On my bookshelf | Steam at Thursford
If there’s one lesson to learn from George Cushing (1904-2003), founder of the Thursford Collection of steam engines, organs and fairground attractions in Norfolk, it’s “think ahead”.
It’s easy to look at everyday objects and not get excited. Their ubiquity can make imagining a future where they sit in museums seem ridiculous – that’s surely how many people felt about steam traction engines in the 1930s when most were sent for scrap.
The internal combustion engine heralded the end for these iron horses; for Cushing, “it was as though the crown jewels were being sold for scrap, and pebbles were worth more than diamonds”.
Steam at Thursford, published in 1982, tells how Cushing set out to preserve these machines, with mechanical organs and fairground rides soon joining his collection. Throughout, you can tell that Cushing didn’t do any of this for money, but because he wanted to preserve the sights and sounds of the rural world he knew. He wasn’t an academic or a historian, but a grafter, self-taught through years of practical experience.
Visits to Thursford played a big part in nurturing my own interest in agricultural and industrial heritage. It makes me strive to ensure that the everyday workhorses in our lives are preserved to tell their stories.
After all, today’s junk might just be tomorrow’s treasure.