Tuesday, 17 February 2009

As Promised

The Weald And Downland Open Air Museum. Don't you just love the pompous title? About thirty two years ago, we simply referred to it as 'Singleton'. My son's school was having a coach trip there, and as one of the usual 'Mum Brigade' - those unpaid helpers who used to frequent schools in the days before everyone was looked at with suspicion of having an ulterior motive for being there - I and several other stalwart Mum's had been co-opted to take small groups of the kiddywinks under our wings as they toured the site. In those days, the number of exhibits were fairly minimal. This meant a good of walking between one and the other, over typical countrified terrain i.e. grassy paths, prone to mud in wet weather.

Yes, you guessed. The appointed day dawned, damp and drear. The children had already been warned to take Wellington boots and waterproof coats, and when the coach drew up to the school gates, there was a great waving of plastic bags bulging with boots and packed lunches - it was going to be a long day!

All I knew about Singleton at that time, was the fact that it was close enough not to have to suffer too long the 'Are we nearly there, Miss?' from a coachload of excited kids, plus the fact that it had interesting old houses to look at once we actually arrived.

The rain kept up a steady downpour, relieved by the possibility of huddling under cover in places like the smithy, where you could watch the balcksmith demonstrating his skills, or in the working flour mill, where a 'Dusty Miller' did the same and even offered bags of stoneground flour for sale.

The children had a fine old time, as children will, and us Mums learned a thing or two about the museum as a whole. It was only the beginning of the grand place it's turned into over the intervening thirty years.

It is a 50 acre site now, which boasts almost as many historic buildings, dating from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century. These have all been rescued from destruction by careful dismantling, preserving, then rebuilding in their original form at Singleton. There is a timber framed farmhouse from Kent; a market hall from Hampshire ; a Victorian school; a medieval shop; joiners, carpenter, glaziers, plumbers workshops; a forge and working water mill - the list goes on and on.

If you go to www.wealddown.co.uk, you will be able to take a virtual tour of the houses and see how they are trying to truly create the correct 'feel' both for the interiors and gardens of these amazing buildings; to bring to life the houses, farmlands and rural industries of the last 500 years.

My favourite was 'Bayleaf' - the Hall/House. Standing within its reconstructed walls, the whole feel of the place was somehow exactly as it must have been long ago, when it was almost a living, breathing entity, full of life. Living history, and no mistake. The ground floor was one large room and you could imagine the whole household assembled at harvest time, to celebrate the fruits of their labours after another year of hard work. The upstairs caused the children much hilarity, when they discovered the toilet facilities - a simple hole on the outside wall, with the street directly below. The mind boggles, and so did the children.

I read on the Internet yesterday, they now have heavy horses (Shires) to demonstrate traditional farming methods in action. A horse drawn furniture van and a traditional gypsy caravan have also been preserved for posterity - oh, I could witter on all morning, but their site will do it so much better - unless you can manage to visit the place yourself!


  1. Your conversion from pen and pencil echoes mine and now I like the computer better than my most expensive fountains pens. I enjoyed you post and reading your sidebar too.

    Abraham Lincoln
    Brookville Daily Photo

  2. Sounds like a loverly place, puddles and all.

  3. that sounds lovely place & one of the must visit but no poem :-(

  4. Hi there! The goats (and all other kinds of animal and nature encounters) is found on my Adventures in Nature Blog at http://naturegirrrl.blogspot.com/

    All three blogs are attached to my profile, but that is the link you can go to directly. If you like baby squirrels, you will be in LOVE with the little movies and pics I posted after we got 1200 orphans that all needed feeding 4 times a day after our hurricane Ike). Just click "squirrels" on the sidebar tags to see some. Soon there will be more as it's coming up on spring...

  5. OH! I love a place that is full of energy - a vibration!

  6. Took some time to visit the museum online and it really is wonderful.

    We have a similar open air museum in Arnhem. A joy to visit if you are ever there.

    big hug from Holland X

  7. I used to love "field trips", as we call them here. Anything that actually got me out of the school building was welcome.

    Sounds lovely.

  8. Thank you or visiting my blog. Thirty two years on the weather does not seem to be any better!

  9. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the museums in England! They are simply amazing! Thanks for pointing out a new one to me! I'm going to have to check it out! And LOL! My kids would've freaked had they seen that toilet! LOL! Thanks for posting this!

  10. This sounds really interesting. There is a similar museum, called an ecomusee, at Sabres in Les Landes, France, which I have much enjoyed, but yours sounds much more extensive.

  11. We had a musuem like that just fifteen miles away when I lived in Crystal Falls. It preserved the old buildings and crafts but , of course, we didn't have the history of yours.

  12. I just went to the site did the quick tour. It looks like a great place.

  13. I went on the virtual tour. That is awesome! I looked for the potty holes but I didn't see any. I loved the gardens with the herbs growing. I can't even grow cilantro in pots here in Arizona although I always try! It gives new meaning to the term "country kitchen." This was a great article, Jinksy, and I enjoyed reading it very much.

  14. What a great place that sounds. Except for the toilet! Yuk. I bet the children giggled and went 'Eeeew'!

  15. You brought back memories of the days when my kidlets were in school and I was one of the Moms who inevitably chaperoned the kids on the field trips, including pioneer villages similar to what you described. Thanks for the look back. :)


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