WHEN Francis Wilson was a small boy he discovered a fascination for treasures he dug up.

He found a wealth of old chipped china, some tiny bottles and old toys.

Marton born and bred Francis said that because there were old rubbish holes buried throughout the district a concentrated bit of digging would always produce a treasure or two.

"And I loved to dig."

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He discovered antique flower-patterned teacups, chipped saucers, old china toothpaste containers, pottery pickle jars. All sorts of old and beautiful artifacts, he said.

As a boy he also carefully collected old matchboxes and a variety of small tins, but as a young adult he discovered the beauty of old bottles.

"I was digging out a gatepost one day, and I heard a clunk and I dug up an old bottle that had had a glass marble in it.

"Kids used to love those old marble bottles because the marbles were the best you could get. They were indestructible."

Today Francis, 71, is retired and living in what is believed to be Marton's oldest cottage, Kendrick Cottage, built in 1863.

"James Kendrick came out from Britain in 1856. He built this cottage, beautiful kauri timber, and he and his wife, Mary, had 10 children here. Hard to believe, isn't it? It's not a very big house."

Francis worked for the Rangitikei Catchment Board for years. The board, formed in 1945, took on the duties of Regional Water Board in 1968 due to the Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967. From April 1, 1972 the Wanganui Catchment District came under the boards.

"I got very tired of it all and took the job as caretaker at Marton School and loved every minute of it. I never looked back."

Francis was an old boy of Marton School and Rangitikei College and said even now he could walk downtown and have some large chap call out "Hello, Mr Wilson".

"I never know who it is, because they were probably a very small boy when I last saw them rushing around the school grounds."

Francis now has a collection of more than 3000 antique bottles and jars, all in perfect condition. And that's not taking into account all his precious collectibles.

To display his bottles he's built a round wooden building in his back garden. Rows upon rows of gleaming bottles line the specially built shelves.

The array is mesmerising.

A few weeks ago the community tour Marton Man Sheds was organised, and Francis' house and shed were on the viewing list.

Viewers loved his collections of antique china, books, bottles, old meccano sets, NZ Railway cups, essence and perfume bottles, school slate boards and slate pencils, and Victorian shoes.

"There was something for everyone. They all loved my old house."

Some of the men who took the tour raced home and brought their wives back for a look, he said.

"Well, there is something for everyone. Lovely old dolls, paintings, and the pretty china jars that face cream used to come in, old teapots and china plates."

His array of beautiful china lids used to close jars are like delicate paintings and Francis has them displayed in a special place of their own.

"They are very pretty, aren't they?"

Francis said he supposed his place was now actually a museum, because there were so many antiques crowding every room. "I love people to visit. I've even had bus tours from the Wairarapa."

Outside, the gardens are filled with with fruiting vines and trees, large vege gardens, wood piles (ready for winter), his bottle house and even an old red phone box from Mangamahu.

"I make all my own jam, and I will be bottling a lot of winter cole pears this year."

He said it was a shame the regional antique bottle collectors' clubs had finished.

"I really enjoyed going to the bottle club. There are still bottle collectors' clubs in the cities, but that's a bit far for me now."