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The weald and Downland open air museum - a fantastic day out
The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum (Sussex)
Member Name: Huomenna
The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum (Sussex)
Date: 30/07/10, updated on 02/08/10 (143 review reads)
Advantages: Great value yearly membership, lots of fascinating buildings, beautiful location
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*
Summary: Well worth a visit
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