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Spooky Halloween Spectacular Attracts Thousands of Visitors!

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Halloween Fancy Dress at Chiltern Open Air Museum


Our Halloween Spectacular on the 31st October 2014, saw over 2000 people visiting the Museum in lots of fantastically creative, and spooky Halloween costumes. Visitors watched in awe as our fire breather entertained the crowds with his fire poi and his heated fiery breath! Herne the Hunter on horseback wowed the crowds and played games with younger visitors. Children decorated their own trick-or-treat bags, made scary masks and puppets and made delicious spiders. Screams could be heard from visitors who were brave enough to take on the ‘Spooky Walk’ as our ‘Scarers’ jumped out at them. The Mad Hatter and his tea party guests, spooked and enchanted visitors as they stoically entered the walk to cries of ‘Off with her head!’ and if we do say so ourselves, the volunteers and staff played their character roles superbly. Bats, spiders and ghosts haunted the site and the Museum’s apple store was simply electrifying!


Fire breather at Chiltern Open Air Museumfire breathingfire poi


This was a hugely fun, scary and successful event, thank you so much to everyone who emailed and messaged with such lovely feedback, and thank you for all the great suggestions for next year’s Halloween. This event could not have been so ‘Spectacular’ without the hard-work and creativity of all of our wonderful volunteers, so a big thank you to all of them. Make sure you put our 2015 Halloween Spectacular in next year’s diary!


Spooky mad hatters tea partyHerne the hunterChildren in Halloween fancy dresshalloween event fancy dressfamily visiting halloween spectacularspooky halloween windowHalloween witch

Lots more images can be found on the Museum’s Flickr stream.



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New 1970s Room at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Red Rum wins the Grand National for the third time; ABBA spend five weeks at number one with ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’; Elvis Presley dies aged just 42; street parties up and down the country celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.




The year is 1977, and the Kew family of Haddenham in Buckinghamshire have been set the virtually impossible task of raising the ceilings of their wychert earth cottage to comply with modern Building Regulations…


After an appeal to the House of Commons, the Kews were eventually granted permission to demolish their house and build a new home. Luckily for the cottage, the volunteer team at Chiltern Open Air Museum were on hand to help to dismantle and transport it 25 miles away. After thirty years as a pile of earth covered in weeds, reconstruction began in 2007 and the downstairs of Haddenham Croft Cottage recently opened to visitors for the first time.


Although the history of the cottage stretches back to the late 1830s, the Museum is keen to reflect the stories the house can tell right up to the present day. Currently, the most ‘modern’ building at the Museum is Amersham Prefab, built in 1947, but this will change with the creation of a 1977 bedroom in Haddenham Croft Cottage. Set alongside bedrooms from the 1840s and 1910, it will show how life for the house’s inhabitants has changed over time.


Joanne, Debbie and Karla were young girls at the time the cottage was demolished, and the new 1970s room will draw on some of their memories to recreate a child’s bedroom from this period – visitors will be able to travel back in time and immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of 1977. The hope is that this will prove to be very evocative and a great talking point, whether visitors remember the period or not!


The upstairs of Haddenham Croft Cottage still needs to be plastered before decorating and furnishing the bedroom can begin, but Chiltern Open Air Museum is starting the hunt for appropriate items that will bring the room to life. If you think you might have any suitable objects or furniture to donate, please send a description and photographs to Lucy Dowling, Community Learning Officer, at community@coam.org.uk. Your memories could become part of the cottage’s history when it opens fully next season.


A list of items that are still required for the 1970s bedroom:




Chest of drawers


Shag pile rug

Long mirror


Personal items


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Museum and Volunteers star in new series of the Suspicions of Mr Whicher!

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Suspicions of Mr Whicher


Fans of the popular ITV series the Suspicions of Mr Whicher may have recognised some of the locations in last Sunday 14 September’s new episode, called The Ties that Bind. The Museum’s Victorian Forge from Garston was the location used for several scenes in the episode featuring the local blacksmith in the story. The actor playing the blacksmith trained in the Museum Forge and learnt basic blacksmithing techniques, which he used in the gripping story lines to add authenticity to the story.


Two of the resident heavy horses at the Museum, Harvey and Joshua, starred in the episode as part of the background scenery outside the Forge and in the farmyard scenes, standing in the shafts of one of the Museum’s traditional farm carts. Several volunteers at the Museum were also “Extras” or Supporting Artists in the episode, carrying out farm tasks to provide a typical Victorian working farm background as Mr Whicher passes through in his horse drawn carriage. To complete the scene, the Museum’s pedigree Oxford Down sheep joined the rest of the cast in the farmyard, along with the Museum’s volunteer shepherd Steve Stone and his working dog Ted.


You can still catch the episode on ITV Player


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Cherry Orchard at Chiltern Open Air Museum

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In 1961, Rita Allen wrote that “... Buckinghamshire … thinks highly of its “chuggies”, as the jet-black cherries are called locally, that the first Sunday in August is observed there as ‘Cherry Pie Sunday’”. This area was once famous for its cherry-growing industry, and this is something that Chiltern Open Air Museum is working to preserve.


Cherry orchards in Buckinghamshire have a long history, with cherry liquors and gins having been made since around 1730. Places such as Flackwell Heath, Prestwood and Holmer Green were known as ‘cherry villages’, although today most orchards exist only in small fragments, totalling about 400 acres. However, traces of these prolific fruit trees still exist in the names of streets, farms and even the odd pub.


The main picking season for cherries is late June to late July, and most local people were involved. Men would take a couple of weeks (un)official leave, as during this time they could earn two to three times the wages of a farm labourer or mill worker. Women would also take part, whilst children could earn a few pence as ‘bird starvers’, scaring away blackbirds and starlings with homemade rattles.


During the nineteenth century, parties of pickers would arrive from Reading and London, and into the early twentieth century both the blossoming trees and sight of the pickers at work sparked a kind of ‘cherry tourism’. The arrival of the railways made this easier, and special trains would take the collected cherries back to towns and cities for sale.


Cherry Picking Ladders


Traditional cherry trees grow up to 70ft (21m) tall, so pickers used specially-designed ladders that flared at the base to reach the very tops. This made the ladders much more stable, but workers still needed good balance and a head for heights. Chiltern Open Air Museum has a ladder on display in Hill Farm Barn, and this stretches 60ft (18m) in length. Made in Prestwood by Frank Geary around 1925, it is so long it has to be stored horizontally across the tie beams in the barn’s roof.


In 2010, the Museum began work on a cherry orchard that would become home to rare varieties, supplied by Bernwode Fruit Trees in Aylesbury. The wild cherry (Prunus avium) is native to Chilterns woodland but has been cultivated since the start of the 1700s to produce a range of varieties that are in danger of being lost. Currently, more than 30 sponsored trees have been planted and surrounded by Victorian-style iron tree guards, allowing chickens and rare-breed Oxford Down sheep to graze beneath them as they grow and mature.


Although most of the cherry-growing industry is now based in continental Europe, there are still many fruit farms in the local area where you can pick-your-own. Thankfully, most new trees are of dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties, meaning you won’t have to climb any cherry picking ladders to enjoy a ‘Cherry Pie Sunday’ of your own.

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How to get them off the I-pad and into the fresh air this holiday

“Mum, I’m bored.”

It’s the school holidays and keeping the children entertained without resorting to hours of screen-time a day or forking out a small fortune, can be a challenge. Siân Hammerton-Fraser, Visitor Experience Manager of Chiltern Open Air Museum, has some ideas for outdoor activities to get them off the I-pad and into the fresh air.

Build a shelter:  Set off for the woods at Chiltern Open Air Museum and let the children forage for natural materials to build a lean-to shelter. If you’re at home, you may want to provide them with some man-made materials such as ropes, blankets and planks too. Divide them into teams and award prizes for the best, sturdiest, biggest, wonkiest shelters.

Go on a bear hunt: Your little ones will love going on a bear hunt with some of their friends to look for bears hiding in the woods and sweets to share at their very own teddy bear’s picnic.

Hide a few cuddly toys and sweets in the woods (or garden) – and off you go.


Obstacle course:  Collect old tyres, ladders, chairs and whatever else you can find to build the ultimate obstacle course for them to climb on, jump through and sail under – again in teams to fuel that competitive spirit

Around the campfire: let them help to build a fire (if you’re at home) and collect sticks to toast marshmallows. If you’re brave, you can let them have a go at lighting the fire – one at a time – this activity obviously needs to be closely supervised. Take turns to tell some stories while you’re at it.

Who’s the best shot? Make a few slingshots in advance (or buy some cheap ones if you don’t have the patience), line up a row of tin cans or plastic bottles and let the teams take turns to see who can shoot down most cans. (Again this activity needs to be carefully supervised by an adult)

Traditional games:

Play some traditional games for some guaranteed giggling sessions and lots of outdoor running around – for example

  • Treasure hunt
  • Musical statues
  • What’s the time Mr Wolf
  • Hide and seek
  • Tag

Bug hunting

You need a clear container with some waxed paper and a rubber band.

Sprinkle brown sugar over an overripe banana and leave it outside for a while before spreading it over the bark of a tree.

Grab a magnifying glass and check to see what bugs you may have attracted. Use a torch at nighttime, if you’re brave.

To watch one of the bugs up close, put it in your container with a bit of water in a bottle cap and some green leaves. Cover the jar with waxed paper and poke some small holes into it.

Return the bug to the place you found him after a few hours.


Pond Dipping


Pond dipping

Take some clear containers and fishing nets to the nearest pond – sweep your net in a figure of eight movement, before turning it inside out into a container. See what you got and use your magnifying glass for closer inspection.

Put everything back where you found it.

Make mud pies – in the rain.

Kids love to play cooking – and baking mud pies is an old-time favourite. Use old buckets and recycled containers and let them explore a muddy area in the garden to their hearts’ content. Have some old towels ready to dry them off.

For some supervised outdoor fun, find out more about the Chiltern Open Air Museum’s Terrific Tuesdays.

The museum also offers a variety of children’s party packages, which includes themed outdoor and indoor activities and access to the adventure playground.



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How to make history unboring for children

How to make history unboring for children

How to make history unboring for children

Stuck for ideas to make history fun and fascinating for your kids? Whether they’re into Vikings, Victorians or cavemen, there are plenty of ways you can delve into the past to keep them entertained this summer. Siân Hammerton-Fraser, Visitor Experience Manager here at Chiltern Open Air Museum, has some great suggestions for making history come to life!

1. Be part of the action: Taking the kids to see a re-enactment is an exciting way to bring history to life. Chiltern Open Air Museum stages a series of ‘living history’ events throughout the summer, where they can watch a Roman siege engine being fired, meet the riflemen of Wellington’s Army, try on a knight’s helmet and learn a few Medieval dance moves.

2. Log on for inspiration: Visit www.bbc.co.uk/history  forkids for historical games, quizzes and activities, from building a pharaoh’s tomb to creating your own Bayeaux Tapestry to playing ‘Viking Quest’ where you build a ship, cross the seas to loot a monastery and return home to claim your prize. Perfect for a rainy summer’s day.

3. Go on a fossil hunt: Budding palaeontologists will love the challenge of searching for and then identifying fossils. They are often found on beaches, in quarries, on farmland and even in people’s gardens – anywhere that sedimentary rocks are exposed. Start by joining an organised fossil hunt. Try a local geology society or venture further afield with somebody who knows the site well and can guide you safely.

4. Trace your roots: Looking into family history together gives children an insight into the lives of their ancestors and helps bring their own piece of history to life. Create a family tree, ask older relatives what they remember about their families and dig up old letters, photographs, heirlooms, medals and anything else stashed away in the attic.

5. Dress up: You don’t need a well-stocked fancy dress box to be an ancient Egyptian, Roman, or Victorian chimney sweep for a few hours. Let their imaginations and creative skills run riot. For example, an old white sheet will do for a toga, just glue on some gold trim or ribbon, plait together some wool or use thin rope for a belt and complete the look with sandals and a centurion’s sword made from cardboard covered in tin foil.

6. Cook up a storm: Help them learn about what people ate in different eras by trying out a few recipes. Host a Victorian tea party with a Victoria Sandwich cake as the centerpiece, or if you’re feeling adventurous, how about making a Medieval meat pie?

7. Guess who lived there: Visit historic local buildings or just point out interesting architecture in your area. Can they guess the eras of buildings and who lived there? What were their lives like? Were they rich or poor? Can they re-create the different architectural styles at home with Lego?


Pre-fab living room

8. World War One centenary: This year marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War One. Take them to see a local war memorial and talk about how the war started and what life was like for soldiers in the trenches. Instead of using history books as references, download an interactive World War One app aimed at kids.

Terrific Tuesdays
For some supervised outdoor fun, find out more about our Terrific Tuesdays holiday sessions.
The museum also offers a variety of children’s party packages, which includes themed outdoor and indoor activities and access to the adventure playground.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @ChilternOAM to keep up to date with our latest news and offers.




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Horseshoes at Chiltern Open Air Museum

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Chiltern Open Air Museum is home to three beautiful heavy horses – Harvey, Samuel and Joshua. They are all undergoing training, but what’s on their feet helps with their work and a selection of horseshoes like this are here on display in Garston Forge.


3 Horses at chiltern open air museum


Blacksmiths and their specific horse-shoeing relative, the farrier, have played an important role in ensuring communities have horses that can work the land, transport goods and people or defend the local area (and go to war) for more than a thousand years. As both horses and their loads have increased in size over the centuries, horseshoes have become larger and heavier too.


Eagle-eyed visitors to the farmyard may spot a horseshoe hanging above the doorway of Marsworth Stable. Horseshoes are believed to be bring good luck, though there is debate over which way up they should be placed – with ends down to pour luck onto those passing beneath and prevent evil entering a building, or pointing upwards so the ‘luck won’t run out’!


Horse Shoe


Horseshoes can also be used in a pitching game similar to quoits, which has been traced back to Roman soldiers. However, it is advisable to begin with shoes belonging to slightly smaller horses than our working breeds (and to make sure they aren’t still attached to the horse)…


Our next working horse event is on September 20-21.

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Historic Baking in Leagrave Cottage at Chiltern Open Air Museum

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Looking out over the Village Green at Chiltern Open Air Museum stand two labourers’ cottages from Leagrave in Luton. Originally a barn, the building was divided and converted into dwellings in the 1770s, as dated by a George III copper farthing found when the building was dismantled.


Leagrave Cottage



One side of the cottages provides a picture of 1920s life, but the other replicates the cottage at the time of conversion, complete with open fireplace and a hole in the wall sealed with an iron door. This is a vaulted bread oven made of brick and lined with lime, which played a key part in the diets of the families who lived there 250 years ago. Brick ovens were used extensively by the Romans, and this method of baking continued into the 18th century.


Jenny Templeton, a Museum volunteer, has been bringing Leagrave Cottage to life, baking bread in this traditional manner. As an experienced re-enactor with a background teaching cookery, she has used her knowledge to master the skills required to bake a batch of up to 10 delicious loaves.


Historic Bread Baking



Before baking can begin, wood has to be gathered and a small fire lit in the front of the oven. This is gradually fed and spread across the oven floor so that two hours later, all that remains are glowing embers and any soot has burnt off the walls to leave them white hot.


Without the aid of modern thermometers, there are different methods for checking the temperature is just right. A little flour sprinkled on the oven floor should quickly turn brown but not burn, or striking the side of the oven produces sparks. Some cooks would use a white stone that changed colour as it heated and these were historically known as ‘wise men’ in Buckinghamshire.


Once the oven is hot enough, the embers are raked out using a ‘scuffle’ (a long-handled hoe) and ash removed with wet rags tied to a stick, known as a ‘mawkin’. The risen loaves are carefully placed into the oven using a ‘peel’ or paddle, before the door is closed and sealed with clay or leftover dough. Once this has dried out and begins to fall off the bread is probably done, though a good sense of smell is required to prevent any burnt bits!


The phrase ‘the upper crust’ stems from this historic way of baking. Loaves made in this way often emerge from the oven with a layer of ash covering their base. This was cut off for the gentry, leaving them with only the soot-free top of the loaf.


If you’re a budding historic cook, you can join Jenny for an Experience Day baking in Leagrave Cottages and see if you can perfect a loaf of your own using the traditional bread oven. Experience days cost £35 for one or £60 for 2 when booked together.

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There is a hum of excitement in the Chiltern Open Air Museum Offices…


We have just been told some very exciting news: we have been shortlisted for the Small Visitor Attraction of the Year Awards in the Visit England Awards for Excellence 2014! We are guaranteed to win either a Gold, Silver, Bronze or a Highly Commended Award, which will rank us as one of the top four small attractions in England!

Following the Museum’s success in winning Gold in the Tourism South East Beautiful South Awards in November last year, all Gold Award winners were eligible for entry to these national prestigious awards.  Chiltern Open Air Museum will be representing the best of Buckinghamshire attractions for the South East. We’re thrilled to have been shortlisted, with the visiting judge describing the Museum as a ‘Hidden Gem’.

This is a huge achievement to the Museum’s staff and volunteers, for all of the copious extra hours of work and labours of love that make the site what it is today and help bring all of the Museum’s buildings to life in an engaging way.

The winners will be announced on the 12th May at a glittering award ceremony at Cheltenham Racecourse – wish us luck!


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New Faces at Chiltern Open Air Museum

HLF Skills for the Future Trainees at Chiltern Open Air Museum


Chiltern Open Air Museum has just welcomed three new members of staff under the ‘Skills for the Future’ programme, part of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This year’s successful recruits are Heather Pike, who will be the Visitor Services Assistant learning about volunteer management and visitor services operations, Tom Pearce who will be working as Education Assistant focusing on running education programmes, and Henry Dyhouse who will be developing his skills in interpretation and events co-ordination as the Interpretation Assistant.


‘Skills for the Future’ offers work-based training in a wide range of skills that are needed to look after buildings, landscapes and museum and archive collections, as well as equipping people to lead education and outreach programmes and manage volunteers. Its focus is on vocational learning, helping meet the skills gaps identified by heritage bodies, and on encouraging potential trainees from all walks of life. Trainees learn how to engage families, schools and communities with their heritage, bringing heritage sites and collections alive for the next generation.


The Museum opens again on 29 March and the 2014 season runs until 31 October, with events most weekends. You can discover more about Heather, Tom and Henry’s experiences on their new blog.