Willow Bank Heritage Village | A Downtown Abbey Experience!
Once a month, on the outskirts of Wakefield, Edwardian England comes alive!
Turns out there’s a heap of heritage in Wakefield. The township itself is reminiscent of yesteryear with its lovingly cared for old churches and parks. Leafy tree lined streets add to the ambience. A little further South on State Highway 6, (Wakefield – Kohatu Highway) you’ll find Willow Bank Heritage Village tucked away off the main road. If the flags are flying and signs are out, get in there, it’s fantastic!
There is plenty of parking space at Willow Bank. Spaces are marked out in similar fashion to a football pitch with bright white paint on a grassy field. Bright signage directs me to the entrance where several little huts line a well beaten path.
Stepping into the hospital building I’m greeted by the doctor. He’s a fair headed debonair looking chap, well-heeled wearing a perfectly white shirt under a tidy suit. Surrounded by lotions & potions, medical equipment & reference books he appears to be completely competent. The ward is a sterile white, meticulously kept by Matron, who is watching over her bedridden patients diligently.
I spot a lamb on a lead, held fast by a young chap in modern day clothing. His Mum is in charge of the closet that houses costumes for children who want to take part in the re-enactment of an Edwardian Schoolhouse lesson. Offering old world bonnets, pinafores, waistcoats & caps, children chatter excitedly as they choose their costumes. They run off leaving the lamb in the care of Mum who now resembles Little Bo Peep minus the crook.
Laughter draws me further in to the courtyard where visitors are enjoying aromatic coffee in the sunshine. Wrought iron outdoor furniture styled straight from an opulent English garden provides al fresco seating. Maids & Butlers in full costume welcome guests to their pantomime. Its like walking onto the set of Downtown Abbey!
The church/hall doubles as a café. Coffee is served in fine bone china cups, produced by an antiquated coffee machine that looks like it came straight from a Jules Verne novel! Found in total disrepair and restored with love, it takes pride of place on the kitchen counter. Opulent glass display cabinets house irresistible cakes and treats. The sound of rattling crockery tinkles as maids service tables. Magical rays of light flood through massive stained-glass windows, illuminating the dining room. Willow Bank manager Christine Grieder appears in full Victorian attire carrying a massive block of ice for the newly acquired ice box. Lifted by a sharp steel ice tong, she places the solid block into the upper chamber of the ‘fridge’ and explains how this early invention works. Its clever and functional, evoking a whole new appreciation for modern refrigeration.
Here, school starts at 11 o’clock. A small child whizzes past me on a rustic tin trike as I make my way to meet Miss Baigent, the school mistress. Inside the schoolhouse the unruly children are soon subdued by her authority. Miss Baigent checks the roll as little bonnets nod to acknowledge their name. The lyrics to God Save the King are scrawled on the chalk board which is situated right next to a beaming image of King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra. Ink wells are full of the black runny liquid and ‘out of bounds’ for the inquisitive. I chuckle quietly while remembering stories my grandmother relayed of having her long hair ‘dipped’ in the ink vessels by mischief makers.
Leaving the children to their lesson I meander down the ‘street’ and discover an ice cream shop and burger joint, all set behind a Victorian façade. There’s a great variety of food on offer for those wanting to lunch in yesteryear.
The sound of grinding lures me to the haberdashery where you can bring your knives, scissors and gardening equipment to be sharpened the old-fashioned way. Inside, old tills, newspapers & sundry items wait for affluent bustled ladies to peruse. It’s totally charming.
Willow Bank Heritage Village is an absolute delight to visit. The invitation to interact is one not to be missed. Grab a costume, dress up, and immerse yourself in the era. Your friendly hosts are warm & welcoming. They play their parts with passion and pride while depicting a life in days gone by.
Complimenting the village history at Willow Bank and just a short drive down the road you’ll find Higgins Heritage Park, a truck & machinery museum filled with local relics and restorations. Together these amazing collections bring you a total immersion in history.
Entry to Willow Bank Heritage Village is free. Check their website for open days and events.
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