THERE is a time to clear out sheds and I’m not sure that this is it. This is not my shed, you understand, but Old Tom’s, and so is a treasury of items so fascinating that they slow the job down because they need to be discussed.
This, for instance, is an old ferret-cope. It is a grooved metal ring with half-bars inside it, made to fit around a ferret’s muzzle with the half-bars inside its mouth, the whole held on with thin twine.
We would not dream of using such a device nowadays, but sixty years ago, just before the myxomatosis hit the south of England, a cope such as this was considered humane in comparison with the alternatives.
It would fetch a decent price as a piece of fieldsports history, but Tom does not want to sell it in case someone tries to use it the old way.
Here is a battered old hunting-horn, copper with a silver mouthpiece and an inscription that you need a magnifying glass to read - and here is the very glass.
It belonged to Tom’s grandfather, who ran a private pack of hounds down here.
Once upon a time, Tom’s shed held the souvenirs of some of these hunts, but the tiny moth succeeds where larger foes have failed, and now we only see some mounted antlers left out of all Tom’s long collection of masks, slots, pads and brushes.
Grandfather’s otter pole, notched all along its shaft and with a brass ferrule at the bottom, nudges for space with antler-topped thumbsticks.
These look well arranged in a brass shell case from the war, now polished smartly, and above them hangs a brace of hunting whips, still with their plaited lashes but missing their thongs.
There is a shelf of jars containing useful nuts, bolts and nails, and a row of old glass bottles, some with a marble in the neck.
Then there is the fossil shelf of the usual treasures you find on the Downs: starfish, ammonites, sea-urchin skeletons, flint arrow-heads, and a single flint knife made so that the rough curve of unworked stone fits easily into your palm, and the dark obsidian blade still holds its edge. There are also two stones with holes right through them, which Tom says are lucky.
On a row of nails above hang the ferreting nets, all hemp hand-made by Tom, showing their age and probably too brittle to use now, but a good example of their kind, and then on longer nails, single and double coursing slips, still well-oiled and with the cord looking as if it has recently been replaced.
Two old racing muzzles share the nail at the end, hanging from straps cracked and old, but once of good quality. Tom knows a little about fast dogs.
The array of traps is not what it once was, because some are illegal to own nowadays and so have been found another home, but still the ones left make a good wall-furnishing, and most have a story or two attached, as do the various digging implements that occupy the nails below.
They date from when such things were made by the blacksmith, and they balance so well in the hand, though those with wooden handles bear the marks of many woodworm, and would probably crumble away from the iron fitments if used. They are history, all too easily lost.
In the centre of the shed lies a pile of more homely detritus, yet to be sorted, and I ask Tom what he thinks we should do with it.
Tom stares for a long moment at the assortment of old coats and boots, and says he thinks we should have a cup of tea. That seems a good idea to me as well.
Clearing out such a treasure-house of a shed is not a job to be rushed, especially as Stanislaus has just arrived and it looks as if he has brought a cake from the farm shop.