Tag Archives: chiltern open air museum

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40 Artefacts for 40 Years: Artefact 5 – Paraffin Stove

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This July the Museum will be celebrating 40 years since it was founded in 1976.

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40 Artefacts for 40 Years: Artefact 3 – Iron Age House

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This July the Museum will be celebrating 40 years since it was founded in 1976.

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40 Artefacts for 40 Years: Artefact 2 – Large Leather Chest

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This July the Museum will be celebrating 40 years since it was founded in 1976.

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Chiltern Open Air Museum Celebrates 40 years

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Chiltern Open Air Museum celebrates 40 years


Building the Iron Age HouseThe Iron Age roundhouse being built at the Museum.


The Chiltern Society and Chiltern Open Air Museum have a shared history. The idea for the Museum was born on 11th June 1973 when at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Chiltern Society one member, John Willson, reported enthusiastically on a visit he had made to the Weald & Downland Museum at Singleton.


It was suggested that the Society should consider starting an open air museum, similar to the one in Sussex, of old vernacular buildings: the past houses and workplaces of ordinary people – which would otherwise be demolished and disappear from the landscape entirely. The aims of the Museum would be educational as well as recreational: it would, the Society hoped, foster public interest in the architectural heritage of the Chiltern Hills so that they would come to recognise the importance of the buildings and become aware of the need to protect others like them in the future. Buildings selected for inclusion in the Museum would be typical of the domestic, agricultural and industrial ones found in the area, dating back to the earliest ones known, and would be used to demonstrate methods and materials through the ages as well as housing exhibits of agricultural implements, domestic equipment, furniture and local crafts to give a total picture of life in the past.


It was agreed that this scheme, although worthwhile, could only be contemplated if the right conditions prevailed; in particular, donation of suitable land where the buildings could be re-erected, and a person willing to donate a great deal of time and energy to establishing and operating the scheme. The idea was passed to the Historic Works and Buildings Group (HW&BG) for further consideration.


Members of the Society began to search for a suitable site and buildings whilst the Executive Committee visited and researched other open air museums (including Weald and Downland Museum, Avoncroft Museum of Buildings, Museum of East Anglian Life, Museum at St Fagans and various other smaller projects). Staff at the Museum at St Fagans told them in no uncertain terms that they would be mad to go ahead!


After much searching the team heard that Chiltern District Council had proposed the creation of a Country Park at Newland Park and that there might be a role there for a museum which would be managed by the Chiltern Society, through a charitable trust, with day-to-day management provided by a small committee of permanent staff employed by the trust.  Any profit made would be ploughed back into the Museum.


The Council soon abandoned the idea of a Country Park but the Society opted to continue the proposed Museum on its own. Work went ahead on every front, and it is quite amazing how much was done on a volunteer basis by people then who were also holding down jobs and looking after families (this dedicated volunteer support would continue long into the future).


The first rescued buildings were two barns at Hill Farm, Chalfont St Peter. The complex was surrounded by a housing estate but the buildings were listed (which had been overlooked by the developers and Planning Authority). Listed Building Consent was given in March 1976 for demolition of the farmhouse and two barns, on condition that they were moved to the Museum. Two medieval merchant’s houses on Watford High Street, threatened by an inner ring road, were also donated and were quickly followed by a granary at Rossway Home Farm, Berkhamsted (dismantling started with a little help from boys at Berkhamstead School). St Julian’s Tithe Barn from St. Albans, dismantled many years before and stored in the gaol there, was also donated to the Museum (which had to load and transport it). Permission was given to store all of these buildings at Newland Park, until the Museum had a lease and was listed as an entity on the understanding that if the project disintegrated everything would be discreetly cleared away!


By June 1976 the County Planning sub-committee, Chiltern District Council and the College had all approved the plans and fundraising began and on 20th November 1976, after 3 ½ years of labour, the first meeting was held of Chiltern Open Air Museum Ltd. On 21st October 1978, the Museum was officially ‘launched’ at a party to the press at the Mermaid Theatre.


1978 and 1979 were busy years and building work was intense, despite the fact that the Museum still had no lease: by October official permission to erect buildings, although again at the Museum’s own risk, had been received! Elliotts Furniture Factory was dismantled and moved; Wing Granary was moved in August 1978; the Watford Buildings were coming down; Rossway Granary was dismantled and re-erection commenced; Didcot Cartshed was being re-erected as the Museum’s workshop; a contract was awarded for the re-erection of Arborfield Barn and Manshead Archaeological Society started work on the first Iron Age House. Trees were planted; plans drawn up for the car-park and footpath diversion and plans were afoot for massive fundraising activity to supplement the small-scale operations carried out by volunteers and supporters. Most notably, the Museum’s first major grant was received: £15,000 from the Meaker Trust, which funded the re-erection of medieval Arborfield Barn.


Transporting Wing GranaryWing Granary being transported to Chiltern Open Air Museum.


During 1979 the Museum opened exclusively to members of the Chiltern Society on several days, which were well attended and boosted everyone’s confidence for the future. On the 3rd May 1981, with a field for a car park and a footpath running right through the site, with a small shop in the ticket office caravan and teas served from another caravan, with Wing Granary, Didcot Workshop and the Iron Age House completed and work well advanced on Rossway Granary and Arborfield Barn, the Museum opened on a pouring-wet Sunday afternoon and 95 people braved the elements to support it. We were in business!


Since then a number of other buildings have been acquired, rescued from the threat of demolition and saved for future generations.  The Museum now incorporates 33 buildings, with 15 more still in store awaiting the funding to re-erect them (each will cost at least half a million pounds) and the 45-acre site has been further developed with the creation of a working Victorian farm and the addition of rare-breed livestock; hedges laid in the traditional local style; apple and cherry orchards and heritage crops.  A newly-refurbished Tea Room and adventure playground inspired by the historic buildings provide refreshment and entertainment for visitors, and activities to enthuse visiting families include opportunities to dress up, play with historic toys and games and even recreate the Museum’s buildings through lovingly-created scale models. On 2nd – 3rd July the Museum will be holding a small event to proudly celebrate the fortieth anniversary since its incorporation in 1976, and visitors are welcome to attend and help us celebrate.


Today the Museum, now employing 10 full-time and 6 part-time staff, is going from strength to strength.  Around 50,000 visitors are welcomed annually, with one third of these being schoolchildren enjoying an award-winning, immersive education programme. The Museum won ‘Gold’ in the Best Small Visitor attraction in the South East and ‘Bronze’ for the Best Small Visitor Attraction in England in 2013 and 2014.  A community hub, it is also supported by over 200 volunteers who in 2015 contributed 27,000 hours to the Museum. Museum staff and volunteers remain immensely grateful to the members of the Chiltern Society, who have continued to assist with its conservation work throughout the last 40 years through project funding, advice and support and, in thanks, are delighted to welcome Society members to visit the Museum with a two-for-one discount.



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Tips for Your School Visit

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Tips for teachers

A teacher’s top tips for planning a school visit to COAM

Before your visit

  1. Do a pre-visit: The office staff are very supportive, take a map with you and physically walk the distances – it’s further than you think.
  1. Use the Museum risk assessment it makes life a lot easier. There is a lot of content, but you can cut and paste the bits most relevant to you.
  1. Check through your paperwork: We all know that mistakes can be made so check in advance that your timetable matches with what you think you have booked. Mistakes can be put right in advance but it is much harder to adapt on the actual day of your visit.
  1. Relax: The site is secure and peaceful, it’s lovely to sit outside with your kids on the Village Green and eat lunch together. The Museum encourages the children to play and enjoy the spaces – though too much screeching does feel out of place. I always anticipate that the day will run smoothly and the quality of learning will be great.

On the day of your visit

  1. Clothing: Remember it’s an open air site – so dress for the weather! Sunhats when it is hot and waterproofs at all times of the year. Children need to have their legs and arms covered because of possible tics in the long grass – even when it’s hot. School uniform really doesn’t work here with the possible exception of a sweatshirt for identifying which children belong to you.
  1. Footwear: Avoid open toe sandals, even in the Summer, as the ground is uneven (particularly in the woods). Send a letter home stipulating trainers and remind the kids the day before. Wellies are best footwear when it’s wet.
  1. Storing lunches: Ask the children to bring their lunch in a labelled plastic bag it’s much easier than transporting lots of lunch boxes. Sometimes you can leave your lunches in your lunch venue but there is always space to store them whilst your workshops take place if this isn’t possible.
  1. Tea and Coffee: In February, March and November you can get a self-service tea and coffee in Skippings Barn – there is an honesty box so bring small change with you. During the rest of the year you buy tea and coffee from the Tea Room which is right at the far end of the site. We usually buy these after a workshop when we are en-route to our lunch space. It’s called Wood End on the map.
  1. Ask things: They are a really approachable team and love to answer questions. They genuinely want you to have the best possible day.




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Family Learning

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Chiltern Open Air Museum is a fantastic fun and educational day out for the whole family.

Terrific Tuesdays

Our Terrific Tuesdays are fantastic family fun days, where the the Museum puts on lots of additional themed activities, crafts and games, which run on most Tuesdays of the school holidays. Please see our event pages for details of dates, themes and activities.

Living History and Events

The Museum holds over 30 events a year including over 12 special living history events with costumed re-enactors, which provide a fun way to learn about history and can support topics learnt in  school. We also offer fantastic family experience days such as Teatime Treats- A Family Cooking Experience and coming in Summer 2020 Prehistory and Family Bushcraft experience days.

Family Guidebooks

Family guidebooks are available for purchase in our Museum shop at a cost of £3.50. The guidebooks contain fun facts for children and help them to enjoy learning about our buildings and the objects we have placed inside them.

Family Activities

Pick up a free ‘I Spy’ sheet from our Ticket Office, make model replicas of our Museum barns, dress up in historic clothes and play with historic toys. There are so many wonderful, family-friendly things to do at our Museum. Why not have a look at our Top 10 Things to do for inspiration?

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Wildlife and Conservation

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Wildlife and Woodland Management at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Woodland, hedgerows and the hidden meadow

  • The Museum puts a great effort into maintaining the whole of its 45 acre site to support and enhance its value for local wildlife.
  • We manage around fifteen acres of woodland using traditional techniques such as coppicing, which creates a variety of ages of woodland cover encouraging different plant and animal species.
  • The material we extract from the wood is used to support the maintenance of the farm and the buildings on site, being made often in to traditional products, such as sheep hurdles, thatching spars and wattles. You can sometimes see this work going on in the woods, around our woodman’s shelter, exactly as it would have been for hundreds of years.
  • You can enjoy a walk though our woodlands, on our waymarked trails of differing length as part of your visit.
  • Also found on one of our woodland trails is ‘The Hidden Meadow’, an isolated fragment of chalk downland, and designated County Wildlife Site, supporting many interesting species of plants and insects, which also presents a spectacular display of cowslips in the late spring.
  • Over the rest of the site, our use of traditional farming techniques, and management of hedgerows and verges is geared to support many plant, animal and bird species that are in decline. We also aim to conserve important local landscape features, such as the old parkland trees here which date back to the site’s history as a deer park for the adjacent Newland Manor.

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The Museum is grateful for the support of a wide network of organisations, funders and businesses.

Please see the links below to the great network of charities, arts and heritage organisations, local businesses and visitor attractions of which we are proud to be a part.

Museum wins Pride of Bucks Environmental Project award sponsored by BP Collins LLP

Chilterns Connections:

The Chiltern Society  White Hill Centre, White Hill, Chesham, HP5 1AG  Tel: 01494 771 250  @ChilternSociety

The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty @ChilternsAONB

Visit Chilterns @VisitChilterns

Chiltern Chatter @chilternchatter

Families Chiltern Magazine @FamiliesChilter

Change4Chalfont  @Change4Chalfont

Workaid @Work_aid

Holiday Inn Hemel Hempstead

Amersham Museum @amershammuseum

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre @roalddahlmuseum

The Buckinghamshire Advertiser @BucksAdvertiser

Halliday Books  @HallidayBooks


Supporters and Funders:

Heritage Lottery Fund @heritagelottery

ACE – Arts Council England @ace_national

The Chilterns Conservation Board The Lodge, 90 Station Road, Chinnor OX39 4HA  Tel: 01844 355500

The Happy Museum Project @HappyMuseum

NADFAS – the National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies @NADFAS

The Museums Association @museum_news

Federation of Master Builders @fmbuilders

The Pilgrim Trust

B P Collins LLP



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