History’s not so horrible here

A Hampshire historic attraction is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a series of events including a Festival of Archaeology, the return of an autumn ceremonial boat burning – and the screening of a movie starring itself.

Butser Ancient Farm, nestled within the South Downs National Park, has grown from its origins as a research site into a popular outdoor attraction showcasing ancient Britain through archaeological reconstructions from the Iron Age through to the Anglo-Saxons.

Visitors can step back in time to experience life through the centuries featuring Stone Age, Iron Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon reconstructed buildings, as well as see ancient breeds of animals alongside prehistoric crops, and even have a go at ancient skills.

The buildings – all based on evidence from real archaeological excavations – are internationally famous and appear frequently in documentaries and feature films, most recently in 2019’s Horrible Histories: The Movie and Sky TV’s fantasy drama Britannia.

With a focus on education and research, it began life as a working ‘ancient farm’ in 1972 where archaeologists could experiment to test their theories on how people lived in Iron Age times. The first public open day was in 1974, but because the Farm proved so popular it soon moved and expanded, first to the nearby Valley of Hillhampton Down in 1976, and then to its current location at Bascomb Copse in 1991.

Today, the farm – run by a not-for-profit company, Butser Education Community Interest Company (CIC) – is a world-renowned hub for archaeological research, carrying out pioneering experiments to understand how the people of ancient Britain lived.

Open to the public at weekends and during Hampshire school holidays, the farm has also developed into one of the top attractions in the country for lovers of history, wildlife, archaeology, architecture and rural life.

Each of the reconstructed buildings offer an impression of what daily life could have been like for those who lived in this area thousands of years ago with Stone Age beds, Roman toilets, Celtic herb gardens and Saxon Runes among recreated features.

There are also regular special re-enactment weekends and events, including a contingent from the Butser IX Roman Legion in residence around the Roman Villa (selected dates throughout the year), and a chance to travel back to AD882 to meet Saxons and Vikings (16 July).

For its anniversary year, special events include an Experimental Archaeology Evening Tour, an exclusive out of hours evening tour (22 June 2022, £16 per person), and a Festival of Archaeology, 25 to 29 July 2022, aimed at inspiring young and old alike about the world of archaeology with a range of ancient skills and archaeological activities to try out. The Farm is also promising some extra hands-on experimental archaeological opportunities to help celebrate its anniversary, with details set to be revealed nearer the date.

For those who like their history and movies, a special screening of Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans will be staged in the Farm’s Iron Age Roundhouse… the location used to film key scenes in the movie.

The secret-cinema style show on Saturday 28 May 2022, will also see cinema-goers joined by a band of Rotten Romans and Cut-throat Celts, while Roman themed snacks and drinks will be available to buy and visitors will also be able to explore the farm and film-set after hours (£12 adults, £8 children including booking fee).

And for a spectacular autumn event, the Equinox Boat Burn with the Saxons and Vikings will return on 24 September 2022. As darkness descends over the South Downs, join with the Vikings and Saxons to mark the turning of the year with an evening of entertainment and music, culminating in a ceremonial boat burning at dusk.

More details about Butser Ancient Farm can be found at www.butserancientfarm.co.uk

For tourist information about Hampshire, see www.visit-hampshire.co.uk