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.

 

 

 

 

 

Weald and Downland Open Air Museum


Thursday and another day spent blowing away the cobwebs. The question was where to go,  where could we get some fresh air but without risking getting soaked. The answer was The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton.

Just a short twenty-mile drive from home, the museum is set in the heart of the South Downs and is encompassed by the South Downs National Park. It is home to around 50 historic buildings that were previously facing destruction. Those buildings were carefully dismantled and have been rebuilt here. All of the buildings, spanning the period c.1300 to c.1910, originate from the Weald and Downland of the counties of Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. The museum is set against an ever-changing backdrop of the Sussex downs.

A small portion of the Sussex countryside

Brilliant scenery, interesting historical buildings with animals mixed in. What better way to get fresh air and exercise.

On entering the site and paying a quite modest entry fee you pass through the Hambrook Barn. The barn has an interesting audio / visual display, with many photos of past and present artisans, some of whom may have worked in some of the buildings in the museum

Barn from Hambrook, Sussex

Passing through the barn you are presented with a high level view over The Market place and down to the pond which has a wind powered water pump. The pump was relocated from Pevensey in Sussex.

The Market Place

Wind Pump

As you stroll down to the pond area you pass the old Tollhouse which was originally from Beeding in Sussex.

Tollhouse

Sat below the pond is the mill that the water drives. The mill is in operation and you can go inside and view the workings as well as purchase fresh ground flour and other goodies. We came away with a number of packets of local biscuits. Yuuumy !!!

Watermill

Pond

Further round the site there is a working Smithy. The building originates from Southwater which by the way is where some of my family have lived in past times. My grandfather used to work the horses on farmlands around Sussex and who knows he may have visited this building or may have had his horses fitted with shoes from this forge and anvil.

Outside the smithy there is a vertical sculpture. The photo below is a close  up of just a part.

Detail From Sculpture near the “Smithy”

Although the buildings are the main reason for the museum one cannot avoid nature. The museum setting means that you are surrounded by beautiful trees, open fields and water.

Naked Tree

Lower Mill Pond

Around the grounds there are various animals most of which are traditional breeds including  Shire horses, Sussex cattle, South Down sheep, Tamworth pigs, geese and Light Sussex chickens. The shire horse can be seen  working around the site.

A plump / pregnant sheep

One of the shire horses pulling a cart

It is estimated that you need around three hours to take in all the museum has to offer. That is presumably if you don’t just sit on one of the many benches to absorb the sunshine, the beautiful scenery and the peace and tranquility.

Well for the most part anyway. Our little piece of tranquility was punctuated by a very yappy French Poodle and a large family group who could only communicate by shouting and screaming at each other.

Despite the minor negative moments we had a brilliant time and sadly we had to make our way home.

The road home.

For more information take a look at The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum website. Better still go and visit. You will not be disappointed.