Out and About: the Weald and Downland Living Museum (Claire Messenger)

Written by Claire Messenger, International Training Programme Manager

As many of our ITP Fellows will know, I am a big fan of open-air museums and I am happily working my way through some of the best in the UK having already visited Beamish, The Living Museum of the North; St Fagans National Museum of History; Ulster American Folk Park and Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

This week, on a beautifully sunny day, I visited another open-air museum, the Weald and Downland Living Museum.

The setting of the museum is beautiful and covers 40 acres with over 50 historic buildings dating from 950AD to the 19th century. The buildings, a mix of homes, farmsteads and rural industries, were all threatened with destruction and have been carefully dismantled, conserved and rebuilt in their historical form at the museum.

The museum, as well as striving to preserve the regions-built heritage, also runs a programme of demonstrations, including milling in the 17th century working watermill and cooking in the Tudor kitchen. For anyone interested in historic trades and crafts they also have a range of courses in traditional rural trades and crafts and in historic building conservation.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the museum is the access the public are allowed to the buildings. In most cases all the rooms are furnished and open – even up-stairs – so you are able to get a real feel of how the building would have been used and what it would have been like to live there. I also loved the seven period gardens which show the development of gardening over 300 years and represent the period and social status of the house, with each garden containing the herbs, vegetables and plants that would have met the needs of the household.

The Museum also holds a very strong and comprehensive range of some 15,000 objects from building parts and trades tools to transport and vehicles. The collection has been awarded Designated status by ACE (Arts Council England) recognising its regional and national importance.

And for anyone who is able to watch BBC TV, the show The Repair Shop is filmed at the museum!!