‘Vile’ vandals trash Victorian church after open-air museum had just reopened

A Victorian church and other buildings have been trashed by vandals – on the night after England’s first open-air museum had opened for the first time in six months.

The attack “throughout the 19-acre site” left lots of windows smashed.

It also meant the Avoncroft Museum was closed today on the second day of the May Day Bank Holiday Weekend.

One of the buildings damaged was The 1881 Mission Church from Bringsty Common in Herefordshire.

Victoria Reynolds-Bourne, who had planned to visit the Bromsgrove attraction today, said: “Very disappointed to hear we couldn’t visit today, but devastated and heartbroken to see the damage! People are absolutely vile.”

The heritage museum was England’s first open-air museum when it originally opened more than 50 years ago in 1967 – others now include the Black Country Living Museum near Dudley and Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge.

Closed for six months since October because of the two winter lockdowns, the independent charitable museum had only reopened on Saturday, May 1.

Broken windows: The 1881 Mission Church from Bringsty Common in Herefordshire was moved to Avoncroft Museum

The museum has launched an appeal to try to pay for the damage via its website here – the page says donations can be via Gift Aid which would boost your donation by 25 per cent.

The museum is home to the National Collection of Telephone Kiosks and one of its most popular attractions is a prefab saved from Yardley.

The Taylor Woodrow Arcon Mark V design from 1946 was moved from its address at 85 Moat Lane, Yardley back in 1980.

Smashed glass left the Avoncroft Museum too dangerous to open
Smashed glass left the Avoncroft Museum too dangerous to open

What the museum said

Avoncroft Museum posted the following message to customers on its Facebook page today.

It said: “It is with enormous sadness that we have to announce that the Museum will be CLOSED today, Sunday May 2.

“Unfortunately we were subjected to a vandal attack yesterday evening – there is a lot of work to be done by police and forensics, and by our small team to clear up a lot of broken glass throughout the site, and it’s just not safe to open.

Avoncroft Museum buildings have been vandalised - one day after reopening following closure for six months
Avoncroft Museum buildings have been vandalised – one day after reopening following closure for six months

“I know you’ll be disappointed, and so are we – yesterday was such a lovely day, and today promised to be fine as well – we hope you’ll book to visit us again in the near future.

“If you have bought a ticket for today, we will be in touch shortly to reimburse you. Please don’t call or e-mail – we will be in touch but we are just a very small team.

“Thank you for your understanding – and if you know of a local glazier or boarding up company who is available on a bank holiday Sunday, please message us!! Any help greatly welcomed.”

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Those who love the museum’s collection of saved buildings amid its green, 19-acre site were quick to condemn the attack.

Karen Cook who was one of the first visitors yesterday, posted on the site’s Facebook page: “Absolutely appalling behaviour, had a lovely visit yesterday and we will be back again soon.”

Helen Greaves added: “It is literally beyond my comprehension how people can sink so low in their actions. I am absolutely gutted for you. We will come and visit when you reopen.”

Part of the National Collection of Telephone Kiosks at Avoncroft
Part of the National Collection of Telephone Kiosks at Avoncroft

Laura Slegg-Newton commented: “This is despicable. Even more so as you’ve been closed so long and it was your reopening weekend.

“Devastated for all who work/volunteer there and visitors too.

“We were really looking forward to our return tomorrow (despite the terrible weather forecast!).

“I’m presuming you’ll remain closed tomorrow – if so please do keep our entry fee to contribute to the repairs.”

Alain Cook said: “Thinking of you all at Avoncroft and I hope the police catch those whom have done this awful act of pure vandalism

“What sort of people deliberately destroy such a lovely place?”

Carol Ann added: “Fuming. We’ve been locked in for a year and the minute we’re allowed to visit somewhere nice this happens, absolute scum of the earth.”

A 1946 prefab from Yardley at the Avoncroft Museum
A 1946 prefab from Yardley at the Avoncroft Museum

W hat is Avoncroft Museum?

Owned by its membership and run by volunteer trustees, the museum is home to more than 30 buildings and structures, most of which have been relocated from places as far afield as Clwyd and Staffordshire in the north to Herefordshire to the south west.

They cover 700 years of history and include Worcester Cathedral’s 14th century Guesten Hall roof to a furnished pre-fab from Yardley in Birmingham.

A windmill that was in use until 1874 has 60ft sails and you can also go inside – it was moved from Danzey in Warwickshire in 1968.

There is also an Edwardian tea room, a cidery and perry orchard along with wildflower meadow and period gardens.

A popular venue for weddings, the museum is usually only closed in January and February but had not been open since October last year when most of its 12 full-time staff were reportedly placed under threat of redundancy.

From May 1 to 23 the museum was taking advance bookings only at a special rate of £5 per person.

The actual buildings would be closed but all open air areas of the site, including the play areas, were opening.

The tea rooms would also be be open to supply takeaway food and drink and ice creams, too.

Originally founded in 1963, the museum had 41,300 visitors in 2016 and the following year launched a 20-year ‘vision’ plan to try to reach 100,000 visitors by 2037 – not knowing it would be seriously hit by Covid-19 in 2020.

If you want to visit, try to book in advance to see if it has reopened.

Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings is at Stoke Heath, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
B60 4JR. Tel: 01527 831363 / 831886.

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