Butser Ancient Village

If you like your history hands-on, this could be the place for you.

Situated about 5 miles south of Petersfield in Hampshire, England, Butser is an open air museum, a ‘living history’ experiment, that tries to re-create the bygone ways of life. It now has reconstructions of ancient homes from the stone age and includes Iron Age and Anglos Saxon dwellings, as well a Roman villa, all of which you can wander around.

Butser was originally funded in 1970 by the Council for British Archaeology, and was intended as a working archaeology experiment to learn more about the old ways of life, and to test theories on agriculture and domestic economy. Butser now has a number of rare breeds on site, such as Manx Loaghtan sheep from the Iron Age and Soay sheep from Scotland and these are said to be be typical of the sheep around in the Bronze Age and early Iron Age. These are very independent animals that cannot be worked by sheepdogs. Butser also has goats and, sometimes, pigs, although these are more seasonal to the site. Apparently the Celts regarded pigs in very high regard.

The site is open to the public most of the year, but check for times as the winter season has shorter hours. Butser gets a lot of school parties, and on occasion they do hire the venue out – not surprisingly a lot of filming has taken place here – and at certain times they run workshops and courses for visitors. Sadly there was none of these in operation when we visited, which was a little disappointing.

However, this made no difference to our enjoyment of the day. We visited on a glorious summer day – there was a school party but they didn’t really bother us and it was otherwise fairly quiet. It was quite amusing to watch the children encounter the various unfamiliar animals and dwellings, and in predictable child humour the outside loo created lots of ribald hilarity!

My favourite was the Saxon Longhouse, based on excavations of an Anglo-Saxon settlement found in the nearby village of Chalton. The archaeology discovered a large rectangular structure with opposing doors in the middle of the long sides of a dividing interior wall. The structure made at Butser is primarily of English oak, sweet chestnut and hazel, and has a thatched roof.

The building was really cosy inside, with an open fire on the left hand side when entering, and with benches huddled around on three sides. We were told that Butser sometimes has evenings with the public where everyone gathers here and tells stories. That sounded like huge fun and we were sad to have missed that – we would be tempted to go back to the village just to take part!

The work on all the buildings is ongoing, and we particularly noticed this at the villa. This was the first Roman villa to be built with authentic materials and techniques for over 1,600 years. Work on the floors began in 2017 and when we visited, they were installing a real mosaic floor. It looked intricate and fiddly and I’m sure it will be beautiful when its finished, and the process looked fascinating. Apparently Butser has its own Roman re-enactment society, and this makes the perfect headquarters for them!

All in all it was a really enjoyable day, and although the village was smaller than we’d expected, it was still really worth the journey to see it. I had hoped for more insight into the fashions and jewellery of the time, but there was very little on view for those. The location is very open and the view down over the surrounding countryside is lovely. Most of the village is fairly flat and would be fine for most people, and the management state that the site is completely wheelchair accessible. However, the area is pretty much all grass and I would imagine that on a very wet day, it could get very muddy and probably hard going for anyone with mobility issues.

A great day out for the family!

Bath Fashion Museum

My design inspiration can come from anywhere – a random comment from a friend or family member, an interesting colour combination, or something I’ve seen while out and about. But because I love historical jewellery, often the initial spark will come from that, and there is nothing quite like actually going to visit a good fashion or jewellery collection to see the item sitting in front of you.

Earlier this year we scooted off to Bath to visit the Fashion Museum. It’s a beautiful place and was certainly well worth the journey. The museum has a lovely selection of clothing and often does extra exhibitions. It was one of these that I wanted to see – namely a collection called Royal Women. This exhibition has finished now, but if you are in the Bath area, please go and visit; their standard exhibition is worth the trip on its own!

A quick warning about Bath if you have mobility issues. This area of Bath is very hilly, and something of a mountain goat trek, but there is one of those on-off tour buses that covers all the main attractions and costs around £16. The museum itself is in a very old – and very lovely – 18th Century Georgian house with lots of stairs. The conveniences are down a couple of flights of stairs but the museum is accessible for all, just speak to a member of staff who will escort you to the lift. For the record, all of the staff we spoke to were extremely polite and professional, and I’m sure they will be able to sort out any problem you may have.

This elegant house was designed by John Wood the Younger and finished in 1771. There are some impressive inter-connecting Assembly Rooms, picture of the Ballroom below, and these, as are many old buildings in Bath, also available for public hire. The Assembly Rooms are lit by nine 18th Century chandeliers, measuring an average of 8 feet in height and were made from Whitefriars Crystal (from the Whitefriars Glass works in London). These chandeliers were originally lit by between 40-48 candles per chandelier, changing to gas in the 19th century and then altered again for electricity.

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The standard exhibition here is ‘A History of Fashion in 100 Objects’ and shows off a fabulous collection of items from the 1600’s to the present day and includes dresses, shoes, underclothes and men’s wear as well. Alongside the Georgian and Regency clothes you will also find more contemporary fashion sporting names like Christian Dior and Norman Hartnell.

But my reason for visiting the Museum was to the see the ‘Royal Women’ display, and in particular, this stunning mauve/purple wedding dress originally belonging to Princess Alexandria in 1863.

It did not disappoint, and my picture doesn’t really do it justice, but it was every bit as beautiful as it looked in the pictures I’ve seen of it.

The Royal Women display also included clothing from Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret.

The Museum has a small display of clothing for dressing up purposes, for both adults and children. Several children were having a whale of time in there when we passed through, but sadly there was nothing in there in my size.

Children can also take part in a sticker trail (info from reception) and there are drawing cards in the galleries to amuse them.

There is cafe which serves a variety of tasty items but we can personally vouch for the delicious cake on offer!

A nice shop selling books and knick-knacks was available, too. I bought a book covering the ‘100 objects’ collection and a little booklet for the visiting Royal Women collection as well.

Bath has an abundance of museums and art exhibitions as well, and you definitely should see the Roman Baths – yes, the remains are really that old – and still pretty impressive. If you intend to visit both the Fashion Museum and the Roman Baths, you can buy a combined ticket to save a little money. We didn’t visit the Baths on this occasion, as we’ve been to the city before, but the Bath complex also houses the ruins of the Temple Sulis Minerva and a bronze head of the Goddess is on display in the adjoining museum.