The Museum That Collects Houses

Sep 20, 2019 1 comments

 Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

The Weald and Downland Living Museum in Singleton, West Sussex. Photo credit: Anguskirk/Flickr

In the village of Singleton, in West Sussex, there is an unusual museum dedicated to historic buildings—not reproductions, but real ones. Spread over 40 acres, the Weald and Downland Living Museum (formerly Weald and Downland Open Air Museum) showcases over 50 historic buildings, dating from the 10th century to the 19th century, that have been rescued from demolition. Each building has been carefully dismantled, transported from its original site, and painstakingly reconstructed here. There are homes, farmhouses, workers’ cottages, shops, barns, schools, churches and more. They come from all over South East England.

The buildings are furnished just as they would have been in the past, so exploring the houses is like walking through almost a thousand years of rural English life. You can climb the stairs of a 17th-century craftsman’s cottage to lie on the straw bed, grind flour in the 17th-century watermill, or even taste some beef with prune pottage and walnuts in a 1540’s Tudor kitchen.

The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum was launched in 1967 by a small group of enthusiasts led by the Museum's founder, the late Roy Armstrong. The site was donated by the philanthropic British poet Edward James. The first house to arrive on the site was the Tudor kitchen, displaced by the construction of the Bough Beech Reservoir in Kent. It was a landmark building for the embryonic project and appeared on the first Museum logo. As more buildings began to arrive, a Sites & Buildings Committee was established to agree the acquisition and siting of exhibit buildings. The museum opened to the public for the first time in 1970 with seven buildings, which included, aside from the Tudor kitchen, a Toll house from Upper Beeding; a 15th century Bayleaf farmhouse; a medieval shop from Horsham; and a 17th century Pendean farmhouse from near Midhurst. Today the open-air museum contains a variety of buildings and even a wooden crane, a watermill and a worker’s treadmill.

 Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

The Pendean farmhouse in its original location before dismantling. Photo credit: Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

 Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

Winkhurst ‘farm’ as it was then known, on its original site. Photo credit: Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

 Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

Photo credit: James Stringer/Flickr

 Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

Photo credit: Pete Edgeler/Flickr


  1. The same thing has been done in the city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It is called Fort Edmonton and features a reproduction of the original Hudson's Bay trading post and fort. Surrounding it are a number of buildings that have been moved from various parts of Edmonton and other parts of the province and restored. They feature everything from churches and blacksmiths to confectioneries and homes. There is even a restored 1950s amusement park. Given that Edmonton is only about 250 years old most of the buildings do not go back very far by European standards. The attraction is set up in such a way that visitors start in the late 18th Century fort and then move through the rest of the town which ages decade by decade to the 1920s, 1930s, etc.


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