Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre

It is hard to imagine Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre in its previous incarnation as the Amberley chalk pits. After all, the man-made valley was once so white that workers suffered from snow blindness. With so much greenery now packed in, including a variety of orchids, it is hard to imagine that lime production ceased so recently.

These glorious surroundings provide the perfect backdrop to a huge collection of industry-related buildings, vehicles and exhibits that is loved and maintained by a team of 400 volunteers. West Sussex County Council owns the site and leases it to the museum which operates as a registered charity.

Probably the most famous of the buildings on the site is the De Witt Kilns which have been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The block of brick kilns was designed by a Belgian called De Witt and built in around 1905. When I visited in 2005, restoration work had not then commenced. The Heritage Lottery Fund grant was certainly spent well.

Another structure that I was glad to see again was Hove Station’s old ticket office, which I last saw at Hove Station funnily enough. The handsome single-storey structure used to be situated at the north end of the pedestrian bridge that crosses Hove Station and suddenly vanished in 2004, along with the many trees to its east, when new sidings were added. Many feared that the listed building had simply been destroyed. I was delighted to see it again in its new role as ‘Brockham Station’, which now serves the railway that transports visitors from one end of the quarry to the other.

On the subject of bridges, as the Golden Gate Bridge is not particularly close by, I failed to recognise Amberley Museum as the site of Zorin’s mine in the 1985 Bond classic A View to a Kill. It wasn’t until I chatted with Museum Curator Claire Seymour that I wished that I had paid a little more attention when I watched the film last weekend at my nan’s.

Recent trips to Amberley Museum, the British Engineerium and Hove Park Railway remind me that we Brits tend to do innovation better than anyone else in the world. We need people like Claire and the army of volunteers – such as Jim Hawkins and Chris Kirk who both showed me around – to inspire that whole new generation of engineers that we so desperately need.