I have been coming to the Weald and Downland Museum since I was a child – I have fond memories of hot summer days in the 80’s running in and out of the houses, imagining I lived in a Tudor Farmhouse and buying freshly ground flour from the Mill to make cakes and scones at home. This was one of my favourite adventures and my mum and I went all the time.
So it seems fitting that I have now started that tradition with my own son – William loves it here! No matter what time of the year we come there is something to do and see which is new and if nothing else, the countryside and woodland is beautiful for a peaceful and relaxing walk, taking in the fresh air, smelling the wild flowers and admiring the views.
Set in over 40 acres, this living open air museum tells the story of over 950 years of British History through its buildings and thanks to its amazing range of events throughout the year also our traditions and its people, skills, jobs and life. We regularly attend their events, which are very popular, so get there early so you don’t park at the far end of the field.
The museum is dedicated to preserving buildings which would otherwise be demolished. Restoring and rebuilding them to tell their story but also to tell the story of their time period. I love this village section which often has market stalls in the surrounding it on event days. There is a display of costumes from a number of time periods, as well as an old cloth merchants shop. The Town Hall has the old stocks and lock up as well.
This is a great place to come for all ages and there is something for everyone. William and I visit throughout the year and there is something special about seeing the village and the houses in the changing seasons. I particularly love coming in the autumn with the smell of damp grass and the falling leaves, and the smell of smoke coming from the cottages as they get their fires going for the winter months.
There are houses of all sizes, large farmhouses, townhouses, cottages, an old toll house, a mill, as well as workshops. You get a real sense of what life was like in bygone eras. I love history and especially buildings, I’m just coming to the end of my masters degree and I chose to do house history for my final dissertation – which I firmly believe is as a result of many happy childhood days spent in this museum.
Above is the old toll cottage and its always amazed me how a couple managed to live in the tiny little house. There are only two rooms. The front room has the front door and served as the main living area with an open fire while the backroom was the bedroom. On the front wall outside is the list of toll charges which are quite amusing to read. Thankfully the toll bridge we passed over in Wales last year was much more straightforward!
They’ve recently been working on some new projects and have just opened last summer a new house which currently houses lots of hands on activities which William loved. They are in the process of building the new bakehouse and dairy which are situated near the old mill from Lurgershall and will produce products made with the flour which is ground in the mill.
The gardens are also just as fascinating as the houses and two houses in particular have had their traditional kitchen gardens designed to show how they would have supplied fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs to the families. This has certainly inspired me as I’ve worked on the new allotment that I’ve taken on this year. They have really helpful information up showing the plans for the vegetable, herb and fruit growing which has inspired my own patch. Lots of traditional methods are used and we also love seeing all the animals – bees, chickens, the working horses and cattle.
Recently William has loved playing in the ‘Caravans’ as he calls anything that resembled either an old shepherds hut or an actual gypsy caravan. There are also lovely animals for the traditional farms – the shire horses often offer cart rides, chickens wander about pecking in the dirt and there are two working cows.
We particularly love the living history element when they have costumed historians, which really helps bring the varying periods to life. Recently they had a Tudor market in the square. It was wonderful to see the clothes, hear the news being sung, food being cooked and music being played.
Last year we went to the Rare Breeds Show and this was a wonderful opportunity to not only find out about Rare Breeds and what is being done to help conserve our traditional breeds of farming animals, but also for children to get up close and meet the animals. William couldn’t stop giggling after he stroked a sheep for the first time. This isn’t running in 2018, but they will be running an event in its place with the Rare Breeds show coming back in 2019.
Another favourite event of ours is the Steam Show in August and the Autumn Countryside Show in October. Your entry ticket for the show gives you full access to the whole museum site so you can combine the show with a lovely walk around the museum. But I warn you there is so much to do and see you’re unlikely to get it done in one day and therefore must return. Or maybe even buy a membership and then you can come all the time like we do!
Last summer William had fun on all the old steam rides, particularly loving the cars and I loved the carousel.
The Countryside show enabled us to learn all about traditional farming methods and it was so lovely to see so many beautiful horses and the varying ways of harvesting and ploughing the fields. There are always a wonderful array of stands offering food and local products as well as a craft tent. One of my favourite artists that has a stand is Mike Braisher, a local ceramicist and I always stop by and buy one of his beautiful bowls or baking dishes. I recently specially ordered a paella dish for a friends birthday and he was brilliant in sending me photos and packaging it up to send.
I could talk endlessly about this wonderful museum but really you need to go and find out for yourself. There’s so much to do – loads of family activities in holidays and half-terms (Watch out for the half term dates though if you’re not West Sussex), courses, talks and workshops for adults, events, markets – this is one of the best, if not the best living museum I’ve ever been to.
Last year they opened a fantastic new visitor centre with a lovely cafe right beside the Mill Pond, a really informative exhibition space and shop.
And if you have a little rascal then you can always put them in the stocks!