Weald and Downland Living Museum offers a look back into history

The Weald and Downland Living Museum offers a glimpse into a 1,000 years of rural life in South East England.

Nestled in the South Downs National Park it features more than 50 historic buildings from across the Weald and Downland area of Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and Kent.

Fiona Hargreaves is domestic interpreter at the museum. In this role she coordinates and supports the team of volunteers who also work alongside her in the iconic historic houses, to do demonstrations and activities.

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She said: “Our aim is to bring to life the daily routines of the people who lived there. My role can include everything from historic cleaning and cooking, to looking after the bees, spinning wool and flax, natural dyeing demonstrations and wearing historic clothing.

Sussex Day celebrations take place on June 16.

“There is such a variety of things to see here, from our heavy horses working the fields to feeding the ducks, exploring the historic gardens or woodland, and chatting to the millers in the working watermill.”

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As well as the many exhibits and collections, the museum holds regular events such as half term activities, historic life weekends, and a range of festive events.

Sussex Day is on June 16 and at the museum staff will celebrate everything the county has to offer from Sussex food and drink to crafts, folk songs and games, there will also be a chance to learn about the history of the area. This event is part of Culture Spark, a special season that celebrates culture in the Chichester District.

There are more than 50 historic buildings at the museum.

On June 17 it will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the award-winning Downland Gridshell, with a day of short presentations and group discussions, hearing from individuals and organisations involved in the design and construction of the incredible structure.

On June 18 and 19 it will be Celebrations of Midsummer – Solstice & Superstitions, a traditional season of celebration, the Weald and Downland Living Museum will be exploring the history of midsummer and all the processions, parades and decorations of this time.

And on Father’s Day all men don’t have to pay an admission fee.

Ilona Harris is head of commercial in this role she works to generate income for the museum.

She said: “Our members and donors provide much needed funds for the museum. We are entirely self-funded and must generate the income we need to maintain our collection of houses and artefacts.

"Our aim here is to provide our members with a quality of experience and make them feel that they are part of something valuable, and supporting something worthwhile.”

Amongst the award-winning collection of homes, shops and public buildings are a medieval farmstead, market hall, school, blacksmith and even a church.

Providing an interactive insight into our rural history, visitors can explore each of the buildings and experience daily demonstrations ranging from cooking and spinning to making medicines and cosmetics as well as cleaning and laundering.

The working watermill produces flour for the gift shop and café while the newly restored 17th century bakehouse demonstrates the historic art of baking.

She said: “Most people don’t realise that every building at the museum, with the exception of one replica build as part of an archaeological project, has been rescued from somewhere else, taken down, tile by tile, brick by brick, and timber by timber and moved to the museum.

“That’s quite an amazing thing when you think about it. These are not the houses of rich aristocracy. These are not the homes that we are used to seeing protected and preserved, which is why they were at threat of demolition in the first place. These are the homes and work places of regular people, like you and me. Their stories, their lives and their history is worth knowing and worth remembering. And that is what the museum is here for.”

There is a popular programme of rural craft and trade demonstrations such as blacksmithing, scything, stonemasonry and thatching.

In the Tudor kitchen, there is a chance to sample the type of food that would have been eaten by its occupants back in the 1540s.

On July 2 to 3 is a historic life weekend: sheep, shepherding and shepherd's huts. Southdown sheep are closely associated with the local area and can be seen regularly grazing the fields at the Weald and Downland Living Museum. In a range of talks, displays and craft demonstrations this special historic life weekend will explore the breed and also the lives of the shepherds who looked after them, from tools and clothing to the huts they lived in.

From July 26 until August 31 the museum will be host to summer outdoor theatre. The programme promises a diverse mix of laughter, drama and music, ranging from children’s theatre to Shakespeare and jazz.

The museum’s popular Wonderful Weeks are back for August Monday to Wednesdays. The theme this year is traditional games and pastimes, with a programme that changes weekly. Activities will include nature trails, crafts, orienteering, singing and much more.

Ilona said: “If you haven’t been or haven’t been for ages, we are well worth a visit. You’ll definitely have a good time and you never know, you might also go away knowing when the chimney was invented and what it meant for how homes were built or just what a toilet looked like in Tudor times.”

To find out more about events, visit - www.wealddown.co.uk