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Serving the community

Our Search for the Stars project to catalogue all of our c.40,000 objects has been highlighting some fascinating objects in our collection. Many of these are being researched for our Fake News in the Age of the Horse exhibition which will travel around East Anglia telling stories of how gossip, news and ideas may have spread across the region before the digital age. Two of our ‘star objects’ in the process of being researched are horse-drawn Booty and Sons milk carts, used from 1923 to 1975 to deliver milk between villages to the northeast of Bury St Edmunds. You can look at the object records for the milk float and milk van here.

Figure 1 – Booty and Sons milk van (STMEA:1988-33) in use with Sandy the horse (Photo: Museum Collection)

John Booty, a forerunner of modern-day milk couriers, would be proud of the efforts of the modern dairy farms in response to the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Note: I am using the term ‘milkman and milkmen’ as familiar historical terms for this job rather than to refer to the gender of those delivering milk.

Milkmen are being inundated with orders and new customers during the current countrywide lockdown. Simply ‘Google’ milkmen and you will see the endless local news articles dedicated to the humble deliverers of milk. The counties of Shropshire, Lancashire and the West Midlands are just some of the locations appearing through a google search.

Although the famous picture of the 1940s blitz era milkman traversing the rubble was staged there is no denying that those providing these services are stalwarts of communities. Historically, milkmen have gone above and beyond for their customers, especially within rural communities where they provided companionship, an open ear and even fulfilled odd handyman jobs[1]. That personal touch is everything, especially in a time where older, and less mobile people find themselves isolated.

No person typifies the endeavour of a community milkman as much as Tony Fowler who was recently mentioned within a BBC article. Tony, whose rounds encompass villages in northern Leicestershire, proudly upholds the fact that over the thirty-five years of his career he has never let his customers down. Tony lists ‘fuel shortages, foot-and-mouth and milk shortages’[2] as just some of the obstacles he has overcome in the past. Tony not only delivers vital goods that people have ordered but checks on his elderly customers, providing a benevolent service beyond his pay grade.

Milkmen deliver locally sourced goods to local people, a pursuit as wholesome as the whole milk they carry. Within Suffolk, companies such as Foulgers Dairy[3] and Byhams Dairy still provide this classic experience. Throughout this period of isolation, local companies have been over-run with requests. The crisis has reignited memories of local people, businesses and products.

Figure 3 – Booty and Sons milk float (STMEA:1988-34) at the Suffolk Agricultural Show (Photo: Museum Collection)

In the modern-day, the juggernauts of retail are the best value choice for many families. However, spare a thought when this is all over for local dairy farms and the people distributing their milk. They offer what the supermarket cannot, a local, personal and adaptable service, which in these times is more important than ever.

– John Reed, Volunteer


Do you remember Booty and Sons? Did they deliver milk to you or someone you know? If so, we’d love to hear from you so we can add it to our records and build a fuller picture around the stories of these fabulous objects. Please get in touch with Curator Kate Knowlden on kate.knowlden@eastanglianlife.org.uk

[1] Ward. A. No Milk Today: The Vanishing World of the Milkman. London. Robinson 2016
[2] Coronavirus: Milkman offers extra help to isolated older customers. 19/03/20. BBC News. Available from:  https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leicestershire-51924665
[3] Farnham. S. ‘Orders through the roof’- What the milkman can deliver to you in the coronavirus crisis. East Anglian Daily Times. 16/03/20. Available from:       https://www.eadt.co.uk/news/coronavirus-suffolk-foulgers-dairy-deliveries-increase-1-6563651


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