If you wander into a small industrial estate on the right day, you’ll hear the distinctive sound of the funfair coming out of a building — this is the Amersham Fair Organ museum and it’s open just once a month.
The museum is housed in a plain unmarked building and without the small A-board sign at the end of the road you might wonder if you’re even in the correct place. But then you hear the organ bellows pumping away in a shed, so peer through a door and yes, that’s the museum.
Inside, it’s a couple of rooms, with one filled with old fashioned fairground organs, and at any point during the day one of them will be bellowing out tunes as a group of volunteers prepare the next in line.
It’s a curious museum, and not unkindly, felt slightly like a community centre than a conventional museum. There are tables and chairs all around, and many people grab a coffee and sandwich from the table and sit there enjoying the music and, when they can be heard over the music, chatting to friends. It’s not a fussy place, but somewhere people who know about it come to relax and remember the age of the fairground organ.
There are several organs, the organs being so large that more would be difficult, all decorated in the gaudy paint that whispers so evocatively of Victorian fun fairs and Mary Poppins. Wander around, taking in the decoration or poke your nose behind for a good look at the innards. There’s lots of fairground memorabilia dotted around, old signs and photos, and maybe not that big a surprise for this audience, some railway photos as well.
Huge piles of mechanical perforated music cards fill what’s left of the space, ranging from classic tunes to some modern favourites. Look closely and you might spy that many are newly printed, by a firm based down the road in Chesham.
As an instrument more used to being played outside, when in the museum, they are, well, they’re loud. Fortunately for those seeking to lower the volume a bit, there’s a second room where you can sit on what looked like seats taken from old coaches and still enjoy the music with a little less eardrum damage.
Of course, then you can’t see the automaton motion and the workings of the organs, so pop back every so often for the full effect.
It’s not a museum to learn about the organs, as there’s little in the way of signage or interpretation boards — and their website is woeful — so pop along one Sunday just for the experience. You might be there for just long enough to drink a cup of coffee, or you might end up there for hours, because it’s quite an experience.
The museum is free to visit, with donations appreciated, and bring cash for the coffee and sandwiches.
You can find the Amersham Fair Organ Museum at the junction of Plantation Road and Grimsdell’s Lane – about a 15 minute walk from Amersham tube station.
Their open days are usually the first Sunday of the month and are listed here.
At the time of writing, the next open days are:
- Sunday 5th February 2023
- Sunday 5th March 2023
- Sunday 2nd April 2023
While you’re visiting Amersham, do take time to admire the miniature steam train in Amersham town centre.