond brick with flared headers and diapering; double-gabled Welsh slate Roof; central Ridge Stack finished in Engineering brick.  The plan has Covered Way Left of centre with Sawing Shed and Carpenters’ Workshop to Left and Engine Room, Boiler House, Thrashing and Chaff-cutting Rooms to Right. 2-Storeys; 4-window 1st floor Range.  Covered Way has cast-iron Spandrels under Wall Plate. Gauged-brick chamfered segmental-Arch over double-entry to left: similar flat-Arch over partly blocked entry to Right. Similar segmental-Arches over 1st-floor casements. Interior: Base and some Driving-wheels and Belts survive of Steam-driven Sawmill to Left.  Remains of Chaff-cutting & Threshing machinery to right include mid 19thC 12HP Steam Engine by Ruston (nameplate).  Ruston, Proctor & Co was established in Sheaf Ironworks, Waterside SouthLincoln, England in 1857, and were Manufacturers of Steam Tractors and Engines. They later became Rustons and then Ruston & Hornsby.
Subsidiary Features; Buildings attached to Right and making T-plan consist of Woolstore/Granary over Cartsheds at ends flanking central Sheaf Room and Processing/Storage Block Main Front (to Right): long 2-storey Central block has 3 central Gabled Bays with chamfered segmental-Arched 2-light casements above central/mid 19thC sliding door: similar sliding doors in long outer Bays.  Flanking 5 and 4-Bay Cartsheds have chamfered Archways and chamfered segmental-Arches over horizontal sliding sashes; Right Gable End has external steps with Bell over Doorway to Granary. There was a Nickyard to the rear of the Engine House. Wilkinson designed similar Farm Buildings at Longleat, Wiltshire and Kirtlington, north of Oxford. The Buildings at Home Farm were highly praised, in particular “the several purposes for which steam-power is made available – viz. for thrashing the corn of the farm, cutting the chaff for the horses and cattle, crushing oats and beans, grinding corn, drawing water from a deep well to supply a cistern from which the water is conveyed by iron piping throughout all parts of the homestead, and also for sawing timber….“.


The 6th Earl of Macclesfield owned the Estate, and he had a reputation as an experimental Farmer.  In 1856 he erected these Factory-like buildings which earned the Farm its current name – Model Farm.   Oxford-based William Wilkinson, Architect designed Home Farm on the Shirburn Castle Estate, built in 1856–57.  The innovative Buildings included Covered Yards which provided dry and healthy accommodation for Cattle with a System for collecting and storing Manure.  There was a herd of Devon Cows and a flock of South Down sheep. Around 50 acres of land was irrigated as a Water Meadow, which was said to rival Blenheim Park.  The Farm also made extensive use of Machinery and Steam Power.  The Engine House contained a 12HP Ruston Stationary Steam Engine.  This provided Power for a combined Threshing & Winnowing Machine, a Chaff-machine, a Mill for grinding Corn, a Machine for crushing Oats and Beans, an Oilcake-crusher and Sawing-machines.   People came from all over the Country to see the Farm, and it was featured in the Illustrated London News in 1857.  The article concluded:
“We must not fail to remark the very excellent example the Earl of Macclesfield has set the Landed Gentry by so practically and usefully placing before them the result of his experience and knowledge in this set of Buildings, and we hope many Gentlemen Farmers may be disposed to follow it.”


The Edwards Family lived at Model Farm from 1953 to 1957.
We went to Chinnor School, my brother Stuart went to Lord Williams, Thame. My mother Phyllis started 1st Shirburn & Lewknor Brownies and was Captain of 1st Watlington Guides when Lady Valerie Parker was District Commissioner.  She also sang in Watlington Church Choir.  My father Ben was Farm Manager, in his spare time he was a Special Constable. I have 3 sisters, Priscilla, Kathryn and Bridgid. Our grandmother Daisy Sturt lived with us.  My memories of that time are swimming in the Corn in the Corn Stores and sliding down the Grain Shutes in the Dryer.  Also putting the Chains on the Sacks of corn so they could be lifted up on the Winch to the top floor of the Building.  Sheep Dipping in the dip by the Dutch Barns. walking with Dad at night during Lambing time to check everything was ok.  Having loads of Lambs living in the kitchen if their mothers could not raise them and bottle feeding them.  The Tractor Shed was opposite our House and the Drivers had to take the Exhaust Pipes off because they stuck up in the air and could not go under the arches to get into their allotted spaces. I also remember that the Workmans Lobby was nearby and we used to drink their cold sweet tea from Corona bottles which they brought to work with them, 2 of them were the Coles brothers.  We lived there when the Road to the Farm was Tarmaced, very posh, most Farms still had a mud or stone track leading to them. I was naughty and wrote all our Family names and birthdays on the Tarmac with Chalk and Mum made me carry a bucket of cold water to the place and scrub the Road.  I often wonder whether she knew that the next shower of rain would have washed it off!  I expect it was good for my soul or something.  We had to make a May Day Garland for School every year and Janet Tuckwell whose father was the Gardener at the Castle always won, I wonder where she got her Flowers from. My brother spent many an hour putting things on the Railway Line and waited for the train to squash them flat.  On the way home, he would buy sweets from the Shop which were used as Prizes for games of Monopoly which he always won. 

OS Map Britwell; Cuxham with Easington; Pyrton; Watlington & Shirburn – 1922

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