The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Monday, 4 September 2017


If you fancy a stroll through history (literally) you could do worse than pay a visit to the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings near Bromsgrove in the West Midlands. Basically it's a huge estate where buildings that would otherwise have been demolished, or allowed to crumble away, have been lovingly gathered together and restored.

It's an interesting collection. You can find most things there. Some are obvious: there's a windmill, and a dovecote, and barns, and a stable. There's a former pub that's now the Edwardian tea room. Cottages of all ages give you a taste of life across the centuries, from Tudor times to post World War Two.

But it's the less obvious bits that I most enjoyed. For example there's the top off a redundant church from Smethwick. The spire of the 19th century St Paul's Church was made of wood, and by 1959 was severely rotten. It was replaced in the early 1960s with a fibreglass replica, which was lighter, and cheaper, than creating a new brick one.  But in 1963 the church burned down and only the spire and tower survived. A new church was built alongside it, but that was made redundant in 1996.

Chainmakers' workshop
There are various workshops including a fine example of a nail shop. And I don't mean a place where you can get acrylic extensions to your fingers! Back in the day nail making was a cottage industry and people had a workshop in their back yards. Chain making, however, was more organised and chain workshops had rows of anvils where individual makers would work alongside each other.

But I think my favourite part was the National Telephone Kiosk Collection. Yes, phone boxes through the ages are lined up around a yard and each one is  connected to one of three exchanges the museum owns. That means that excited children can phone each other (at a cost of 2p a call) and not realise that they don't have to shout. The REALLY fun part is that they need instructions to use a phone dial. They don't realise they have to take their fingers out of the slot once they've rotated the mechanism. Consequently they mis-dial a lot and end up talking to total strangers!

I found a Mk II kiosk with a phone that reminded me of my childhood, and of course the first thing I did was press Button B. For the youngsters and foreigners among you Button B was what you pressed to get your money back if your call wasn't connected. People often forgot, of course, and so enterprising children would rush in behind them and press the button to pocket the cash!  It was fourpence - but three successes brought you a shilling, and that was a big bar of chocolate!

There are also a few other things that aren't technically buildings, like a showman's wagon for example, and the wonderful roadmenders' wagon, both the type of thing it's trendy to take a holiday in these days.  How would the old roadmenders who used to travel round in the carts react to the idea that their old 'make do' accommodation is now considered a treat?

Avoncroft's was owned by Worcestershire County Council. There's a hard-looking bench at the back and a small cast iron stove that would have doubled up as cooker and heating in the original cart. They were towed behind the steamroller when gangs went out to fix potholes around the county. It was hardly the height of luxury, but somehow it has an air of romance about it; I can see how it might have the same kind of effect as the canary yellow gipsy caravan had on Toad in Wind in the Willows, and that the novelty would wear off just as quickly!


  1. We visited there a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it.

  2. Love that phonebox! I seem to recall putting those old big pennies into it and for some reason I'm thinking it was four pennies for a call, but I'm not sure where that flash of memory came from.
    In my teens we had no phone at home (and obviously no mobiles), so I had to sneak out at specific times to call a boyfriend waiting in another phonebox somewhere. My father didn't know about him.
    And yes, I always pressed button B as well (and still do when passing all vending machines that don't automatically pump out the change or rejected coins).
    The rest of your post is interesting, too. And it makes me wonder if an ancestor of mine I interpreted as a chair maker on a census was actually a chain maker...
    All the best :)

  3. I have very fond memories of visiting Avoncroft as a child, we even used to have school trips there, it's a magical place for young eyes and fascinating still as an adult :)
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend x


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