Milk churns

miniature churn
© F H Powell 2009

The term milk churn has become interchangeable for a device used to mix or churn milk into butter and as a large storage vessel used to store and transport whole milk. The mixing vessel is often referred to as a butter churn and the storage vessel as a milk can, but still the ambiguity remains. It wasn’t that long ago that a trip down a country lane could leave you behind a horse and cart carrying milk churns. Today you will most likely end up behind a tanker doing the same job on a faster and bigger scale.

Search the internet today for milk churns and you will find many places advertising authentic churns for sale as the ideal garden planter. The materials used for milk churns developed. Originally wood was used, but as new materials became commercially available brass, tinned iron and, by the 20th century, aluminium were popular. Milk churns are still commercially available for use as a storage vessel but these now tend to be made of Polypropylene or stainless steel. Aluminium ones are also available too but work out to be around two and a half times the price of the Polypropylene variety.

For some of us the memory of the milk churn goes back to the 20th century aluminium can. But the original churns go back over 4,000 years ago. Many cultures were using cow, goat and sheep milk to churn into butter. Here the churn was used as the mixing device rather than for basic storage. By 600 AD wooden churns were in use to store and churn milk into butter. Early farming practices often saw the dairy as part of the farm, but as farming was driven by the agricultural revolution into mass production the commercial dairies developed. By the early part of the 18th century milk churns were commonplace and articles refer in 1718 to the death of ‘Milk maid Joan’ who died crossing the Yorkshire moors in a snow storm to collect milk. By the end of the 19th century in Britain the bulk movement of milk in churns was fully established, with the railways showing dramatic increases in the number of churns carried. By the start of the 20th century the milk churn had becomes big business not only for the farmer but also with thieves. In London the Milk Can Exchange was set up to ‘Restore Lost Cans to Their Rightful Owners’ as reported in January 1901. Sadly the benefits of the milk churn were put to ill use too, and a report comes from 1946 when seven milk churns full of explosives were delivered to the King David Hotel, Jerusalem. The resulting blast killed 91 people.

So whether you want to add a garden planter to your dolls house garden or add a little historical touch to a farming scene visit our web shop