Summer holidays are in the air! This week, the children finally broke up and the long break is under way. Not quite as long as I remember it being however. 25 July seems a very late finish, although they do go back on 5 September. Six weeks on the dot.
I still remember that feeling of expectation and excitement at the start of the summer holidays. In fact, I still probably really feel it. Plans, anticipation, long days, hot nights, bushes and trees full of fruit, the smell of a mown lawn. The smell of freedom. (Must not forget that I don’t actually have six weeks holiday myself this summer … !)
So, this weekend I’ve been indulging in some mystery shopping: checking out local heritage sites with the junior holiday makers.
On Saturday, I took our 8-year old daughter and my mother to the Petersfield Museum. A top tip from the ‘Primary Times’, a copy of which always seems to appear at the end of term. (Basically a what’s on guide for try-hard parents.) I often read through, circling things I think might be interesting. A science festival. Outdoor theatre. Family fun days. Then promptly forget about them …
But this year, our son has been charged with finding out about the Victorians over the summer, so I read the ‘Primary Times’ a little more assiduously. And circled many more entries than usual, including a Free Day at the Petersfield Museum.
To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much from the Petersfield Museum or indeed the town. Mostly we just skirt around Petersfield on the way to the annual summer family gathering near Midhurst. Or when we’re visiting Uppark, one of our collective favourite NT places. I had no real expectations. The ad promised ‘children’s fun taking inspiration from the poetry of Edward Thomas’. Well, although I know little about Mr Thomas, I’m into educational fun so we popped along, with Granny in tow.
After eventually finding a parking space (there are clearly people out there who know a lot more about Petersfield than I do – and they like it), we headed to the museum. And there we discovered a little gem. Unlikely as it might seem, the museum brings together the Bedales School costume collection; the work of landscape/war poet, Edward Thomas; the paintings of local girl, Flora Twort and the history of the town. And it works! I’ve been to so many museums where it doesn’t quite. But Petersfield Museum, recently moved to the old Police Station, cleverly finds the golden thread running through these different stories.
Being a geek for this kind of thing, I noticed the patrons included Martin Drury, Director-General of the National Trust when I first joined alongside Dame Zandra Rhodes (for the fashion); Sir Daniel Day Lewis (the actor, who went to Bedales); Sir Andrew Motion (former Poet Laureate) and Lord Egremont (of nearby Petworth House).
After enjoying the different galleries, we ended up in the Court House which is currently the education space. Here we read Thomas poems and recreated them in clay. And when I say we, I do mean me too! Great to get my hands dirty and share this experience with the darling daughter. And all in the former court, complete with witness stand and public gallery, used until 1995 apparently.
But as ever, what made our visit was the people. The wonderful lady on reception who explained things so fabulously and made us feel so welcome. The lovely education officer: new to the museum and an archaeologist by training, he was a natural and warm communicator. And the friendly librarian who showed us the special Edward Thomas collection upstairs.
We loved everything about the Petersfield Museum and it would be great if there were a way to connect professionally. I can imagine some INTO colleagues learning a lot from what they have done – and sharing too!
Today, a different visit all together. Billed in Primary Times as ‘a day of activities for everyone’, Bursledon Brickworks definitely did not disappoint. Who would have thought bricks could be so interesting!? Yet again, thanks to a fabulous bunch of volunteers who really brought the place alive for our family. An old boy keeping a little steam engine going was happy to spare some time explaining it all to our 10 year old. Another walked us through the process of mixing the mortar, cutting bricks into shape and transporting them to the drying sheds. A lady changing into Victorian costume in the toilet, a friendly blacksmith, a kindly soul who lent us some old one pennies for the vintage slot machines.
Learning about our industrial heritage was fascinating. And I love those old industrial landscapes – big chimneys, the smell of a steam engine, lots of big machinery. Bursledon Brickworks had laid on an extravaganza. Une vraie fête de la brique! And it was wonderful. It’s a large site and there was a dog agility show, a sign language choir, old buses, stalls, crazy golf, a Victorian tea party, even a flea circus … Don’t get me started on the flea circus. I thought they only existed in comic books. But no! There one was in real life. At the last remaining steam driven Victorian brickworks in the country!
We finished our day with a ride on the Hampshire Narrow Gauge Railway Trust’s railway around the site. Amazing to follow the route of the clay dug from nearby pits to the brickworks. And there being turned into the simple blocks that built Victorian Britain.
Another fabulous local day out. Hurrah for the ‘Primary Times’ and it’s summer guide. Hurrah for Hampshire and the variety of heritage she embraces! Hurrah for the funders who so generously support these wonderful places. But most of all three cheers to the fabulous individuals who take time out of their own summer holidays to welcome a slightly confused old lady in a wheelchair, a seemingly jaded ten year old and an enthusiastic eight year old – and make magic happen. Thank you all! You are an inspiration.