A VIP Tour of Swinford Museum, Filkins
I did a lot of online local research during COVID lock down, searching for intriguing places off the coach tour trail. I came across an absolute gem, the Cotswold village of Filkins in Oxfordshire.
This quintessential Cotswold village is unusual for its huge stone slabs which border many of the older properties' boundaries. The best way I can describe them to you is that they look like upright gravestones. (Usually Cotswold houses use stone walls as boundary markers). There used to be important quarries here back in the day, so the village must have used their local available asset. Filkins' fine quality stone was used in building some of the colleges for Oxford and Cambridge University.
But what particularly took my interest whilst researching this village, was the mention of a tiny little village museum, Swinford Museum, currently celebrating its 90th year of existence in 2021. The museum is housed in a 17th century cottage, and has a fascinating collection of agricultural, domestic, trade and craft tools. The items have all been loaned and donated by local inhabitants of the village.
The museum has been closed throughout COVID, but is now opening up for the winter season with a special Victorian Christmas display. A delightful lady called Diane curates the exhibition. I went to meet Diane for a preview of the museum's Christmas display.
Inside, the room is set up for a Christmas celebration, with handmade filled stockings around the fireplace and a table laid for dinner.
It is simple and utterly charming, and tells the story of Cotswold rural life in the Victorian period. I highly recommend a visit here.
I think what I loved most about this place is that you can walk into an actual little cottage from the 17th Century, where very little has been changed. Admittedly, the roof used to be thatched and is now tiled, but the inside is simple and authentic, and there aren't many places like that nowadays which haven't been smartened up, that you can actually go and visit.
Next door to the museum is the tiny and basic village lock-up. Conveniently located near the old pub for those days when the village constable would confine the drunk and disorderly until they had sobered up. Diane told me that the spouses of those imprisoned would come the following day to bring food and drink to pass through the grills of the prison door. Then the prisoner would be made to walk to Burford to face the Magistrate. That's a 1hr 30min walk, which I imagine would help to clear a sore head.
Diane kindly opened up to let me see inside.
A display of vicious-looking ancient animal traps are hung on the walls and floor, which tell a horrible tale of the past. In addition to these are some farming implements and a few old tools to complete the display.
A strange old figure sits in the back corner, the village prison dummy, who adds to the lock-up's irresistible creepiness.
If you find yourself going to Filkins outside of the Museum's opening hours, it is definitely worth contacting Diane to see if she can open up especially for you. She has a wealth of information about the village, and brings it all to life. All the locals greet her warmly, it's that kind of a place.
The Cotswold Woollen Weavers shop and museum is also located in Filkins. A visit there and to the Swinford Museum combined with lunch at the village's Five Alls pub, and you have a very lovely afternoon planned. Alternatively, you could just book yourself onto a Cotswold Teacup Tour, and I'll take you there myself!