Milk Kitting

Mary Taylor
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Milk Wagons

A common sight in the nineteen fifties and sixties were flat-backed wagons carrying kits, sometimes called churns, full of milk to the local dairies. Farmers took their kits of milk to their milk stand to be loaded onto the milk wagon. Many milk stands can still be seen at the side of country roads; smaller producers often shared a stand.

Ken Armstrong and Sam Bargh of Bentham worked on the milk wagons. Ken drove for his father-in-law Jim Millar in 1961; he had two rounds per day in the Lowgill and Keasden areas. He set off every morning with the wagon of empty kits, stopping at each milk stand to swap an empty kit for the heavy stainless steel one containing up to 13 gallons of milk. The farmer had tied a label to each kit with his name and the quantity of milk inside; later these were replaced by lighter ten gallon aluminium kits. At the end of each round Ken drove his full double-decker wagon of 110 to 125 kits, the front ones tied on in two tiers, to Dobson’s dairy at Barnoldswick (Fig. 1). There he backed the wagon up and put the kits off the back, although at most dairies they were put off at the side, onto a roller elevator where workers there collected the labels, took of the lids and tipped the milk into a big vat. The weight of each kit full was recorded to make sure it tallied with what was on the label. It didn’t always as some kits were only partly full, this was short measure. Another problem could be water in the milk which could also be detected at the dairy. After emptying, the kits were cleaned and sterilised ready to be loaded onto the wagon to be returned on the next round; Ken said that they were almost too hot to handle.

If the milk was sour it was rejected and returned to the farmer. One farmer didn’t get up early enough to do the morning milking, so his kit contained the previous morning’s milk which had gone sour. When Ken took this back the farmer’s wife was furious, shouting and swearing at him.

Sam Bargh picked up milk for Libby’s dairy at Milnthorpe in the mid-1960s. Some of the wagons nearer to the dairy had four rounds a day as the larger farms in that area produced more milk, so the driver had to call at fewer farms to fill his wagon. There were many dairies working in the same way in the area, including Ball and Kelsall, and Bees dairy at Five Lane ends which made cheese, and Settle creamery which is still working. On 31st July 1979 collections from milk stands ceased, by order of the Milk Marketing Board. Then the new milk tanker had to be driven to each farm to collect milk from the farms’ refrigerated bulk tanks. The kits were then taken back by the dairy to be melted down.


Milk had to be cooled to stop it going sour. To cool it some just stood the kit in a trough of cold water which wasn’t very efficient. The cooler my father used in Chapel le Dale fitted over the top of the kit with paddles going round inside to stir the milk, and cold water running down the outside. The one we used in Tatham Fells was on the same principle, but there the paddles were hollow with cold water running through them. At Wigglesworth, the cooler there was like a corrugated waterfall; my Uncle heaved the bucket of milk into a tank at the top, the milk ran down the outside of the corrugations which were cooled by water running inside, then the milk ran into the kit at the bottom. There could be problems if the corrugations sprang a leak and the cooling water got into the milk. The first the farmer knew of this was when he was informed by the dairy of water in his milk; he then took the cooler to the blacksmith to be repaired. All the milk was strained through a sile, using sile pads like a disk of cotton wool; some people were known to squeeze the sile pad to get the last drop of milk into the kit.

Before Milk Stands

Before the wagon collections at the farm my Father took the milk kit in the sidecar of his motorbike to Ingleton to be collected. During the 1947 winter he took the kit on a sledge, pulled by our horse Major, over the snow and through gaps he had to make in some walls. He brought groceries back in a flour bag inside the kit. He had to rebuild the walls after the snow. At Wigglesworth my Grandfather, who had several kits, took them with his horse and trap to Long Preston Station to catch the milk train.

Village Farms

In Bentham, Bateman Marshall’s family delivered milk twice a day taking it in a smaller wider kit on a hand cart. The milk was measured into the housewife’s jug using one of the measures hanging from the frame. There were seven local farmers delivering in this way in High Bentham - Marshalls, Charnleys, Masons, Bob Wilcock, Roger Bainbridge, John Capstick and Butterfields as well as three in Low Bentham. The outlying farmers took their kits to the station to catch the milk train.

Milk Kitters Ball

The Milk Kitters Ball was a dinner dance, a very smart occasion held in the Floral Hall, Morecambe in the 50s, with women in long dresses and men wearing white gloves. A beauty queen was chosen at this time, but the event was discontinued. The Ball was revived in the early 1960s; Stewart Taylor, who had a milk round in Lancaster for many years, was chairman from 1979 to 2008. When it was revived it was held in the Ashton Hall Ballroom at Lancaster Town Hall, then in Morecambe at the Strathmore, Headway, BVV, and Carlton before moving to the County Hotel, Carnforth. To begin with the Ball was held on the last Wednesday in November but changed to the Saturday, with more than 500 people attending, dancing the foxtrot, quick step, waltz, barn dance, valeta, gay gordons etc. to bands including the 12 piece Northern Orchestra, the six piece Silver Keynotes and the Willow Band. Proceeds from the Ball were given to charity. The Milk Kitters Ball changed over the years as disco dancing took over and few people connected with the milk industry attended. It moved to Heysham Golf Club in 2013 but was cancelled in 2016 for lack of numbers, so the last connection with Milk Kitting is now gone.


The milk stand shown on the Journal cover is on the side of the B6480, Bentham side of Newby Moor; it belongs to Doug and Kathleen Taylor, and they gave me permission to photograph it. The kits are fastened down and partly filled with concrete to prevent them being stolen.

The photo of the milk wagon (Fig. 1) was taken in 1961 at Dobson’s Dairy, Barnoldswick. It is one of Ken Armstrong’s collection, and he let me photograph it. The chute in the middle was for dried milk powder.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1