Culture, Crafts and Communities
Visit Chiltern Open Air Museum on 1 April for our By Donation day and discover how our historic buildings evoke memories for different communities living in the Chilterns.
Anna Pool from the Learning Team writes about how all communities find resonance in our wonderful collection of historic buildings from the Chilterns.
Do you ever go abroad and feel like you are at home in the surroundings? It’s funny how certain environments, buildings or objects resonate with our own personal histories and often visitors to COAM experience this. Perhaps it is because we all share a common experience of everyday life as human beings, despite our age, country of origin, mother tongue, religion or any other factors which can be seen diversive.
Certainly when I first took my Mum on a tour around the Museum I was fascinated by how many memories it brought back for her, particularly the 1940s Prefab. We spent a lot of time in there while my Mum relayed many memories of visits to her Aunt’s Prefab home in the 1950s; of washing clothes in a copper boiler just like the one in the kitchen; of listening to the wireless and of course photographs of my mother, as a baby, being pushed in a pram just like the one in the back bedroom. Sometimes it can be a particular object in a building that holds a personal memory. For me it is the highchair in the prefab’s sitting room which evokes special memories for me, as my Mum had kept a similar one which she used for my brother and I back in the 1970s, and I later used with my eldest child who is now 16. Every time I see it I am transported back in time!
It’s not just visitors from Britain that recognise the economic design of our Prefab. While showing a visitor round recently, I was surprised to hear that she had seen many Prefabs still being used as family homes in rural Russia.
Just next to our Prefab is a Nissen Hut, a military type of building of which there are some examples still around in this area. I have been lucky enough to hear many of our visitors recall memories of their own experiences of these unique buildings.
A similar Nissen Hut was used as a synagogue by the Jewish community in Haversham, near Wolverton, Buckinghamshire during WW2 until it was closed in 1947. The South Bucks Jewish community will be joining us on our opening day at COAM and will be holding their Shabbat service between 10 am – 11 am. Visitors are more than welcome to join the service and I hope to hear one or two stories from the group later in the day!
While running education workshops I often hear both adults and children describe how they have seen or done something very similar in their home countries. The Iron Age Roundhouse seems to be a magical place of memories where visitors describe how their grandmother in India still grinds grain using a rotary quern and bakes her bread in a clay oven just like the one they see in the roundhouse. Others have walked towards the building declaring that they are ‘back in Africa’ where round homes are still built using wattle and dorb with a thatched roof.
Even during ‘wash day’ workshops I have talked with visitors from Poland and Czechoslovakia who used to help their mother wash their clothes using a wash tub and wash board; and then there is the unmistakable smell of carbolic soap which can transport any of us over a particular age, right back to our childhood!
I am sure that as you are reading this you are thinking of a building or an object that you may have seen from our collection that has special meaning for you. Please do come along on Saturday 1st April, to see some of the stories and memories we have collected from local community groups who will be joining us to support this spectacular event. And if you have not yet visited COAM then I invite you to come along to our opening event and find out which building evokes the most memories for you! To mark the opening of the Museum for the 2017 season the 1st April will also be a ‘by donation day’ for this day only we are waiving standard admission prices and allowing visitors entry to the Museum by paying a donation only.
Look out for the West Indian Story teller performing during the day at 12 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm, as well as craft demonstrations with opportunities to join in from 11 am – 4 pm including traditional weaving, Iron Age cooking, basketry and traditional thatching demonstrations in our Medieval barn.
We look forward to welcoming you to our multi- cultural day of sharing stories on 1 April, the first day of our new 2017 season.
This special multi-cultural event is kindly funded by Arts Council England.