The Old House at Coate is owned by Swindon Borough Council and maintained, primarily by volunteers from the Richard Jefferies Society, as a museum dedicated to Jefferies.
Opening times: the museum is open from 2-5pm every Sunday from the beginning of May to the end of September, and 10am-4pm on the second Wednesday of each month throughout the year.To visit at other times, please contact us.
Sited near the beautiful Coate Water country park, the museum has an extensive collection of items relating to Jefferies; for example, first editions of many of Richard Jefferies' writings, the manuscript of Wood Magic and photographs, paintings and memorabilia. Furthermore, much of the house has been restored to create the atmosphere of a mid to late 19th Century farmhouse, complete with four-poster bed, a diorama of Jefferies as a young boy reading on his bed, and even a cheese room.
But there is so much more to be done...
A Development Trust is currently being set up to run the museum and we are creating comprehensive plans for the museum's future. Some of the things we are working on are quite obvious and necessary: restoration of the main house; sprucing up of the artefacts and displays; setting up more facilities (maybe cream teas and a shop); tidying up the garden; and so on. The site also has several outbuildings that offer huge potential for additional elements, and the links between the house and Coate Water country park will need to be developed to improve visitor access.
If the Old House at Coate is to reach its full potential, there will need to be more imaginative approaches to how the museum operates, on top of the practical list above. Fortunately, Jefferies himself
provides many avenues that are worth pursuing. Here are just a few of those we are examining:
Jefferies' writing. Jefferies' literary works clearly present the strongest 'asset' that the museum has at its disposal. He wrote about such a wide range of subjects that there is almost something for everyone. Perhaps most pertinent to today's eco-friendly world, is Jefferies' passionate love of the countryside. Of course, this creates rich opportunities for educational facilities and events, as well as possible publishing and literary avenues. Furthermore, fans of Jefferies' writing can be found all across the world and include some well known names, for example: author Will Self; gardener Monty Don; journalists Julian Glover and Graham Harvey; and even politicians, such as Liberal Democrat, Jonathan Calder.
History & Archaeology. Many of the exhibits in the museum give fascinating insights into bygone times. Occasionally, they bridge different layers of Swindon's rich history; for example, a plaque placed on Liddington Hill in 1938 (with the support of the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain) was later reputedly shot at by US troops in advance of their massive push into Nazi-occupied France during World War II. There are also strong opportunities to link to the rich tapestry of archaeological evidence in and around the Coate area, particularly the prehistoric monuments and landscape. For example, there are Bronze Age barrows in the field next to the Old House at Coate, and Jefferies himself discovered evidence of a Neolithic stone circle near Coate Water.
Sound and vision. An idea has been put forward by Barry Andrews, of Swindon-grown band XTC, to create an installation which, through sound, music and large computer-generated moving images, evokes the atmosphere of Jefferies' post-apocalyptic book, After London. Fragments of Jefferies' text will be sampled and played as part of the soundtrack, with the installation joining a long tradition of meditations upon devestated landscapes. Barry, with co-band member, Andy Partridge, believe that this unique attempt to highlight Jefferies' work and the use of digital modern technology will make the stranger aspects of this visionary writer more accesible to a modern audience.
Agricultural tools collection. Closely tied in to Jefferies' passion for the countryside, was a love of the agricultural life that played such a big part of his growing up. Incredibly, Swindon owns a fascinating collection of agricultural artefacts, photographs and documents, relating to the long and illustrious history that the Swindon area has associated with agriculture. The collection once formed the basis of the Coate Agricultural Museum which closed in the 1980s, and it is hoped that some of the artefacts could be used to augment the offer at the Old House at Coate, possibly in one of the outbuildings pictured above.
Coate Water. The Old House at Coate is right on the edge of Coate Water country park and, all through Jefferies writing, the influence of this fabulous place is apparent. Discussions are taking place with Swindon Borough Council on how the two places can work more together for the benefit of all. As well as helping to resolve things like visitor parking, both sites could benefit from increased tie-in with Jefferies' works, perhaps through nature and/or art trails. Also, the land that lies between the two sites would make a perfect site for large scale outdoor events - agricultural shows perhaps?
Other places. Jefferies, although born and raised in Swindon, spent much of his life moving around. We are currently exploring possible relationships with some of the places where he lived, such as: Sydenham, where he attended a private school; Tolworth, near Surbiton; Brighton; Rotherfield; Crowborough; Eltham; and the Worthing suburb of Goring, where Jefferies eventually died. Jefferies even had ambitions to travel further afield - when he was sixteen he attempted to walk to Russia, via France. When this plan failed, he shifted his sights to Liverpool and then, wishfully, America. Sadly, these international ambitions, which would undoubtedly have produced some interesting writings, were short lived.