“ Address: Singleton / Sussex / England „
The Weald and Downland Open air museum is located down a winding road in Singleton, Sussex. It's roughly 15 minutes drive from Chichester (you will need a car to get there) and very close to Midhurst.
The museum is situated on a large site and comprises of old buildings, rescued from decay and demolition, which have been reconstructed on the site in as much of their original state as possible. They come complete with furniture (reproductions) to make the buildings seem lived in, almost as if the owners have just gone out to work for the day. This means that when you walk into the museum it almost feels like you're stepping back into the past with beautiful buildings spanning hundreds of years, situated in a country village fashion (the picture shows what is know as the market place) and outlying buildings spread over several acres.
The aim of the musuem is to save these buildings and preserve them for the enjoyment of current and future generations, giving visitors a feel for the historic, architectural past of the area. I think this is an excellent achievement as if the musuem had not stepped in then many of these buildings would have been knocked down and simply lost to the pages of history, if indeed they were remembered at all. By restoring them and placing them in the museum you get a chance to see how these buildings were intended to look.
Each of the buildings on site has a name plaque stating the building name, age and original location (the buildings are taken apart bit by bit, numbered and reconstructed on site according to original plans). Some of the buildings also have more information inside them which is often presented in little folders placed on tables or attached to the wall. Further to this you can purchase an excellent guide book from the shop for £2.95 which goes into extensive detail about each building, often accompanied by photos of the buildings before they were moved to the site.
Some buildings of note are:
- Walderton house which has been reconstructed to show two phases of it's life - how it would have appeared when first built and after remodelling in the 17th century (this has been done by splitting one half of the house in two with the front being showing one age and the back another).
- The toll cottage from Beeding - a tiny and very quaint two room cottage that was in use when tolls on roads were common.
- Whittaker's cottages - these are a pair of semi detached Victorian cottages where one has been stripped back to it's shell to show building techniques and the other has been furnished in a Victorian style.
- The Watermill which is still in working condition - they make their own flower which you can buy as well as bags of grain to feed the birds (50p a bag).
There's even a medieval building that before removal to the museum was located in Horsham and housed a Robert Dyas store!
Other museum highlights are the gardens where they grow flowers and produce suited to the age of the building- this year they are trying to grow hops in one part of the museum. There is also livestock such as horses, ducks, sheep and chickens which mostly run free around the site and knowledgable guides who are happy to talk to you about various buildings and regularly do demonstrations - when I went to the museum this week I got to try some tudour style bread and cheese that had been made in a traditional manner that very morning.
The musuem also regularly holds a number of events - unfortunately I haven't been able to go to any of these as they are invariably on weekends which is when I work. However I do know there is a steam fair coming up this August and their Ruby celebrations (40 years of opening) are coming up this September. Further to this there are courses you can take (for a fee) in all sorts of traditional practices such as woodworking and timber framed building construction, which take place throughout the year (leaflets on courses available are located in the shop).
Price wise entrance can be very reasonable - I went with my mum on Tuesday and it cost her £9 entry which may seem like quite alot, however when you consider that a year ticket is only £22, and you can come as many times as you like, things start to look more reasonable. As of this Sunday my student card runs out, however I was able to use it this week to buy myself a years entrance to the museum for just £11 - an absolute bargain and I plan to use it as many times as possible. If you do buy a years ticket they give you a receipt and will send your membership card in the post which can apparently take up to two weeks - if you wish to visit in the mean time they will let you in with your receipt. As indicated earlier there are entry concessions available which apply to students, children and OAP's, you can also purchase family tickets.
What I like most about the museum, versus so many other days out of this type (other museums, stately homes etc.) is that there are no ropes sectioning you off from certain things - you're allowed to touch everything, and with a couple of exceptions, wander around the buildings as if they were your own home. Not only this but when you tire of the buildings you can simply sit on one of the numerous benches or lie in the grass to read or just watch the world go by - very peaceful and idyllic.
There is a small 'cafe' at the museum which is housed in what is essentially a glorified shed. They provide a small selection of food and drinks, but nothing special so I would advise eating out or bringing a picnic with you if you're not going to eat at home.
The shop is located at the entrance where you buy your tickets - it houses a number of gifts, childrens toys, books, postcards of the museum, plants and around the corner it even has a mini post office!
As mentioned at the beginning of this review you really need a car to get to the site due to its rural location, however there is plenty of parking. The area is quite hilly so some elderly people and those in wheel chairs may struggle to reach certain parts of the museum which is something to bear in mind.
Overall I think the Weald and Downland is an excellent musuem - it's one I've visited many times over the years and now that I live in Sussex and have acquired a years membership, I plan on visiting many more times! I don't think it's somewhere I could ever get bored of and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with a love of history, architecture or anyone who just wants an interesting day out.
*If you do go I strongly suggest you buy a guide book as it is a fascinating read*
The Weald and Downland Museum is a magical place. Set in the midst of the beautiful South Downs, it is a little bit of preserved history for all to enjoy.
Dotted around the 50 acre site are historic buildings which have been "rescued" from demolition and painstakingly reconstructed. The buildings provide a fascinating insight into what it was like to live in a rural community in the past - from the idyllic chocolate box cottages with beautiful gardens on the outside, to the earth floors, draughty windows and tiny rooms on the inside.
As well as the traditional country cottages, there are also working buildings, such as a watermill (you can buy the flour ground in the mill from the shop), dairy, stables, forge etc, where demonstrations are held thoughout the day so you can see how the buildings and machinery work.
As a centre piece of the museum is the market square which encompasses a range of beautifully constucted buildings and provides a focal point to the museum - much like a market square in a traditional village.
One fascinating new build is the Downland Gridshell - the Museum's exhibition space which stores 10,000 artefacts of rural life - no I didn't count them, but I believe their website!
The animals at the farm are great for children - from the ducks on the duck pond to the cackling geese in the orchard and the gentle giants of the shire horses - plenty to keep them entertained.
Throughout the year are a number of special events over weekends to suit a wide variety of tastes - from a steam festival, to a food fair, rare breeds show, a christmas market and special events for Easter, Mothers and Fathers Day etc. I have visited several of these special events, and they have all been enjoyable and very well organised.
The Museum also organise daily courses in a number of rural crafts, for example hedge laying/wood lathe turning etc - great gift ideas for those friends and relatives who have everything.
There is a coffee shop on site, but this is a bit pricey and can get very busy, especially at weekends - best to take a picnic and find a quiet spot and enjoy the views.
Entry to the museum is quite expensive - £8.95 for adults and just under £5 for children (although under 5s are free). Season tickets are available for around £20 per adult, and if you are planning to visit a few of their special weekend events then it is well worth buying the annual ticket - you then have a lovely place to picnic through the summer!
Just north of Chichester, in the tiny village of Singleton, you'll find the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. The museum is almost like a small village in itself as it's made up of nearly 50 ancient buildings which have been moved from all over the south of England and rebuilt on the site of the museum. There are medieval shops, ancient cottages, a watermill, a treadmill, a toll house as well as various farm houses and barns all "collected" from Sussex, Hampshire, Kent, and Surrey. Many of these buildings are likely to have been lost forever were it not for the launch of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in 1967 by a group of enthusiasts. It's all set in a truly lovely environment of rolling Sussex hills. All in all, the grounds of the museum make up around 50 acres of countryside. If you're ever in the area - or want to make a special journey - then it really does make a superb day out, with something for all the family.
~~~ THE BUILDINGS ~~~
The museum is home to nearly 50 historic homes, farmsteads and workplaces - most of which have been rescued from destruction. The buildings have all been carefully dismantled, conserved and then rebuilt as close to their original form as possible. Each building has a detailed history - where it originally stood and what it looked like before it was restored. The buildings date back to as early as 13th century in some cases, and it is truly fascinating to wander around a 700 year old home and see how they would have lived. Most of the buildings have exhibition boards and audio histories so you can understand and appreciate how the building was originally used.
What's lovely about the museum is being able to wander in and out of the different buildings at your leisure and see exactly how the inhabitants would have lived in olden days. You really can appreciate the differences between how your ancestors lived then, compared to what life is like now. For example, the Victorian schoolroom is a great place for the children to appreciate the differences of how they learn nowadays compared to the methods taught to their great-great-great grandmothers and grandfathers.
Many of the property interiors have been furnished to recreate how they would have looked at that particular time. If you close your eyes and squint you can almost imagine your ancestors going about their daily tasks. Some of the properties have gardens, which are planted with shrubs, herbs and flowers that would have been used at the time. All in all the buildings and the gardens have been decorated and designed to really bring the past into the present - and one comes away gaining a real feel for how your ancestors would have lived.
Whenever I visit the museum I'm struck by how very harsh, dark and cold life must have been for people before the advent of proper glazing and electricity living in a rickety building with no proper windows, no power, no running water and the only heat from the open fireplace in the centre of your "lounge". It must have been truly bitter in the winter. It certainly does make one appreciate all that we take for granted in modern housing!
Obviously I'm not going to describe every single building in detail, as we'd be here all day. However I will attempt to describe my favourite buildings and what makes them so special. Everyone tends to remember Bayleaf more than any other building when they visit - mainly because it is so majestic and large. It's a 15th century timber framed farmhouse with a stunning open truss roof. I first visited the museum as a school child, and what was fascinating about Bayleaf was the fact that it had an upstairs loo! Called a garderobe or privy in those days, it was literally a wooden shelf with a hole in it. The farmer and his wife would sit on the shelf, and the contents of their ebullitions would drop down into a hole in the ground underneath......no doubt to be later cleaned up by some ancient toothless retainer. On my 1970's school trip, you were actually allowed to sit on the wooden shelf (or maybe you weren't and we just got away with it!), and pretend you were using the loo. As you can imagine this was a source of fascination and great mirth for a class of 30 or so 8 year olds - all taking it in turns to sit on the board or stand underneath and look up at their classmates backsides! Nowadays, of course, one is more sedate and able to appreciate the finer details of the building and garden...and doesn't feel the need to sit in the garderobe...
The 17th century Treadwheel from Catherington in Hampshire has been at the museum since my first visit there in the 1970's, and I can remember being fascinated by the fact that a it probably had some small, poor unfortunate boy strapped to it for hours on end, just to raise water from the well. I could never decide which was worse, being sent up a chimney or being strapped to a treadwheel and made to walk for miles and miles?
Further down the hill and well worth a visit is the Market Place, which is now somewhat of a focal point to the museum. The market square is surrounded by various medieval shops and work places. It's all very atmospheric and authentic looking with some beautiful white and red ochre timber clad buildings. Its shape and area are based on the old market square at Alfriston in East Sussex. Nearby and across the lake is a fully operational 17th century watermill, where they still grind and sell their own flour (and, yes, you can buy the flour in the gift shop afterwards!). Inside much of the working mechanism of the mill is visible and guides are on hand to explain the processes in detail.
~~~ ANCIENT RURAL CRAFTS ~~~
The museum also champions the traditional rural skills and crafts of yesteryear, with many demonstrations throughout the site. Within some of the buildings, there are demonstrations of rural skills such as cooking and weaving or how to recreate the beauty products used by our ancestors from what they managed to grown in their gardens. The working Tudor kitchen at Winkhurst is particularly worth a visit as it houses an authentically costumed cook, explaining what she is cooking (things like bread, pottage and sweetmeats all using herbs and plants harvested from the cottage garden) and how she is doing it. Expert staff are on hand in many buildings to give demonstrations or answer questions about how the original inhabitants of the building lived.
If you're interested, you can learn about construction methods and the tools used for building these ancient properties. You can learn how to make wattle and daub walls, or how to construct ancient timber frames. Similarly, there are demonstrations of traditional methods of ccarpentry, plumbing, thatching and other rudimentary techniques to be observed. There's also an exhibition on stone masonry as well as stained glass work.
The museum also undertakes downland farming using the old traditional methods; there are some lovely old Shire horses ready to pull the ploughs. They also raise rare and traditional breeds of livestock such as pigs, cows, sheep, geese and chickens. The lambs were just being born on our last visit and they were delightful to watch.
~~~SPECIAL EVENTS ~~~
The museum holds many special events throughout the year - all of which tend to be themed towards the skills of the rural past. The Rare Breeds Show in July is the highlight of the calendar at the museum, with over 500 animals to see. There is also a Steam Festival in August and a Heavy Horse display in May. Added to which they are food fayres and traditional crafts on offer throughout the year, culminating in a delightful Christmas market in December, as well as Tree Dressing ceremonies. Children can take part in their Wonderful Wednesday activity days which are held during the summer holidays, and allow them to take part in unusual rural skills, activities, games and crafts.
~~~ RECOMMENDATION ~~~
What fascinates me most about this museum is that there is always something new to see, or an old favourite building can be revisited. The museum is a real work in progress and it's constantly growing and evolving as new buildings are sourced and added. As I said earlier, my first visit to the museum was as a child on a school trip back in the 70's. The museum was a lot smaller in those days, and there were fewer buildings to see, but it was still a fantastic day out. Today, the museum still remains one of the most popular school trips in the south, as it manages to bring stuffy old history to life and make it so much more interactive for any generation. It's a wonderful day out for parents and children of all ages. I've visited the museum many a time during the last 30 years and there is always something different or new to appreciate.
All the buildings are well spaced out and set in truly lovely grounds - gently undulating down the hill towards a picturesque lake. All in all the museum is a superb family attraction, which really brings the past into the present in a fun and interesting way. You can take as little or as much information you want from the site. You can rush around all the buildings in two and a bit hours, or you can take you time to read about them and spend the whole day there. I'd say that the museum really does lend itself to a full day out though. Spend the morning visiting the buildings to the top of the hill and exploring the woods where they still produce charcoal in the traditional way. Then meander down the hill towards the lake and enjoy lunch in the grounds (catering wise there is a café on site, which sells excellent traditional foods). However, whenever I've been there, I've taken a picnic. It's lovely to sit on the grassy slopes overlooking the lake and enjoy the historical ambiance and atmosphere. In the afternoon you can enjoy the buildings on the lower slopes and inspect the farmyard animals and birds.
The museum is set in a truly superb open air location with plenty of space to appreciate and drink in the essence of the past. Highly recommended.
~~~ OPENING TIMES AND ADMISSION CHARGES ~~~
The museum is open daily from 14th February to 23rd December 2009 (January and early February, opening times are limited to weekends and Wednesdays only).
Opening times are 10.30am to 6.00pm during British Summer Time and then 10.30am to 4.00pm for the rest of the year.
Adult entry = £8.95 (£7.95 for over 60's)
Child entry = £4.70 (up to age of 15....under fives go free)
Family ticket = £24.25 (Two adults and up to three children)
Added to which you have free (and ample) car parking, and if you want to take your four legged friend, dogs go free too (provided they are on a lead). Do bear in mind that due to the open air nature of the museum, it can be pretty grim in the wet so dress appropriately and take a brolly if you visit during the rainy season (Jan - Dec in UK....).
The museum is suitable for all ages and abilities. However, the site is quite hilly, so the infirm or elderly may find the terrain a little hard going. Similarly, there is no wheelchair access to the vast majority of the buildings...as that really wouldn't really be in keeping with the authenticity of the structures.
~~~ CONTACT DETAILS ~~~
The museum is situated 7 miles north of Chichester, West Sussex in the tiny village of Singleton. Goodwood Racecourse is just over the hill. The best route to the museum is take the A286, and then follow the signage.
Weald and Downland Open Air Museum
Telephone: 01243 811363
Fax: 01243 811475
The open air museum covers over 50 acres of land in the Sussex countryside. The buildings have been carefully dismantled, conserved and rebuilt to their original form to reflect the farmsteads and rural industries of the last 500 years.