Milk churn

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Milk churns on a railway platform Locomotive (8101317004).jpg
Milk churns on a railway platform

A milk churn is a tall, conical or cylindrical container for the transportation of milk. [1] It is sometimes referred to as a milk can.



Original type of churn for making butter Churn MET 11967.jpg
Original type of churn for making butter

Milk was originally distributed in 'pails', a lidded bucket with a handle. Often two pails would be carried on either end of a wooden carrying yoke. Once the railways started carrying milk, the pail proved less than ideal as it was top-heavy and tended to spill. Dairy farmers used a tall conical wooden container - a butter churn - to 'churn' the milk into butter, and this proved to be preferable for the railways to transport. It held a lot more milk (about seventeen gallons) and its conical shape made it less likely to spill or topple over. These wooden churns were intrinsically heavy, and starting in the 1850s a steel version was introduced and soon became the standard. The usage of the word 'churn' was retained for describing these containers, although they were not themselves used for 'churning' butter.


As with British Railway Milk Tank Wagons, the milk churn was a standard size; the older galvanised iron conical type held 17 gallons, while the cylindrical type with the mushroom-shaped lid introduced in the 1930s held twelve gallons. Each churn carried a brass plate near the top to identify the owning company and when full it would have a white paper label (tied to the handle on the lid of the conical type and to the side handle of the cylindrical type), which was used for accounting purposes by the creamery or dairy. [2] The use of churns ceased in Britain in 1979. [3] The milk churn was also known as ( Milk Kit ) in the yorkshire dales. The 12 gallon steel churns were later replaced with 10 gallon aluminium alloy churns. Their lids had a small hole in its outer rim for tying the producers label on.

Milk churn stands

Milk churn stand Milk churns on stand, Hollybed Street - - 833701.jpg
Milk churn stand

In Britain, milk churns would be left by dairy farmers by the roadside on purpose-built platforms, or stands, at the right height to be loaded on to the dairy's cart or lorry. They fell out of use when milk began to be collected by tanker from the farm and ceased entirely by 1979. Some stands remain in the countryside as historical features, but most have been dismantled or left to decay. [4] [5] [6]

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Milk churn stand

A milk churn stand was a standard-height platform on which milk churns would be placed for collection by cart or lorry. Some were simple and made of wood, but the majority were built from stone or concrete blocks. They were once a common roadside sight in Britain in areas which carried out dairy farming, but collection of milk churns from stands ceased in Britain in 1979. Many have survived, some being renovated to memorialise the practice, while others have been dismantled or left to decay.


  1. "milk churn - Definition from Longman English Dictionary Online". Retrieved 2013-04-11.
  2. Mike Smith. "Milk - Dairies and Creameries". Retrieved 2013-04-11.
  3. "Hansard, 10 July 1978" . Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  4. Council, Ceredigion County (2005-01-07). "Ceredigion County Council Museum Collection: Milk churn" . Retrieved 27 September 2016.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. Council, Ceredigion County (2005-02-25). "Ceredigion County Council Museum Collection: Milk churn stand" . Retrieved 27 September 2016.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. "People's Collection Wales: Milk churn collection" . Retrieved 27 September 2016.