Some of you may best know Amersham as the place where the Metropolitan Line ends, all the way out in Zone 9! Exciting though it would have been to have taken the Underground all the way out there, we actually drove so as to maximise the number of local museums around Buckinghamshire we could visit (3, as it turns out, due to awkward opening hours). It’s quite strange to think of the Tube stretching so far out into the country, as Amersham appeared to be a rather quaint little village, full of Tudor buildings, including the museum itself, which is housed in a half-timbered Tudor hall house.
The Amersham Museum is only open on weekend afternoons between 2-4:30 (and Bank Holiday Mondays), so we had to time our visit carefully. Admission is only £2, and we received a good introduction to the museum from the volunteer. We began our visit on the ground floor, which contained a Tudor fireplace, and a case full of objects that had been found buried locally, including some tiles (medieval, and from Penn, not Jackfield). There’s a timeline of Amersham history hanging from a wall, complete with curious anecdotes, and a back room with a video playing on the history of the Underground in Amersham.
The first floor provided us with a chance to carefully study the attractive beamed ceiling, and offered a good example of the kind of quirkiness I love to see in local museums. The first room was fairly open to give you a chance to study the markings carved into the beams, and the fireplace (with lady-mannequin), but had a few children’s activities along one wall, where I learned the names of some Tudor colours. Goose-turd green was surprisingly pretty, but the greyish beige colour next to it was too dull for my tastes, shame, as I’d quite like to try to order up a can of Dead Spaniard from Farrow and Ball (guess I’ll have to stick with my original plan of arsenic green). Over by the windows, there was information on the Amersham Martyrs, Lollards who were burned during Henry VIII’s reign, so they pre-dated the Oxford Martyrs (including Cranmer and his self-immolated hand) of Actes and Monuments fame by a good 40 years.
The next room was absolutely crammed full of glass cases covering every aspect of Amersham history, from pipe-making to chair-making (the most famous Buckinghamshire chairs actually come from Wycombe, of which more in the next post. I bet you can’t wait!) to locally produced toys. Being the weird Laura Ingalls obsessive that I am, I immediately honed in on the straw hat braiding section, especially a cutter used to split the straws which Laura never mentioned, so I’m left wondering if she simply left it out, as modern machinery might have spoiled the (Rose-influenced) survivalist Libertarian agenda of the books, or if their hats were just really thick and lumpy.
One of the real gems of the collection was the unnamed stuffed cockatoo pictured above, who became a local hero after alerting guests of the Crown Hotel about a fire which subsequently destroyed the building. Because of his (her?) warning, everyone escaped unharmed, except for two cats (hmmm, I guess that whole cat/bird animosity thing is true). The plaque claimed the bird lived to 118, which seems unlikely at best, but it was still a neat story. My other favourite object was Roald Dahl‘s prescription for glasses. He lived in Great Missenden, which is only a village or two over, and visited an optometrist in Amersham, who passed the prescription onto the museum. Of course Roald Dahl’s house is itself a museum, but it always seemed very child-orientated, so I’ve never been willing to take the plunge. Maybe if they ever host an adults-only evening with George’s Marvellous Medicine themed cocktails, garnished with Mrs. Twit’s glass eye, of course. Hell, now I’m tempted to throw a Roald Dahl cocktail party myself…
Back downstairs, there was another room with a case devoted to local industry, which ranged from not only cottage industries like lace and cloth making, but to the Amersham Brewery, Goya toiletries, and Brazil Sausages and Pies, all now defunct. Make sure you pull open the drawers underneath the case, as you’ll find not only some lovely Victorian bodices, but some hilarious advertising posters for Brazil’s sausages. There was a small collection of things donated by TFL in the corner – some of those moquette ottomans that cost a fortune, but which I totally want anyway, and a few vintage Tube posters for Amersham.
There’s an herb garden out the back, which slopes down to the River Misbourne, full of Tudor medicinal and culinary herbs (and a lot of bees and wasps). On a wall outside there’s a tiled mural made by local children to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first Amersham martyr. And to think, the only tiles we got to make at my school were some ones that got hung up in the hall across from the gym. Probably just as well; mine was rubbish anyway due to my complete lack of artistic ability. Speaking of rubbish, there’s an outhouse at the end of the garden (actually, the toilets are outside as well, but they’re in a different building than the outhouse. Don’t get them mixed up!).
Though it was on the small side, I liked the Amersham Museum quite a lot. Obviously children enjoy it too, judging from the great number of them rambunctiously participating in the many child-friendly activities, including the museum scavenger hunt (they were honestly much too noisy for my liking, but I’ve not yet reached the stage of crankiness where I feel like I can scream at random children, at least, not if their parents are standing right there). I do think Amersham has made a good effort to appeal to people of all ages, with just enough quirk to pique my interest. 3.5/5.