Laid back and low key, there’s a lovely tumbledown feel to this homage to our rural heritage, which was set up in the 1970s by the late Henry and Madge Jackson, and is now run as a charitable trust.
It’s home to an eclectic mix of old buildings spanning more than 200 years, many saved from demolition and brought here from all over the south of England. It’s all very hands on, with kids encouraged to ditch their parents and explore the huge, rambling site, which contains more than 100 different varieties of trees.
Naturally enough, agricultural paraphernalia looms large, and you can virtually hear the wind howling through the small, corrugated iron shepherd’s hut that used to be wheeled out on to the South Downs during lambing season over 100 years ago.
Alongside the working forge and wheelwrights workshop, there’s also plenty of flotsam and jetsam from another very local industry, hop picking.
One of the centre’s newest buildings is Smudger’s, an early example of a holiday chalet that was rescued from a campsite in Box Hill and is named after a former owner. Staff at the centre had to cut the 1920s wooden shack in half with a chainsaw before transporting it to the museum, where it lay under tarpaulins for three years before finally being re-erected last year.
Volunteers also saved the fabulous Eashing Chapel, which was being used as a chicken coop when it was re-discovered in 1994. The building dates back to the 1850s and is clad in sweet chestnut poles, a local building method mirrored by the centre’s extraordinary cricket pavilion, salvaged from a ground in nearby Godalming. Fittingly it now houses the centre’s collection of sporting memorabilia, as well as an assortment of weird and wonderful machines that would baffle today’s groundskeepers.
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A mighty catalogue
The volunteers that run the centre admit they’ve lost track of the total number of artefacts in the museum’s gargantuan collection. Many are displayed in a variety of recreated shops including a bakery, vets and haberdashers, and there’s also a lovingly restored Victorian school, where kids can dress up in old school uniforms.
The centre has a picnic area and café, and you can also catch a ride on a small vintage railway that chugs round the site.
There’s a packed calendar of events too, with July promising a real rural jamboree of fun. On the weekend of 13-14 July, a whole range of old engines rumble on to the site, machines which are a testament to the ingenuity of both farmers and factory owners. 29 July is billed as Rustic Sunday when, alongside demonstrations of rural crafts and country music, there’s a celebration of local writer George Sturt.
Sturt was an avid chronicler of rural life in Victorian Surrey, so it seems fitting that the 150th anniversary of his birth should be celebrated with a parade. This is just one of many ways this centre keeps us connected with our rural roots.
HOW TO GET THERE
The centre is half way between Frensham and Tilford, on Reeds Road – look out for the brown tourist signs.
FIND OUT MORE
Rural Life Centre
Reeds Road, Tilford, Farnham GU10 2DL
The Duke of Cambridge
Tilford Road, Tilford
A menu that’s big on seasonal fare, including local ice cream.
Kiln Farm B&B
8 Kiln Lane, Farnham
Converted barns promise
true rural tranquillity.