The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

Posted: August 23, 2009 in Ramblings

Surprisingly we somehow ended up without a single picture of this place!  Sorry.  I’ll put some generic trip pics at the bottom.  Click here to read about the museum on Wikipedia.

The museum is a collection of buildings from times gone by that have been dismantled and moved to the site in Singleton for preservation.  Alex and I were still jet-lagged, but we took him, Maddie, and of course our chauffeur Ant, to see it.  It was another scorcher. 

Actually, other than feeding the ducks at the mill pond, I’m finding my memories are sort of hot, hazy, and indistinct.  We saw a lot of old buildings.  Ha ha.  The mill is a working mill and they sell wheat grains to throw to the ducks and fish in the mill pond.  We sat there for a good hour, lazily flinging wheat to the ducks, looking around at the scenery, and relaxing; Alex perked up during the wheat-throwing and got his second wind to enter some buildings with Ant and learn about what was going on.

One of the areas was a brick-drying shed, which had placards about the different ways to lay bricks in decorative courses and also had a hands-on “build a brick wall” exhibit.  Alex liked that.  I liked that it was in the shade!  We also saw some examples of decorative stonework, metalwork and glasswork from the region.  There were thatched roofs in abundance, and it was interesting to look at them up close and see how the thatching was done.  Alex had never even heard of, or seen, thatched roofs, so he quite liked this.  We could also see inside some of the tiled roofs where wooden pegs were poked through the tiles, into the interior of the building, to hold the tiles in place.

One of our last stops was the dyeing shed, where I wanted to go and see what they had to say about dyeing yarn with natural dyes.  Mom has experimented with this at times, and all I could think about was Dad laughing about how fugitive these dyes are (meaning how quickly they fade).  “Some of them can last for months!” he always laughs, quoting some woman that taught a class they took.  Well, yes.  The man on the dye side of the house told a story about how woad (plant used for blue dye – I’m not sure if this is the same as indigo or not) needs to have a special mordant, and he said that in olden days, that mordant was young boys’ pee!  Since Alex was the only young boy in the room the man beckoned him to the front and handed him a porcelain jug with a wide “spout” on it (to urinate into).  Of course, Alex was still a bit fuzzy mentally because of the heat and jet-lag, and the man spoke with a heavy accent, so Alex just smiled weakly, not understanding, and the man took pity on him and sent him back to the audience while continuing his explanation.

On the other side of the house, a lady had little pots of all the major plant-based dye colors, and kids could paint a little picture on a square of linen.  Alex painted a grass-sun-sky landscape.  I will scan it later and put it on this entry.

After this we had all about reached maximum tolerance, but Maddie and Ant took Alex back to the car while Chris and I whipped around to see some of the other things like the farmhouse and charcoal-burner’s camp.  One thing in particular astonished me and made me think about history a lot.  At home growing up we saw a lot of “early American” preserved sites like the Daniel Boone Homestead and whatnot.  These were almost always a one-story building, small, with 2 rooms, one a kitchen, one a living/sleeping area.  The DBH was built in 1731.  The farmhouse at Singleton, by contrast, was built in the 1500s and was much bigger and more elaborate.  I commented on the discrepancy, but Chris pointed out that English building infrastructure was securely in place by that time, so you could easily find carpenters, joiners, bricklayers, whatever, within reach of your project, whereas in the US it was pretty sparsely populated and you’d have to do everything yourself, or get your neighbors to help, and maybe your neighbors weren’t bricklayers or joiners.  So it makes sense, but it really made me feel that America was quite primitive for a very long time.

Some generic photos for you:

fish and chips big coffee  look like a fish

fake yawn  quiet time a family of hats

Tomorrow, the New Forest and Weymouth!

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