On the first Sunday of the month, between November and March, surprising noise issues from a unit on a small industrial estate, just off Amersham’s Plantation Road, a few minutes from the railway station. The source of the noise takes a bit of finding. You have to locate the right, inconspicuous white door. Once you open it and step through, prepare for an assault on your senses.
For this is the unlikely home of the Amersham Fair Organ Museum, a collection of English fair organs guaranteed to press your nostalgia buttons and transport you to holidays, long ago, the moment they begin to play. Fairground organs evolved from street barrel organs, with the music being created from folding sheets of perforated cardboard music. Travelling showmen used them, at least until the interwar years when amplified music began to come in.
Although this means almost everyone who heard and saw fairground organs in their heyday must be gone, there is no lack of interest or enthusiasm even today, as the audience sits with their tea and cake to listen to It’s a long way to Tipperary and other tunes from years gone by (and even, God help us, the music from those annoying Go Compare ads…) The Museum is a registered charity and runs occasional special events for subscribing Friends, as well as its Open Days. It’s a visual and aural feast, and an important link back to one of the ways in which our ancestors used to enjoy themselves.
It’s no big deal eating in someone’s living room. True, it’s a little more unusual when the low beams hint at over 400 years of history. And then there’s the art works… and the local produce… Clearly the Drawingroom, just off Chesham’s high street, is more than just any old drawing room.
It used to be an office, a photographic studio and a barber’s shop. Not all at the same time, you’d assume. But the current owner Richard seems keen to find as many uses for the space as possible.
When you’re not sitting in the living room enjoying toasties, jacket potatoes or even “wapas” (The Drawingroom’s term for world tapas… yes, I know), along with properly brewed tea, you can goggle at the artwork and the décor. The first floor features a bedroom/sitting room with billowing, Bedouin tent furnishings. The landing is “painted in theatrical red with various guitars hanging on the walls: “The Musicians’ Gallery,” Richard calls it. Musicians – specifically emerging acts – feature in gigs here on the first, second and third weeks of each month. If you miss it, they’re filmed and the TV in the living room will play what you missed.
If music isn’t your bag, try backgammon here on the first or third Wednesday of each month. Or you can hire the venue for your own occasion, as many have done for christenings, wakes or wedding anniversaries.
“Whether you are here for the Art, music, home cooking or peace and tranquillity, I do hope you enjoy it and return often,” say the notes on the menu sheet. I’m not sure about the tranquillity – especially when the gigs are on – but it’s certainly a venue with a difference.