Tag Archives: COAM Buildings

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Help Restore the Victorian Toll House at Chiltern Open Air Museum

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Donate towards the restoration of our Victorian Toll House

This Giving Tuesday we hope you will continue to support our vital conservation work by making a donation, no matter how small or large, towards the restoration of our Victorian Toll House that originally stood in High Wycombe.  Why not take a look around the Toll House.

Each year 50,000 buildings are demolished in the UK. Many of these are of great historic and cultural importance to their communities.

Chiltern Open Air Museum is a charity that rescues historic buildings from your community that would otherwise be demolished to make way for new developments. They are rebuilt at the Museum to secure their future and preserve them for the enjoyment of all.

Every building in our unique collection was once the home or workplace of ordinary people – a history rarely preserved.  

As a self-funding Museum, we receive no regular government or council grants. Instead, we rely on donations and admission fees to fund the maintenance of our historic buildings and continue our vital conservation work.

Giving Tuesday Logo

Created in 2012, Giving Tuesday was a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. Over the last decade, it has grown into a global movement that inspires millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity.

Every penny counts so do please consider donating.

Giving Tuesday Nov 28, 2023

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Harpenden Well Head

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Reconstructed well head from Harpenden at Chiltern Open Air Museum

What is it?
It’s a building surrounding a well. Wells have been around for thousands of years and many people think of them as lucky, which is why they are sometimes called wishing wells. Throw in a coin, make a wish and see if it comes true!

Well head from Harpenden

The well in its original location in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

How old is it?
The well was documented in 1882 but was probably built quite a lot earlier, about 1750.

Where did it come from?

Upper Top Street Farm in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

How does it work?
Turning the big wheel winds a rope and chain around around the shaft, pulling a bucket of water up. There is also a brake to stop the bucket dropping straight back to the bottom.

Why is it here at the Museum?
It was rescued by the Harpenden Local History Society in the 1960s and was kept in a back garden until it came to the Museum in 1991.

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Gorehambury Cart Shed

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Gorehambury Cart Shed at Chiltern Open Air Museum

What is it?
Carts and wagons pulled by horses were vital to farm work before tractors. This shed protected them, though it was later used for sheltering cattle instead. Some of the posts have been rubbed smooth by a cow! After that, it was where logs were split for fuel.

Today, it is used for its original purpose – storing the Museum’s collection of carts.

How old is it?
it was built some time during the 1800s.

Where did it come from?
A farm on the Gorhambury Estate near St Albans, Hertfordshire.

What is it built from?
Like lots of other farm buildings, it is made of timber on a brick base. It is clad in wood, with  slate roof topped with curved red clay tiles.

Why is it here at the Museum?
It was donated by Lord Verulam when it was going to be demolished.

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Rossway Granary

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Rossway Granary at Chiltern Open Air Museum

What is it?
A granary for storing grain such as wheat, barley or oats. It could hold up to 75 tons (76,200 kg) of wheat – the same weight as 13 African elephants!

How old is it?
It was built in 1802 (we have a receipt from a builder for £73 10s 0d, or £73.50). The upper storey was added in 1850.

Where did it come from?
Rossway Home Farm, Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire. The Hadden family owned the farm since 1683.

Rossway Granary Interior at Chiltern Open Air Museum in Buckinghamshire

Why is it here at the Museum?
By 1976, the granary wasn’t being used because it was surrounded by much newer farm buildings.

What is it built from?
It’s wood with a slate roof and is divided into small rooms for storage called bins. The granary was made bigger and taller in the middle on the 19th century.

Curious features

  • There are metal bars on the windows to stop thieves stealing the grain as it was very valuable.
  • The granary is on mushroom-shaped staddle stones to hold it up off the ground. This keeps the grain dry and stops sneaky rats and mice from getting in and eating the grain.
  • There is a very steep ladder for going upstairs. You’d have to be able to climb this whilst holding really heavy sacks of grain.
  • There are big funnels called ‘hoppers’ in the ceiling and six chutes, like slides, leading outside the building. The grain was kept loose in the granary, so when it was needed it was tipped down from upstairs. The doors on the chutes were then opened and the grain fell into bags on the ground.

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WW1 Nissen Bow Hut

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WW1 Nissen Bow HUt at Chiltern Open Air Museum

World War One military building

The Museum reconstructed a WW1 Nissen hut in 2018, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery fund and a private donation. The front end of the Nissen bow hut has been set up to show what it would have been like for soldiers who slept in one during WW1. The rear of the hut tells the stories of local war heroes such as Maud Grieve, from Chalfont St Peter, who made herbal remedy cards and books and John Nash who used to paint front line scenes and once used our Hill Farm Barn as a studio. The rear of the Nissen hut is also used for educational workshops.

WW1 Nissen hut interior

What is it?
Bow huts were originally designed by Major Peter Norman Nissen during World War 1 to meet the need for a building that was cheap, easy to make, move around, and build in different locations. They had lots of different uses, providing places for soldiers to sleep, eat, wash and relax.

How old is it?
The first Nissen bow huts were built in 1916.

What is it built from?
A framework of metal T-shaped ‘ribs’ or bows. These have a wooden lining between them, and the outside layer is made of corrugated iron sheets to make the hut weatherproof.

Early huts had a wooden lining, but this was often burnt in the stove by occupants during the winter. Later huts had corrugated iron lining which couldn’t be burnt!

Why is it here at the Museum?
The demand for the Museum’s education programme was growing and the Museum needed additional education space. We thought a WW1 Nissen hut would be a great addition to the Museum’s collection so we asked on social media if anyone knew of any that needed rescuing. We were actually offered two and with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund we were able to construct this Nissen hut on site.

The WW1 Nissen bow hut stands next to the WW2 Nissen hut and opposite the 1940s prefab and ‘Dig for Victory’ allotment.

Watch our video about our bow hut

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Gerrards Cross Hut

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A wooden prefabricated building

  • The building was originally located behind St. James’ Church, Oxford Road, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire.
  • It currently is used to store the museum’s artefacts collection and because of this it is not currently open to the public except for on pre-booked tours.
  • Planning permission for a new building was dependent on this building being removed. The church authorities wanted the building to be saved, and preserved on another site.
  • The building was dismantled by volunteers in 2006. The re-erection of the building at the Museum was completed in 2008.

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.

A prefabricated wooden building, approximately 40 feet long by 15 feet wide. It has a door in one end, and a second door in one side near the opposite end. This door is a ‘stable door’, though this is unlikely to be original. There are four windows along each side. The walls are 7 feet 5 inches high, with vertical tongued and grooved boards externally, and plaster internally. At Gerrards Cross it sat on wooden bearers supported on concrete blocks. Approximately 10% of the external boarding was replaced and a further 5% repaired. One section of wall required a new sill and a new stud was fitted to one side of the side door. Minor repairs were carried out to the floor sections. One joist was replaced, two new bearers were made and the exterior has been painted with Dulux Weathershield paint in Buckingham Green.

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Skippings Barn

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Skippings Barn a Traditional Chilterns Barn

  • The barn is believed to date from the 18th century and 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.
  • It was used by the Hawk and Owl Trust until 2010 as an education centre.
  • Fun Fact: The farm from which this barn came was once part of Newland Park Estate, the manor house of which is next door to the Museum.

Skippings Farm was once part of the Newland Park Estate and local residents may remember Skippings Farm in Chalfont St Peter (now incorporated into the Epilepsy Centre on Chesham Lane). In 1993, Chiltern Open Air Museum was delighted to be able to rescue one of its buildings, a good example of a traditional ‘Chilterns Barn’, which now resides in the beautiful setting of the Museum’s Village Green. The barn would otherwise have been demolished as it was redundant and posed an obstruction to development plans for the site.


An oak framed barn of three bays, with a later stable and hayloft added to the North end, the building rests on a high brick plinth wall. It has a pair of doors centrally in the east wall, with a single door opposite. The framing and brickwork suggest there was a much wider doorway at some time. The roof trusses have raked Queen posts. The stable is probably a later addition; the partition between the barn and stable was of soft wood. A simple oak frame has been put back to provide support for the gallery. One end of an original floor-beam survived, giving the evidence for the floor in the stable. It required extensive repair and restoration before it could be opened to visitors and this work, which included replacing most of one of the original gable walls, some of the main oak posts, approximately 15% of the clay roof tiles and 50% of the brick plinth.

During the barn’s re-erection in the summer of 1994, the Museum’s team of staff and dedicated volunteers were fascinated to discover more of the building’s hidden architectural history. The brickwork showed that the main doorway had originally been much wider, and there was evidence of a porch or wagon entrance which had been removed at some point (following which those original builders then ‘bodged’ the repairs to the brickwork!).

Very little ‘concrete’ information (pardon the pun!) is known about the history of this enigmatic building. It’s thought to date from the 18th century, although no precise date has yet been found in local records, although evidence from the structure of the building itself suggests that it had been extensively re-built at some point. When it first moved to the Museum it was occupied by local charity ‘The Hawk & Owl Trust’, and a beautiful oak gallery and staircase were built into it. The Trust paid for the dismantling, repair and re-erection of the building. The Hawk and Owl Trust no longer use the building but the addition of the beautiful staircase has given it new life as a perfect venue for weddings and celebrations. The barn and old stable now house our catering outlet, the Village Kitchen, and the upstairs office is used by the Museum’s Estate Manager.

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Henton Tin Chapel

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Henton Mission Room

  • 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 building was located in the small hamlet of Henton in the parish of Chinnor, Oxfordshire.
  • The Mission Room was constructed in Norwich and transported to Henton by train.
  • It was erected in 1886 and services were held up until the 1970s.
  • It was dismantled in October 1993 and was gradually reconstructed at the Museum between 1994 – 1997.
  • The chapel was used in 2011 for the filming of an episode of Midsomer Murders. The episode also starred Joey one of the Museum’s pygmy goats.
  • The chapel is now licenced for civil wedding ceremonies.

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 and the company archivist searched through copies of contemporary catalogues, though no exact match was found.


The tin chapel before it was dismantled in 1993.

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.

In Henton the building was referred to as the “little tin church”, where the Rector of Chinnor came to preach once a month on a Sunday afternoon. Christenings were performed, but the parents had to supply a bowl of water. Services were held in the building until 1973.

Watch our Henton Chapel video

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High Wycombe Toll House

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Victorian Toll House at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Victorian Toll House

The toll house was originally built in 1826 for the Collector of Tolls on the London to Oxford road at High Wycombe. It’s a tiny house, but was home to a family of five in the 1840s. It had been hoped to restore the building at its original location, but in 1974 a car accident destroyed the front room.  The building was going to be demolished following the accident, at which point the Museum offered to take it.

The building is currently presented as it may have been furnished in 1860.

Victorian toll house bedroom

Things to do:

  • Talk to our volunteer building steward about the history of the building and the people who lived here.
  • Warm yourself by the Toll House fire on chilly days.
  • Explore the handling basket full of items you are allowed to touch – including a Victorian penny.
  • Enjoy the lovely cottage garden looked after by our volunteers.
  • The Victorian toll house is now licensed for civil wedding ceremonies.

Victorian toll house living room


In Victorian times, the roads were filled with horse-drawn coaches carrying passengers and Royal Mail post. On market days, they were also busy with farmers and craftsmen with goods to sell. Lord Carington, the landowner, was responsible for keeping the roads in a safe condition, so he built the toll house and employed someone to collect money (or ‘tolls’) in return for a day ticket to use the road. The money was then spent on repairs.

In 1867, the spread of the new railways meant fewer travellers and businesses were using the roads, so the collection of tolls stopped.

A Video Tour of our Victorian Toll House

Terrible Times

Being a tollkeeper was a tiring and dangerous job. You had to get up to collect money from the first coach at 1.15am and stay awake until the last coach at 11.25pm. You could be accused of overcharging travellers, and beware – there maybe robbers after your money!

Toll House Image Gallery


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Northolt Barn

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Northolt Tudor barn at Chiltern Open Air Museum in Buckinghamshire

Tudor Barn from Northolt, Middlesex

  • Formerly Grade II listed barn was under threat on its original site at a farm in Northolt, Middlesex.  It had been set on fire three times by vandals.  Permission was given for it to be moved the museum in the 1980s.
  • It was originally used for storing hay, and may not have had cladding on the walls, allowing for the hay to be well-ventilated.  During the 16th and 17th centuries, the fields around Northolt Church were used to grow hay which was then taken to London as fodder for horses.
  • Barn dated 1595 on doorway
  • The barn is now used for school workshops, birthday parties and events.
  • The barn is also licensed for wedding ceremonies.

A model barn for visitors to build

Things to do:

  • See if you can spot the inscription ‘1595’ on one of the door posts.
  • Have a go at putting together a model building, and learn about the different types of construction and joints.
  • There are building blocks for you to have a go at building your own barn.


The barn was moved to the Museum because it had become surrounded by modern housing estates and was isolated from the rest of Smiths Farm. It had become a target for vandals who had set it alight three times. As a Listed Building all measures had been taken to preserve the barn, but it was feared that in its original position it would not survive another attack.

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. A visitor donated a rubbing of the date and initials taken in 1953 to the Museum in 1989. The initials are “GR” – the same visitor suggested that these may refer to George Rourne, a builder in Northolt at that time, but there is no evidence to corroborate this. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that both the date and the initials were carved at the same time.

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.


An oak-framed barn, sitting on a brick plinth. It has three bays. The truss posts are jowled, large intermediate posts are situated mid-bay, with heavy middle rails between. Studs run from both top and bottom of the rails. Each bay has a pair of diagonal braces at the top. The roof trusses have vertical Queen Struts supporting a collar, which supports the clasped purlins. Each roof bay has two wind-braces. Because of the damage caused by various fires, the timbers had to be sandblasted, though one strut on the right hand gable end remains in its charred condition. Only about 20% of the timbers are original. The building is currently clad with elm feather edged boarding.

The roof is covered with clay peg tiles. The plinth incorporates bricks removed from the original site, although these are not of the same age as the frame.

Photographs by Daniel Atkinson Photography


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