FARMING MATTERS: Checking out family heritage

Copyright Heather Jan Brunt
Copyright Heather Jan Brunt

It’s quite something when you visit a museum and recognise things from your own childhood - but how about visiting a museum and actually seeing a building that your ancestors once worked and played in?

That’s what happened recently when I took my cousin-in-law and her little baby to visit the Chiltern Open Air Museum in Chalfont St Giles. It’s a place I took my own children to regularly when they were small, and one of the reasons for this was because a cattle byre from their granny’s childhood home farm was there.

And so it was extra special to introduce a new baby in the family to the same byre.

The museum is an independent charity, and relies on the support of volunteers. Historic buildings are carefully dismantled on their original site and stored before they are studiously rebuilt on the 45 acre museum site in south Buckinghamshire.

In addition to buildings such as an Iron Age House and a blacksmith’s forge, there is a working farm with chickens, sheep, goats, cows and farm cats. The farm even has its own restored 1940s thrashing machine, which can be seen in action during the traditional harvest festival each year.

Over the years more buildings have been added to the site and on my recent visit it was nice to see the old familiar buildings interspersed with some interesting new ones.

These included Astleham Manor Cottage at the entrance to the site, which is used as offices for the museum staff. But the large garden surrounding it is open to visitors and is home to many colourful flowers.

Being a rural museum, visitors are encouraged to enjoy the sensory experience of being outdoors and to note the seasonal plants in the gardens and the changes that take place over the year.

In addition to the historic farm, there is a woodland walk, meadow, arable fields, an apple orchard, a cherry orchard and the village green. On a warm sunny dry day the museum is a lovely place to have a picnic and indeed, when my son was two years old, we celebrated his birthday there with a picnic and chocolate cake.