The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum covers 50 acres (20 ha), with around 50 historic buildings dating from the 13th to 19th centuries, along with gardens, farm animals, walks and a mill pond. It is a very special place, and the buildings have been organised in a way that even on a busy day it would be an enjoyable day out.
The buildings have come from various locations around the south east, including Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent and they were all threatened with destruction. They have carefully dismantled, conserved and rebuilt them on this site to their original form, including where appropriate having their interiors, gardens and outside space also recreated to a similar style of the period they would have been used. They help the museum bring to life the homes, farmsteads and rural industries of the last 700 years for this part of England.
This is a substantial collection of buildings including shops, crane, market hall, school, tread wheel, watermill, several farms, large buildings, and a windpump, a hollow post mill that was built in the mid 19th century. It was originally at Pevensey, Sussex and was marked on an 1860 map. The windpump was re-erected at the museum in 1975. It has 4 sails and is working.
The gardens show the herbs, vegetables and flowers grown to meet the needs of the rural households from medieval to Victorian times. Farmsteads not only have the farmhouse and buildings of the period, but also the traditional animals and rare livestock that would have been on them. They grow traditional cereal crops and vegetables in the fields and an authentic Tudor kitchen makes bread, pottage and sweetmeats which you may be able to sample.
There are also demonstrators carrying out traditional rural trades and crafts such as a blacksmith, carpenters and those who work with the shire horses in the fields. Some of the buildings have people who can explain how the property would have operated, or answer any of your questions and what life was like during the period the building was in use.
A list of daily activities also takes place, some of which only take place during certain times throughout the year. These include:
There are also annual special events taking place including a Heavy Horse and Working Animals show, Steam Festivals, Tree Dressing and more. See their special events page for details of what activities are taking place this year.
The following is a quick tour of some of the buildings you can see on a visit.
You enter the site through the Longport Farmhouse, which was rescued from the site of the Eurotunnel terminus near Folkstone. It now houses the shop and entrance hall. It dates from several periods the earliest from the 16th century and the latest changes made during the 19th century. Once through this building you are guided to the Hambrook Barn where there is an introductory exhibition and video to the museum. Once through here follow the paths. Your first site is a view of the Singleton Valley with the Market Place to your left, a group of town and village buildings which have been shaped to reflect the market square at Alfriston in East Sussex, and to your right a millpond and a toll house. Follow the path to the Toll House.
The Market Square
Behind the square is the plumbers, joiners and carpenters workshops complete with tools and equipment. Also behind is a building with open sides which houses a horse-powered 'pugmill' which was used for preparing clay ready for brick making.
Just a short walk from the market place area is the 17th century water mill which is fully working and produces stoneground flour. You can go upstairs and see the corn being put into the hopper before going between the grinding stones and ending up downstairs for bagging. Whilst on the upper level you may also be passed by a bag of flour being winched up to the top of the building for storage. Outside is the mill pond which will probably have a number of ducks and coots taking up residence. At the other end of the mill pond is the wind pump. originally from Pevensey and just beyond amongst the trees is a medieval house from Sole Street, which is set up for picnics or eating snacks obtained in the cafe.
Before leaving this area walk back towards the Watermill and head down the path past the Saw pit, smithy, wagon shed and onto the impressive thatched Court Barn, to take in the exhibitions inside.
Thatched Court Barn, Wagon Shed and Stable
In this centre part of the site is also the Tudor Kitchen which is housed in the first building to have been built at the museum, Winkhurst. This building is dedicated to Tudor cooking, and inside you will find a bread oven, large copper for brewing ale as well as demonstrations of bread making and sweetmeats on some days.
At the far end of the site there are a number of houses from earlier periods in history and each one you can take a step back inside and step back in time. During the winter months there may also be fires burning in the hearths of some of them to help warm you up. Pendean Farmhouse has a fully furnished interior and outside a pigsty and garden.
Taking a walk back through the woods you may get to see charcoal burning and coppicing being carried out in traditional ways and when you reach the timber yard there are saw benches, saw pits, machinery and a very large crane. Once through the wood the path continues back towards where you entered the site, but don't rush some of the best panoramic views of the site can be observed from here. Only two more buildings to see, the first being the Tread wheel and it's house which is believed to date from the early 17th century. The tread wheel was designed to raise water from a deep well, and as this version is smaller than most donkey wheels it is felt it may have been driven by a man or boy.
The Large Crane at the Sawmill
The very last building is the Gridshell, which houses the museums supporting collections and is the conservation workshop on site. Like the other buildings at this museum it is built of a timber, it is an oak structure, but unlike the other buildings here this one is totally modern and uses the most modern building technology of today in its construction. There are guided tours around this building each day.
A full list of all buildings with information on each in a Wiki article.
As you walk around the site look out for the various animals including, the shire horses, Tamworth pigs, sheep, geese, chickens, cows and a cat.
When visiting this site you need to allow at least half a day, but a day would be better if you want to take in as much of the history as well as get some good photographs.
Our visit took place during January and it was frosty, but we wrapped up warm and spend a good three hours here taking in the history, animals and some of the activities that were in place that day.
The following pictures taken by others were during the summer months, and from these you can see the difference a little green on the trees, and plants in the garden can add. Definitely a site for all seasons.
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