Hiding somewhere mid way between Worcester and Birmingham, there lies a fascinating attraction, a place of wonder and, well, buildings…
On our last Saturday of our summer holiday, a grey and humid afternoon, I dropped Dan off at a McDonalds in Birmingham to watch a football match. Ted and I set off towards Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings – England’s original open air museum.
Yes, I might well be Queen of the Nerds – although I wasn’t sure what to expect from the museum, I was pretty pumped. The concept of it excited me. Instead of wandering through a stuffy, dark building, I’d be exploring history in the open air, like a castle, but not quite.
We pulled in, paid to enter, and stepped out into a courtyard. To our left was a cafe, and a pub (The String of Horses historic building) and another courtyard displaying a collection of historic telephones. I’m not sure whether it was coordinated or not, but it seemed the whole area was tinted with shades of blue. At least something was blue that day. I did also notice very quickly that the pub was busy – too busy for what seemed like a nerd’s paradise.
Ted and I started our adventure proper. We passed by the Mission Church, constructed by corrugated iron, painted in a deep green, and incredibly chilly on the inside. It is an example of a Victorian prefab church, this particular one having been built in 1891, but many similar buildings were dispatched across the British Empire. Avoncroft had installed a mechanical organ, which started playing as I entered and made me jump out of my skin; Ted wasn’t bothered.
We then passed a collection of wooden barns, stables and cottages, and I realised why the pub was so busy. There was a wedding! The bride and groom were coming down from the windmill as we started our approach, and I got a tight grip on my puppy to stop any risk of him jumping up at her pristine, white dress.
The windmill is exactly what I imagined a windmill to be. According to the museum literature, the entire upper structure (painted black) is able to pivot, so that the sails will always face the wind, although I can’t imagine this is the reason so many of the visitors came to see it while we sat on the grass. It’s a large structure: both majestic and imposing.
We journeyed on, passing more wooden structures which radiated an odd smell, until we found the industrial buildings. As a child, and teenager, I was terribly frightened of machinery and industry – I think it was the sublime nature of them that sent chills down my spine, but as I’ve aged, the unsettling feeling is still there, but fear has been completely replaced by fascination. We wandered into the Forge, Brewhouse, and Nailshop, and I was struck by the primitive looking, huge stone circle, used in the process of chain and nail making, and pulled by a donkey.
Just opposite is the Chainshop, a wide corridor displaying an enormous variety of ironworks, fixtures like vices and lathes, and an array of saws and sanders. Just behind it was Nailer’s Cottage, which was closed to the public, although I did try to gain entry.
What I loved about the museum was how they set up an entire simulacra in such a small place. Standing in front of each building, I felt as though I was time travelling. I could have been a Victorian chainmaker’s wife, or a 18th Century farm girl, or Second World War survivor.
Arguably, the most fascinating part of the museum was discovering stacks of wood, tied in rolls on the ground behind a rope and ‘Do Not Touch’ sign. Unfortunately, erecting buildings is not a straightforward project – it takes significant funding to rescue and maintain such large artefacts. In some cases, the team aren’t able to preserve the whole building, and must rely on modern structures to support it. With every visit, a small amount of money goes into the conservation pot for these stunning constructions.
Alas, my camera ran out of battery, and our visit came to an end. With ill-will, I trudged back to the car, but not before I’d had a nose around the gift shop and bought an ice lolly! Would I come back? Yes, but I’ll leave it a few years and wait for something new to appear.