The museum at Amberley illustrates the history of industries of many kinds from south-east England, but it is particularly important for the evidence it provides of lime production, road transport and industrial railways.
The museum occupies a 14.5 ha site that was once used from the 1840s by Pepper & Co for the quarrying of chalk that was burned in kilns to produce lime, that was used in agriculture and as mortar and render in building. Conserving the kilns was the original raison d’etre of the museum, and visitors are now able to see four groups, the largest of them and 18-chamber range of de Witt kilns of 1905, built to the design of a Belgian. Lime was also used in the production of concrete and an exhibition on the development of concrete technology occupies the drying shed of the de Witt kilns.
The museum includes displays illustrating the history of roads and road-building equipment, but its principal road transport exhibit is the Southdown Bus Collection. Southdown was the name applied from 1915 until 1991 to the principal bus and coach operator along much of the south coast. The company had a distinctive green and cream livery. The collection is housed in two garages which, with a booking office and an inspector’s kiosk which once stood on the sea front at Southsea, provide a vivid impression of the working conditions of bus crews and maintenance staff, particularly between 1920 and 1950. The preserved buses, the oldest of which dates from 1908, carry visitors on circuits round the museum, and make occasional appearances at events elsewhere. The museum also holds a substantial archive of documents relating to the Southdown company.
Amberley also holds a substantial collection illustrating the history of industrial railways in the United Kingdom, including those used on construction sites. It includes more than 30 locomotives of 13 different gauges, as well as many specialist vehicles.