Amberley Working Museum

On a recent trip over to Amberley Castle, near Arundel in West Sussex, I felt a bit like the hapless foreigner who bought London Bridge thinking that it was Tower Bridge. We queued for the museum and started to look around the various buildings and exhibits. “Is the castle along here?” I asked a member of staff. “What castle?” he said. Okay, so Amberley Castle is situated further along the road and I went to the wrong place but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The Amberley Working Museum was built in the old chalk pits that were in use from the 1940s to the 1960s. Chalk was quarried and burnt in kilns to make lime. Put simply, lime is the product of heated chalk and coal. Cement is produced if clay is added to the mix. Either may be used with sand as mortar between bricks, but cement is easier to work as it dries far quicker though lime is more flexible and therefore doesn’t crack as easily. Cement mixed with sand becomes concrete which is an absolutely essential modern building material as the Concrete Exhibition, housed in one of the former bagging sheds, points out.

The Museum is a slideshow of our fine industrial past though the layout of the place is what I found particularly interesting. The old industrial buildings have all been put to good use and are scattered around the site along winding paths and tucked away in small valleys or hidden by trees. Each contains a different exhibit. The various displays include pottery, bricks, telephones, tools, gin and even broom-making. On the particular Sunday that I visited, there was also an outdoor steam show with around 100 working steam engines on display. Many of the original quarry features have survived such as the De Witt kilns – an English Heritage Scheduled Ancient Monument that is soon to be restored. Originally the nearby railway would have come straight into the quarry to pick up and deliver goods so the train rides around the site (included in the price) are certainly relevant.

The Amberley Working Museum puts the nearby derelict Shoreham Cement Works to shame in that a suitable use for the site has long been found. I thoroughly recommend that you take a trip over to Amberley this summer – even if it’s not to see the castle. Call the museum on 01798 831370.