Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton, West Sussex

Ram has been quite busy at weekends lately with his marathon training, and then this weekend he was out to watch the rugby with friends. So instead of sitting around at home like we often do, I decided to be brave and take both the children out on a day trip. We spent the day at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester in West Sussex.

The museum is a collection of traditional buildings arranged over a 40 acre site. Most of the houses are furnished to recreate their historic interiors, and there are also a few farm animals.

Weald and Downland Museum Singleton

I have very many fond memories of visiting the museum as a child. The photograph above has a particular significance - we have several photographs taken at this spot over the years so have added another to the collection with the next generation!

Cooking in a Tudor kitchen

Visiting on a grey day near the beginning of the season I wasn't expecting there to be a great deal going on, but I was pleasantly surprised. Even though the site wasn't too busy, there were so many staff and volunteers doing everything they could to really enhance our visit.

In the Tudor kitchen we watched the ladies make bread from scratch, kneading the ingredients together and then cooking it on a griddle in the fire, where they were also making soup. We were able to try the cooked bread too and it was lovely, and all the while they were making it they were telling us what they were doing along with lots of other facts about cooking in Tudor times.

In another house the children learned how to dip candles in the traditional way, each taking turns to dip their wick into the wax which had been heated on the fire. They were completely fascinated by the process, and as I have a few candle making bits at home we'll be trying it again.

Learning to dip candles

I had optimistically brought along the picnic mat for lunch, and so although it was pretty chilly we enjoyed our first picnic of the year, albeit with frequent interruptions from some curious chickens! Later in the day I spotted an indoor picnic area, which I shall remember for next time! The leftover crusts were used to feed the ducks down by the mill pond.

First picnic of the year outdoors

The highlight of our visit was the time that we spent in the Joiner's Shop, which was filled with building activities for children. A really friendly lady helped us with the exhibits, with Harry's favourite activity being building a little house using traditional wooden joining techniques. The lady even entertained Mia with some brick laying while Harry and I followed the instructions to put the different pieces together and pegged them in place.

Building a Tudor house

Mia came along and helped us with some of the pegging, and they were both so proud of their construction. As soon as we had left the building Harry wanted to go back inside and build it again, and he keeps asking if we can have one of our own at home.

Museum building a Tudor house

They then both copied some different brickwork designs using real little bricks, and then Harry learned how to peg tiles on a roof. It was all absolutely fascinating and they both learned so much. 

Learning to build with bricks

Learning to tile a roof

Both children also loved exploring all the different houses, climbing up stairs and peering out of windows. You are invited to explore the houses yourself and touch the things that you find inside, and we learned all about chamber pots and outdoor toilets. I've been reading Little House in the Big Woods with Harry recently,and it was nice for him to be able see real items like butter churns that we've been reading about.

Many of the houses are in their own grounds with little kitchen gardens, and so much care has been taken to recreate them faithfully. Inside the larger houses there was usually a volunteer who was happy to talk to us about who might have lived in the house and what life would have been like. Harry takes everything in and it's lovely to watch him learning.

Weald and Downland Museum

I'd really recommend a visit to the museum, we had a brilliant day out!

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