Amersham Prefab

Amersham Prefab

Celtic Roundhouse

Celtic Roundhouse

Chiltern Open Air Museum is an independent open-air museum of vernacular buildings and a tourist attraction located near Chalfont St Peter and Chalfont St. Giles in the Chiltern Hills, Buckinghamshire. The museum was founded in 1976 and aims to rescue and restore common English buildings from the Chilterns, which might otherwise have been destroyed or demolished. The buildings have been relocated to the museum's 45-acre site, which includes woodland and parkland. The collection has more than 30 buildings on view including barns, other traditional farm buildings and houses. Amersham Prefab. There was a housing shortage after the Second World War, and prefabricated temporary bungalows (“prefabs”) were one solution. 160,000 prefabs were made in the late 1940s. They were only intended to be used for 10 years – but many were still lived in up to the 70s. The Prefab at the Museum was one of 46 on the Finch Lane Estate in Amersham. It is a Universal House Mark 3 design and was made by a company in Rickmansworth. The Museum is in contact with the Brant family who lived there from 1948 – some of their family photos are on the mantelpiece.


Arborfield Barn. This barn dates from around 1500, although this type of construction was used from as early as the 13th century. The barn is a cruck-framed building, with the weight of the roof and the walls supported by four pairs of cruck blades. Cruck blades are curved beams made from a single piece of wood, split length-ways, giving a pair of identically curved timbers. The walls consist of upright posts filled in with split oak wattles. All the timber used in the barn is oak, and the walls and cruck blades sit on a plinth wall made of flint. The roof is thatched with wheat straw. The entrance is unusual, being in an end bay rather than the center of the front wall as is more common. There is no evidence that there was ever another doorway in the rear wall of the barn, so the building would not have been suitable for threshing grain and was probably therefore used for storage of either produce or livestock. The joints of the Cruck frame are held together by pegs with square spurs, in round holes – this is where we get the phrase.


Astleham Manor Cottage was first built in the 1500s in Shepperton, Middlesex, as a three-bayed timber-framed hall house. Henry VIII is alleged to have used it as a hunting lodge. In the late 17th century, the roof structure was altered and most, if not all, of the wall timber framing was replaced by brickwork. The building was also extended, by the insertion of an extra bay, incorporating the massive brick chimney stack. It was first dismantled in 1913 by the owner, Sir Richard Burbridge, and moved approximately a quarter of a mile south. The reason for the move was the construction of the Queen Mary Reservoir, one of several reservoirs built by the then Metropolitan Water Board to solve the problem of supplying London’s increasing demand for water. The exact date of re-construction is not known, no records of the work have been found. The earliest photograph of the completed building is dated 1922. The reservoir was started in 1914 and completed in 1924. The first inhabitant of the ‘new’ cottage was Mr Ferris, Sir Richard Burbridge’s gamekeeper. He may have lived in the building prior to its being moved. He died in the 1930s. His widow lived there until the early 1960s, but the Ferris family continued in the cottage until the 1970s. After six years, it was taken over by Mr & Mrs King. A lot of work was needed at this time, windows were replaced, rooms were re-plastered, a kitchen and bathroom were installed. There was still no mains water or electricity. The King family stayed for only ten years. Once again the house was empty and heavily vandalised. After many years lying unoccupied the building was donated by the Thames Water Authority. The cottages were re-erected at the Museum and are currently used as its offices.


Blythe Road Pavilion. The Pavilion came from the grounds of the Post Office Savings Bank, Blythe Road, Hammersmith – immediately behind Olympia Exhibition Centre. We don’t know much about this building’s history, but it was known to have been used as a sports pavilion and changing rooms between the two World Wars. The building is made of wood. The outer walls were built in sections, but is not prefabricated. The roof is supported by an arcade structure, comprising two 33ft arcade plates, supported on four posts, connected with four tie-beams and braced. The overhanging ends are supported by two pairs of struts, bearing on the end walls. The outward thrust is restrained by four pairs of tensioned tie-rods. The four posts sit on stone pads. Approximately 1,000 extra slates were mixed in with the originals. The walls sit on a brick plinth. Most of the building is original; including the arcade plates and posts, wall sections, cladding, the three pairs of rear doors, most of the roof boarding, rafters, approximately 60% of the slates, and the gable end pairs of tie-rods.


Caversham Public Convenience. The toilets were constructed in 1906, originally for use by the passengers on the tram, which terminated at Caversham Bridge, Berkshire.The component parts were manufactured at the foundry of Walter McFarlane & Co., Possilpark, Glasgow. Most of the sections can be seen in their catalogue of 1880, but the building as a whole appears to be custom built. The toilets were built due to a lack of sanitary conveniences in the town. The plans for toilets at Caversham were submitted in October 1904. The Building would be of ornamental ironwork providing 3 WCs in the Ladies, and 3WCs and 8 urinal stalls in the Gents (only 7 were in fact put in), with apartments for attendants in each. The building was purchased for £301 in 1906, and cost £750 to erect. The conveniences were opened on 4th June 1906, and were open from 6 am until 11.45 pm.


Garston Forge. The forge was built around 1860 at Garston, near Watford. From the early 1860s until 1926, members of the Martin family practised their trade in the forge. After it ceased to be used as a forge, the building was used for storage until the site was sold for development in 1982 and the building was donated to the Museum. It incorporates a wide variety of materials. The walls are of bricks, many of which have the initials ‘JC’ cast in them (indicating their production at John Chapman’s brickworks at Bucknalls Lane, Garston). The forge was originally in a yard and, to recreate this environment, the Museum has built a brick and flint wall outside it. Such walls are typical of the Chiltern area, the flints found in the soil are free, these combined with brick provided a decorative effect. The roof is covered with slate. Many of these would have come by canal from North Wales; their provenance is indicated by their colour (North Welsh slate is dark grey; slate from Cumbria is purple). The roof has clay ridge tiles with decorative points typical of the Victorian era. The floor of the forge reflects functional constraints. The area where the horses would stand to be shod by the farrier has timber baulks which provide a non-slip surface; bricks form the step by the door and stone covers the floor around the hearth to provide a hard, fire-resistant working surface.


The Gerrards Cross hut is a wooden pre-fabricated building. Little is known of its early history, though it is believed to date from the First World War. It was re-erected next to the church in 1936 for use as a Sunday school, a function that had continued until the time of dismantling. The original Sunday school sign continues to hang above the entrance. The building was also used as a Scout hut. When the gable over the door was stripped the word “MISSION” could be seen very faintly. Henton Tin Chapel. This building is a prefabricated church. It was referred to as the ‘little tin church’, although it is made from wood and clad in iron. The Mission Room was built in 1886, on ground let to the Rector and Church wardens of Chinnor by Magdalen College, Oxford, “for the purpose of a mission room to be erected thereon” (Tenancy Agreement, Magdalen College 1886) at an annual rent of one shilling. The prefabricated building, which is in timber-framed sections bolted together with an external cladding of corrugated iron, was supplied by Boulton and Paul of Norwich. Two delivery labels were found on the building during dismantling. Local residents supplied information about the interior (which had been vandalised when found). The room had contained fifty chairs arranged in rows either side of the central aisle. There was a small altar table with two brass candlesticks, in front of which stood a lectern and a harmonium. Two oil lamps suspended from the ceiling lighted the room.


Haddenham Croft Cottage. The cottage was originally built in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, in the 1830s. The walls are made of a special type of local earth called wychert, a natural blend of white chalk and clay which is mixed with straw, localised to Haddenham and the surrounding local area in Buckinghamshire. Click here for a video on the construction. High Wycombe Toll House. The Toll House was originally built in 1826 for the Collector of Tolls on the London to Oxford road (A40) at High Wycombe. It’s a tiny house, but was home to a family of five in the 1840s. The building is currently presented as it may have been furnished in 1860. You can Explore the handling basket full of items you are allowed to touch – including a Victorian penny.


Skippings Barn

Skippings Barn

Leagrave Cottages

Leagrave Cottages


Historic Chilterns Farm. The Museum runs a small working Chilterns farm, demonstrating and preserving traditional farming techniques and machinery. The museum’s farm buildings are laid out and used as a classic Chilterns farmstead that might have formed the heart of a local farm from 1800 to 1950. The farm buildings include a granary from Rossway, a big threshing barn from Chalfont-St-Peter which houses the restored threshing machine, a stable and cart shed from Marsworth, and a cattle byre from Borehamwood. You can learn about traditional dairying in the display in Borehamwood Cattle Byre; try to decipher the Victorian children’s graffiti in Rossway Granary and, on special farm event days, have a go at traditional farming techniques with the guidance of the volunteers. There are also rare breed livestock, laid hedges in the local style and recently planted apple and cherry orchards with rare local fruit varieties. Heritage crop varieties are being grown and harvested in a traditional manner, and stored as they all once were in thatched corn and hay stacks.


Iron Age House. The replica Iron Age House was constructed in the 1990s. It has been furnished for the period c. 50 AD during the Roman occupation of Britain. The floor is made of rammed chalk and flint creating a hard surface, similar to roundhouses excavated in the Chilterns. The thatched roof weighs two tons and is supported by wooden rafters. There is no chimney, the smoke from the hearth filters through the thatch, leaving a tarry deposit which helps preserve the roof. The Iron Age roundhouse is used for school workshops. See if you can find the 'fridge'.


Leagrave Cottages. These are two cottages, side by side, which have been restored to show two significant periods in the life of this building. The building came from Leagrave, near Luton, Bedfordshire. The building started life in the early 18th century as an agricultural building, thatched with long straw and weatherboarded on all sides with central double doors at the front. In the late 18th century the barn was converted into two labourers’ cottages: the chimneystack and bread ovens were built, doors and windows were inserted, and an upper floor was put into the building. The outshot at the gable end – now the Cobbler’s shop – also dates from this period. The Museum has restored the cottage nearest the road to this period in the building’s history, and the form and furnishings of the cottage are appropriate for the 1770s. Many alterations were made in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Larger window openings were made, the weatherboarding was stripped off the back wall and replaced by lath and plaster, and later brick infill replaced the weatherboarding on the front wall. Extensions were built onto the front. The Museum has restored the cottage further from the road as it might have been in the 1920s. Although by this date the bread oven was no longer in use and a range had replaced the open hearth, there is in fact little difference from the 1770s cottage in terms of internal living space. In 1851 there were 7 members of one family living in one of the Leagrave Cottages Joseph and Rebecca Thomas, agricultural Labourer and Straw Plaiter, and their children: Emma (17), Esther (12), Caroline(6), Straw Plaiters, Joseph (3) and Dinah (7 months).


Northolt Barn. It was thought to have been constructed originally for use as a hay barn, storing fodder for sale in London. There is an inscribed date on the left hand door post of 1595. The central bay incorporates the entrance and evidence suggests there was no opposite rear doorway. This is probably because the barn was used for storing hay and not for threshing. During the 16th and 17th centuries, large areas around Northolt Church were used to grow hay to feed London horses. When the barn was built it may not have been clad, thus providing ventilation for the hay inside. Sewell Nissen Hut. Nissen Huts were developed during the First World War by Major Peter Nissen of the 29th Company, Royal Engineers. The design was formalized after three prototypes were constructed in April 1916. At least 100,000 were produced in World War 1. Nissen patented his design in 1916. For this work he was promoted to Colonel, awarded the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) and paid royalties on the sale of huts after the war. Nissen Huts came in three sizes: 16ft, 24ft and 30ft (width). The 16ft span usually had 6 bays, making an overall length of 36ft 6 ½ inches, though due to the design and construction they could be made up of any number of bays. They were cheap and easy to put up. A 16ft hut could be put up in 6 hours by 4 men. The record is 1 hour and 27 minutes. Many huts were used as temporary housing after the Second World War.


Skippings Barn. The barn is believed to date from the 18th century It was re-erected at the Museum in 1994. This building was probably a threshing barn; a stable and hayloft were added later. It was originally located at Skippings Farm, Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire. Thame Vicarage. The Vicarage room was originally situated on Lashlake Road, Thame, Oxfordshire, in the grounds of the Vicarage. It was then moved to 58, Bierton Road, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire when a new Church hall was built. You can see a small brass plate on the wall inside is dedicated to the Reverend J.I. Cohen who helped fund the erection of the building, it is dated December 13th 1894. The Vicarage room is an example of a Victorian wooden framed, pre-fabricated building. The local vicar, the Reverend F. Cohen ordered the pre-fabricated building from the Wire Wove Waterproof Roofing Company of London. The building was used as the Church meeting room. It provided a space for parishioners to use for events, which were often advertised in the local Thame Gazette. The decision was made to build a new, larger, Church Hall in Nelson Street in January 1912 as Thame Vicarage room could no longer fulfill the needs of its parishioners. The Vicar put the building up for Auction in 1913. It was bought by the Auctioneer, Mr Millburn, who moved it to his own premises in Aylesbury where it was used as a furniture store.


Click here for a map of the museum. The Museum has two electric scooters for hire this is free of charge. Adult manual wheelchairs can also be borrowed from the Ticket Office. Users of this facility must have a carer to assist them. Pre-booking is advisable. The Museum has temporary ramps for the Prefab, Furniture Factory, Henton Mission Room and Borehamwood Dairy to enable wheelchair access. Please be aware that the compact gravel paths are not ideal for wheelchairs and some paths can become very muddy in bad weather. The most accessible route around the Museum is marked by a dotted line on the Museum Map. Small portable loop systems are now installed at the Ticket Office and Tea Rooms for use by visitors with hearing aids. A Visitors’ Folder with information about buildings with limited access is available at the Ticket Office free of charge. The Museum has audio guides and braille guides available. These offer short descriptions of the Museum buildings and landscape features. Guide dogs are welcome and, unlike other dogs, are allowed inside the historic buildings. All dogs must be kept on a short lead because of farm livestock. The most modern and accessible facilities are the ‘Bakerloo’ Mid Site Toilets on the Village Green (No.14a on the Museum Map). Two cubicles in the historic Caversham Public Conveniences (No.3 on the Museum Map) have been adapted for wheelchair access, as far as possible. Concessionary rates are available for registered disabled visitors and carers can go in free.


Location : Newland Park, Gorelands Lane, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire HP8 4AB

Transport : Chorley Wood OR Chalfont St Latimer (Metropolitan London Underground) then short taxi ride. Bus Routes : No bus service.

Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00

Tickets : Adults £10.00;   Children (4 - 16) £6.50;   Concessions £9.00

Tickets Term Time Weekday : Adults £9.00;   Children (4 - 16) £6.00;   Concessions £8.00

Tel. : 01494 871117