Ever considered taking refuge in a WWII air raid shelter, stepping inside a post-war prefab, or attending class in a 1900s school room? Well, these are just some of the activities you can get up to on a visit to Rural Life Living Museum in Surrey.
The Rural Life Centre is near Farnham in 10 acres of beautiful Surrey countryside and is a museum with a difference. It has over 40 000 artefacts which are housed within a woodland setting. The exhibits showcase the history of village life in the countryside and makes for a great day out in Surrey with children.
In fact, I was rather surprised when the kids picked the museum as their choice for a day out in the holidays. However, it is very local, so I booked tickets and off we went. On arrival, we bought the additional activity pack, which gave us a picture sheet with questions and items to spot around the museum. This is a good idea, as it provided some focus and ensured we looked at everything.
History of the Rural Life Centre
We started our tour in Henry’s Yard, which is a replica of an old forge. Henry’s Yard is also the site of the original museum, which was founded by Henry and Madge Jackson in 1973. The couple began by collecting historical agricultural implements, which were being lost or destroyed. They started with a horse-drawn plough, which they kept in their garden.
However, as their collection grew, the Jacksons needed somewhere to house it and the idea of museum formed. At first it was far less formal and was only open on Sundays. After that, the Jacksons acquired more land and received donations of additional exhibits to the collection. Over time, they were able to build it up to the impressive collection it is today.
The Rural Life Centre today
Today, the Rural Centre is open every day and provides insight into the history of village life in the years from 1750 to 1960. Although it doesn’t sound that child-friendly, it has a great combination of inside and outside exhibits, which makes it an ideal day out for kids. We were free to wander at will but chose to work our way logically around the outside and then visit the buildings in the centre.
The buildings are all themed to represent the workings of a village of yesteryear. There’s a village hall, chapel, garage, and bike shop, to name just a few.
In addition, there are several purpose-built buildings with collections of historic tools and machinery used for agriculture in the 18th and 19th centuries. Outside you can find a shepherd’s hut, old wagons, and other larger machinery.
But there is much more to the museum than just agricultural artefacts. The museum has the entire village scene. So, you can visit a carpentry workshop, a plough gallery and a cricket pavilion all in one day.
My kids both enjoyed their visit to the Rural Life Centre and were keen to read the information boards. My favourites were the dressed rooms, such as the 1920s Smudgers Holiday Chalet. However, we all enjoyed our visit to the 1900s school room and even had a quick game of school.
Another of the highlights was being able to sit in an Anderson air raid centre. We got a real sense of perspective being in such as small place, especially seeing the communal toilet in the corner!
A visit to the Rural Life Living Museum after lockdown
There was much evidence of social-distancing interventions in place, such as pre-booked tickets, a one-way system and plenty of hand gel. In fact, as there is so much space, we were never in a building with anyone else. It was also evident that some of the more interactive activities (buttons to activate exhibits) were not available, which was a shame.
As well as being one of the best educational days out in Surrey, the Rural Life Living Museum is also an arboretum. The setting is completely natural, so there is a lot of outdoor space. We enjoyed following the trails for a couple of short woodland walks. For younger kids, there is a small village playground.
There is also a light railway which runs round the perimeter of the site but was not in action because of covid.
More useful information for your visit
Getting to the Rural Life Living Museum
The museum is in Reeds Road in Tilford, which is about 4 miles south-west of Farnham. You can get there by car via B300.
The postcode is GU10 2DL.
If you are using public transport, take Bus 46 to Tilford.
Eating at the Rural Life Living Museum
There are several picnic areas at the museum. And the museum has its own café, Old Kiln Café, with outside seating.
Other things to do near the Rural Life Living Museum
Adjacent to the museum, is the RSPB Farnham Heath Nature Reserve. This has a choice of three family-friendly waymarked trails which follow through the woods. There is a bird feeding area close to the Rural Life Museum.
Alternatively, one of the best things to do in Farnham with kids is visit Alice Holt Forest.
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