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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.

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News for 2014


The 2013 Beautiful South Awards at the Felbridge Hotel and Spa

We were delighted that last November the Museum won the Gold Award for Small Attraction of the Year in the Tourism South East Beautiful South Awards. Following our earlier award in 2013 from Bucks Advertiser for Pride of Bucks Environmental Award we are so very proud that the achievements of our staff and all our amazing volunteers have been recognised by our local community and the judges of these awards. We would like to thank Artesan Printers for sponsoring our staff to attend the awards dinner and for their invaluable support in the production of our 2014 leaflets.

Over the winter we have greeted two new arrivals – our two female short horn cows which have come to us from a local farm in Prestwood. They are settling in to their new home in Hill Farm Barn and we are delighted to announce that they have recently been named Clematine and Clarabelle through the name the cows competition.  Thank you to all of you who entered the competition to help raise farm funds.

The Museum is gearing up for an exciting new Season in 2014 with new events such as our Traditional Easter Treats and back by very popular demand the spectacular Medieval Jousting event from 2013 and the Roman Gladiators. Not for the faint hearted!

The Museum is pleased to welcome new Learning Officer Cathy Silmon to our team this year and sad to say goodbye to Holly Lees, who left in December 2013. We are delighted to welcome our three new trainees Heather Pike, Tom Pearce and Henry Dyhouse who take up the challenge of working with our learning and visitor services team and are settling in well.

School visits start again from 24 February and Cathy and her team have a very exciting year of themed weeks and workshops with new self led activities for the themed weeks to support curriculum topics. The Iron Age themed weeks should be very popular with schools in supporting this new topic in the Curriculum!

The Museum opens to the public on 29 March with donations day to see the museum in return for a donation, which is invaluable to the survival of our charity. If you like keeping fit, then come and join us on the next day for the Chiltern Warrior Extreme Run on 30 March. Visit the Chiltern Warrior web site to book a place on this very popular sporting event.