“ Address: Stoke Heath / Bromsgrove / Worcestershire / B60 4JR / Tel: 01527 831363 „
It's sometimes the case that travellers, in their understandable eagerness to visit exotic locales and see remarkable sights, can rather neglect the in many ways equally fascinating attractions that lie just a few miles from home. Even I, not someone who is the sort to go jet-setting around the globe, can certainly be guilty of this, and the case of Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings illustrates this perfectly. It's on the outskirts of Bromsgrove, not the most glamorous of towns by any means but one which lies just a few miles away from me, and so it is really rather shameful that until this year I had not been there in something like a decade.
Avoncroft's name is nothing if not descriptive: it is indeed a museum which contains a large selection of historic buildings. Now, you might be wondering why so many would have been built in the same place - but that's the twist here. They weren't! Instead, they were rescued from their original locations, either because they were at risk of collapse or because they were about to be demolished, and then re-erected at Avoncroft, in as close to their original form as was possible. It's usually well worth taking the time to read the information provided about how the moves were undertaken, which in the case of some of the larger structures involved some very impressive logistical feats!
The museum site is pretty large, although not so enormous that the average person would have much difficulty in walking around it - though there is a miniature railway which operates on busier days. (It is also mostly fairly flat, although there are one or two quite steep paths.) This space is a very good thing, as it means that the preserved buildings are allowed to breathe rather than being squashed together in the manner of an open-air display cabinet. It also allows special events to be held without crowding being an issue; for example, I visited on a day when there was a Wars of the Roses event going on, but there was still plenty of space for everybody.
The sheer variety of buildings on display at Avoncroft is remarkable. To pick out just a few, there is a (working) windmill, a 16th century merchant's house that is my own personal favourite, a 1940s prefab, a Victorian chainmaker's workshop, a large collection of historic phone boxes (some working!) and even a cockpit - by which I mean one of the original bloodthirsty sort, not a bit of an aeroplane! These are complemented by accessories (an ice house, farm machinery, furniture etc) and some thoughtful landscaping. Near the centre is a large open grassy space where re-enactments take place (an archery display when I was there) and tucked away in one corner is a traditional orchard which would be beautifully tranquil were it not quite so close to the main road.
There is little that I was disappointed by at Avoncroft. Really the only major thing was the Guesten Hall roof, a remarkable and expansive 14th century wooden structure that is all that now remains of the original hall. Years ago this was simply stood on modern walls in the area outside, but concerns about the effects of the weather on the fragile structure led Avoncroft to build a display hall around it. Unfortunately, my personal feeling is that this is a rather unattractive building, and worse, for no obvious reason it was locked and empty when I visited. It can be booked for functions, so maybe that was the reason, but whatever the case I really do think there should have been at least an explanatory notice.
Still, that was pretty much the only part of my visit that left any sort of nasty taste in the mouth. And talking of taste, Avoncroft boasts an excellent café. It is near the main entrance, in what was once the "String of Horses" coaching inn. This building used to be used as the musum's gift shop, but that is now rather more comfortably housed in a dedicated structure nearby. The café does get rather cramped on busy days, but it makes up for this with a very pleasant ambience and even more so with the quality of its fare. I had a superb ploughman's lunch, which was very filling and which I heartily recommend - but only if you like strong seasoning; when they serve up their home-made chutney and pickled shallots they're not messing about!
A trip to Avoncroft, especially if you are in a family group, is not a hugely cheap day out, but I think it represents pretty good value. Including the "voluntary" Gift Aid element (inverted commas there because I doubt anyone who is eligible - ie UK taxpayers - would ever have the heart or the nerve to refuse!), adult admission is £6.60, seniors get in for £5.50, and it's £3.00 for children and students. A family ticket is £16.50, which considering how much there is to see I think is a very good deal: it's actually cheaper than a single adult ticket to the Birmingham Sea Life Centre, for example!
Continuing with the practicalities, I'll mention that it's not the easiest place to get to if you don't have a car. The nearest station (Bromsgrove) is a mile away, and the main bus routes come no closer than half a mile. If you are driving, the museum does benefit from brown tourist signs and once you get there you'll find a decent-sized car park. Satnav users will need to know the postcode, which is B60 4JR. Avoncroft's opening hours are a little bit complicated, so I'm going to break with my usual practice and represent them in a table rather than within the main prose. However, the main thing to watch for is that the museum is closed on Mondays except at the busiest times of the year:
April, May, June, September, October: open Tuesday to Sunday 10.30 to 5.00
July, August: As above, *plus* Monday 10.30 to 5.00
November, December, January, February, March: weekends only 10.30 to 4.00
Closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day
Additionally open on Bank Holiday Mondays
I would certainly recommend a trip to Avoncroft to anyone with even the slightest interest in, well, historic buildings. Although it does take a little effort on the visitor's part to imagine the structures in their original state (this is not a museum which bases its appeal on having flashing lights and hologrammatic simulations every five yards) that effort is very well worth it and will surely be rewarded. If you have been to, say, the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, and had a good time, you will probably like Avoncroft too. It's not quite obscure enough to qualify as a hidden gem, but it's surprising how many people don't know about it. They should!
The museum has a fairly well done website at www.avoncroft.org.uk