Weald and Downland Living Museum


I am the eldest of three siblings and have two younger sisters. Years ago, due to job seeking, I moved away from the family home, in Sussex, eventually settling in Hampshire. Only 90 miles or so away, but far enough that our get togethers are irregular at best. We all have busy lives and trying to coordinate a gathering around our diaries is like herding cats. What we tend to do is pick a place of interest, somewhere between our respective homes, then meet up for the day. The main criteria being that there are nice walks in the grounds, interesting stately homes to explore and so forth. Also key is that there is a decent cafe / tea room or pub. Past venues for these family gatherings have been:

  1. Chartwell –  Family home and garden of Sir Winston Churchill. Chartwell was the much-loved Churchill family home from 1922 and the place from which Sir Winston drew inspiration until the end of his life
  2. Nymans – A garden lovers’ home for all seasons, with an extensive yet intimate garden set around a romantic house and ruins. Nymans was a country retreat for the creative Messel family, and has views stretching out across the Sussex Weald
  3. Wakehurst Place. Part of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, this wild botanic garden on the High Weald of West Sussex has over 500 acres of beautiful ornamental gardens, woodlands and a nature reserve. Wakehurst is also home to the Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild seed conservation project in the world.
  4. Bodiam Castle – Archetypal 14th century moated castle with ruined interior – a glimpse of medieval splendour. Set in the heart of an historic landscape, with spiral staircases, battlements and a portcullis, 14th century Bodiam Castle is one of Britain’s most picturesque and romantic ancient monuments.

And so we come to our latest gathering.

The venue of choice on this occasion was The Weald and Downland Living Museum. In their own words

Come and discover rescued rural homes and buildings set in a beautiful landscape, which tell the stories of the people who lived and worked in them over 1,000 years.

Enjoy our family friendly 40-acre site and visit our collection of historic buildings – we have more than 50 to explore from a replica Anglo-Saxon hall house to an Edwardian tin tabernacle church. There is a regular programme of demonstrations, including milling in our 17th century watermill; cooking in our Tudor kitchen; blacksmithing in our Victorian smithy; plus seasonal demonstrations. Take a walk in the woods, bring the dog (we are dog-friendly), visit our waterside café (also dog-friendly) or enjoy your own picnic.

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North Cray Medieval House & Lavant Building

As is our normal practice, we met in the cafe, and set about orienting ourselves while downing a cuppa.

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Lakeside Cafe

The nice thing about this location, is the fact that it is constantly growing. Gerry and I have visited on several previous occasions and it is always different, there is always something new.

A prime example of the new is the dairy building below. Still under construction / restoration, this building dates from c1807 and originates from Eastwick Park, Surrey.

As stated above, there are over 40 acres of grounds with buildings spread all over. From my memory, one of the earliest buildings that we have visited is the mill.

The Weald and Downland Museum regularly appears on TV and there is a current series being broadcast. As they were filming something for that series part of the site was off-limits. Didn’t stop me taking a couple of pictures though.

My grandfather worked the land, using horses, in the county of Sussex around Lancing, Worthing and Sompting. It is entirely possible that he may have visited this Victorian Smithy, from Southwater, during his working years.

We should consider ourselves very lucky, with all the technology and heavy machinery at our disposal. Back in the day things were very different, the work hard and often back-breaking. For example, does anyone fancy working a saw-pit ?

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Saw-Pit from Sheffield Park

At least the workers would have had shelter from the rain or sun. The building here is 19th century and provided cover over a permanent saw-pit on the Sheffield Park estate.

Some of the hard labour was delegated to animals. Here is an example of a 19th century  “horse-gin” from Patching, Sussex.

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19th Century “horse-gin” from Patching, Sussex

“gin” appears to be a contraction of the word “engine”. Such devices were used to drive threshers or churns, but could also be used to pump water or raise coal or miners from  mines. The example below was used to mix the “pug” for making bricks.

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Redford Pug Mill

Not all the buildings here are industrial or agricultural. After all that physical labour the spiritual needs of the workers would have to be catered for.

Many trades are reflected in the various buildings here, plumbing ….

shop-keeping ….

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To the left is Horsham Medieval Shop, Front and centre is Titchfield Market Hall

Also on display are a number of residential buildings. The following pictures are of  Whittakers Cottages, built in Ashtead during the mid 1860s.

Also on display are various wagons, animal boxes and so forth….

This house was removed and resurrected from Walderton, Sussex. The flint and brick exterior date from early to mid 17th century. However, the insides are what remains of a medieval timber-framed building.

 

Below is a 19th century Stable from West Wittering, currently be used as a Potting Shed …

The following building was originally a cart shed but it was converted into a schoolhouse.

For some years up to 1851 it was used as a school for “six poor children from the parish of West Wittering”.

The museum is also home for a number of animals including horses, oxen, chickens and ducks.

This is the proud Percheron mother of a foal, just two and a half weeks old.

By the time we arrived at the foals enclosure a storm was moving in. Thunder rumbling and lightening flashing. The foal didn’t seem to be fazed by the noise but mum was obviously aware. When the rain started, the foal was frolicking around, galloping and leaping in the air. Considering that the foal had never experienced rain this was a joyful moment.

With the rain looking like it was in for the remainder of the day we headed along the high path back to the cafe. We were presented with the following views through the rain …

Back at the cafe we had a nice cuppa and a slice of flapjack before saying our good-byes and heading home.

It was a good day and I for one am looking forward to the next visit.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bluebell Line


Continuing a theme of stepping back in time, today’s post is about the Bluebell Railway which runs between East Grinstead & Sheffield Park in East Sussex.

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Bluebell Railway – Sheffield Park Station

This was another “wrinklies” trip, organised by the IBM Retired Employees Club. And what a fine day out it was.

A coach trip through some of the finest countryside that Hampshire and Sussex have to offer. You see so much more from the high vantage point that a coach provides. Seeing much that is missed, hidden behind hedgerows when sitting in a car.

On arrival at Sheffield Park, we had time to wander the station, the gift shop and cafe.

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Bluebell Line – Sheffield Park – Platform view with some rolling stock in the distance.

Over to the right you can just make out a brown locomotive. This is the Fenchurch, the oldest engine on the Bluebell Line.

Fenchurch was built in 1872 for the London Brighton and South Coast Railway.

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It was sold in 1898 to the Newhaven Harbour Company where it worked for many years. It finished its working life on the Hayling Island branch where the light weight, at 28 tons, was valuable due to the limits on the bridge over the estuary.

Whilst wandering the platforms, browsing the souvenir shop and raiding the restaurant for some chilled water, our train arrived.

The walls of the station buildings are adorned with the advertising posters of yesteryear, many stirring quite strong memories.

Before we could board, the existing passengers had to disembark, and then the engine had to be moved from the one end of the train to the other.

While the engine swapped ends the carriage for our group was also being prepared for our luncheon. We were to enjoy a ploughman’s lunch and fresh brewed tea.

Once our engine was re-attached to our train there was just time for a few more shots before boarding.

And then we were off. Not the smooth running of todays diesel/electric trains. Rather a gentle pulsing which comes from the steam-driven pistons driving our locomotives wheels. Then there was the aroma, coal fire mixed with steam. Once experienced, never forgotten.

The line passes through some beautiful countryside. We saw cows, sheep, quite a few pheasants. I even saw, what I assumed was an owl box, shaped like the gable end of barn, mounted in a tree close by the railway.

We were sat across our table from a nice couple of gents with whom we nattered about all manner of subjects. We all enjoyed our ploughman’s lunch although perhaps it would have been more appropriate to have had an engine drivers breakfast. Bacon, sausage, eggs and toast cooked on a shovel in the firebox. But I guess that would have been too much to ask for. Even the tea could have made using steam from the boiler.

Ah well, perhaps another time. All too soon our journey was over and we all left the train and headed back to our coach for the drive home.

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Journeys End – an almost deserted platform

And finally, when we had a nationalised railway system, we all moaned and wished we could go back to the days of the independent and local railway companies. Now we have a national rail network with franchised companies running the trains. With the current, recurring railway network chaos headlining our newspapers and television news, it seems we are all wishing we had our old nationalised system under British Railways ……

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