What’s in the box?

This week’s blog comes from Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse: Museum of Norfolk Life.  Megan Dennis, the curator, enlightens us on a Gressenhall object housed at the Norfolk Collections Centre and the detective work required to find out its history.

Today I have been working in the Norfolk Collections Centre – trying to find out “what’s in the box”? This large green wooden box was discovered during the Shine A Light project, sitting on the social history racking. Unnumbered and unidentified it was feeling pretty unloved.

Fortunately there were several clues to unravel the story of this object. The box, to some extent, “does what it says on the tin”.


There are a number of large white plastic letters screwed onto the box reading “JOHN H BUSH, THE WOODGATE HERD, OF, PEDIGREE LARGE BLACK PIGS”.

Large black pigs are a traditional East Anglian breed. We have some here on the farm at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, including an incredibly cute runt you can read all about on our Skills for the Future blog: gressenhallfw.wordpress.com


So what was the box used for? Putting pigs in?! Well the box is big – but possibly not big enough for the extremely large black pig breed. Although the breed is very well behaved I am not sure the box would be strong enough to contain them.

And anyway the handles didn’t really seem large or sturdy enough to enable anything but the smallest piglet to be lifted in it:


The insides of the box didn’t seem to offer many clues: no stains or straw bedding.


We did remove quite a lot of gravel from the box – not sure if this could help us work out what it had been used for? The hinged section on the left hand side of the photo also seemed important, but remained a mystery – we just couldn’t get our heads around it.

Luckily enough we have a friendly ex-curator – Bridget Yates – who remembered the box! Hooray! Bridget bought the box for 50p from a fund raising event at Bradenham Cricket Club in the late 1970s. She then donated it to the museum.

She explained that the box was used to carry all the pedigree pig beautifying tools required at an agricultural show or competition. This might include: washing supplies, brushes, bucket, hose, boots, sprinkle can, hog hurdles, rags, feed pans, decorations (I would love to see a pig “decoration”), change of clothing, show tools, feed and bedding. The box also made a useful seat for a tired farmer at the end of a long showing day.

It seems that any discerning pig man needs to carry an awful lot of stuff to help him and his pig enjoy all the fun of the fair. No wonder they needed a large box. Having solved the mystery of the unidentified box we are now adding it to the collections here at Gressenhall. It is the only example we have of a pig accoutrements box. After all we all need a box of magic tricks to make our swine shine!

Mystery isn’t completely solved however – we still don’t know who John H Bush is, or where the Woodgate Herd of Pedigree Large Black Pigs was raised. If you think you can help us please do get in touch and let us know.


Megan Dennis

Curator, Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

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