Rural houses and stories from the past, Roshan Mishra, Taragaon Museum, Nepal ITP 2018

After almost one and half hours of driving through the beautiful woods and lanes in the countryside, we reached Singleton in the South West of England, where the open air Weald and Downland Living Museum was located.

It was drizzling when we reached there, therefore we all went to the café first to get a hot drink. Whilst sipping my English tea, I looked through the windows, admiring the pond, the old houses and the windmill. Deep inside I was thinking, though these houses are beautiful, the life would not have been any easier in those days. If we look at the history of old vernacular settlements in any countries or culture, it could be the same everywhere. Our generation is considered more fortunate, with rural lifestyles over a thousand years ago, being way beyond our imagination. How beautiful it is that we are now able to imagine the life of people from the past through the collection of these houses. Looking out of the window, I was excited to travel back in time. Lucy Hockley, Cultural Engagement Manager at the museum, walked into the café and welcomed us. We were taken to the meeting room where she gave an overview of the 40 acre site with over 50 historic homes and buildings alongside six historic gardens. She talked about children’s and adult’s outreach programmes, training courses, events and funding, along with talking about some of the challenges in regards to this. Lucy first showed us the Bakehouse, which is from the 17th century and came from the village of Newdigate, in Surrey. I was really amazed with the way it was preserved. But the most fascinating thing was, this building resembled the Nepal House that was designed by the Pritzker prize winner Japanese architect Shigeru Ban in Nepal within our museum periphery in 2015. The design principal and the architecture is so similar in both of the houses built in two different eras. It seems so clear to me that in fact, we all are very much influenced by the past, and this is one of the reasons that we must preserve our history for future generations.

Left: Newdigate bakehouse, Right: Japan House

I was astounded to find out that the museum carefully dismantled the medieval houses from the villages of south east England and reassembled them on this site, brick by brick. The museum has preserved and narrated the story of the people from the rural areas and have transformed the 40 acres of land into a living museum. The collection of houses includes worker’s cottages, a market square, farmhouses, shops, a watermill and even a school. In 2017 they also opened a new building, where people can walk through the introductory gallery exhibitions and learn about how the museum started its collection. According to Lucy, the new building also allowed them to display some of the trade and craft objects from their collection.

Another exciting visit we made was to the Downland Gridshell building, where curator, Julian, passionately explained about the tools, equipment and other objects from the collection. There are just under 20,000 artifacts and all the objects were donated to the museum by different groups of people or individuals. This building had quite a substantial collection of rural trades and crafts objects, agricultural manual machinery, building parts, tools and parts of old fashioned vehicles. It didn’t look like a storage store, but it was more like a book with lots of stories from the past.

Interior, The Bayleaf
Tudor Kitchen with ITP Fellows ( Namrata Sarmah and Wesam Mohamed)

With a site map I was going through different buildings. The buildings were all about local people and craftsman, their lifestyle, agriculture and so on. Some buildings and rooms were empty, but most of them have furniture and other objects which reflected past times. While exploring, I was inside the Bayleaf Tudor Farmhouse, which had an open plan space with a double height ceiling. This timber framed house from the 15th century was designed to be heated by an open fire. All the rooms was re-constructed with replica furniture. Similarly, at the Tudor kitchen, we also saw the old style kitchen, where they produced bread, cooked food and vegetables and made alcohol. We were offered to taste some food, so we sat down and listened the stories from the staff – it was such a wonderful experience.

This is such an important collection for the locals and the people of our generation, it gives an opportunity to see and feel these practical spaces, where they worked with handmade tools and made crafts and furniture to fulfil their daily requirements.

This was such an inspirational visit. The whole time, I was thinking that having such a rich culture in Nepal, we could also create something similar. I just wish we could also start preserving old houses from rural settlements with people’s stories, culture and their lifestyles. Especially in undeveloped countries because of urbanization and demographic changes such houses being demolished or destroyed faster than ever before; concrete has taken over and such stories are being wiped away. As being museum professionals, I strongly feel that we share a responsibility to act now to preserve such living houses and buildings, which are still around us.