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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Living history

As you'll know if you read my recent post [see Stepping Back in History] I revisited The Weald & Downland Museum last week. I can confirm that the site is just as good as I remember.

Since I last went, there have been some additions, including an impressive new entrance building, cafe, and an excellent gallery displaying rural farming tools and artefacts, cleverly presented with information about their use and history.

The Bayleaf Tudor Farmhouse

Outside within their 40 acre site are the many buildings from across the South East of England which have been saved from being lost and re-erected for visitors to explore. On the information plaque of each one is a small photograph of the building in its original location. Some are half tumbled down, others looked in fine condition but had to be saved because of situations such as road widening or the flooding of the area for a reservoir.

In one sixteenth century building a Tudor kitchen was in operation and visitors were invited to taste the bread made using flour milled on the museum's own 17th century watermill and sample a beer, also brewed on site. The recipe made from barley, hops and honey would have been brewed for a special occasion and was rather strong at 10%!

(Sadly, being coeliac, I wasn't able to try either but my husband assures me both were delicious!)

One of my favourites - Poplar Cottage & its garden

I love the small rural cottages best of all, and I especially like the gardens the museum has created adjoining some of the properties, growing herbs and vegetables of the era. Some are familiar, others aren't - like a root vegetable called skirret which fell out of favour when parsnips became popular.

While most of the buildings are of medieval origin, there are a few from more recent times. A pair of very small cottages dating from the 1860s had once stood beside the Epsom-Leatherhead Railway. Each cottage measured only 12 feet wide and 20 feet long (3.6 m by 6 m) and in one lived Henry Filkins and his wife Harriet and their 8 children!

On the wall hung a photograph of a little girl. When I looked at it closely, I did a double-take as, spookily, she bears a very strong resemblance to my great aunt (far right)!

What do you think?

Next week - the history trail continues with The Mary Rose Museum.



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