Victorian smithy

A Museum’s work is never done – caring for our buildings

With 53 historic buildings re-erected across the Museum, their vital care and maintenance takes constant effort – time, money and organisation. These rescued and very special structures, which are Designated in the UK’s national scheme for pre-eminent museum collections, are the focus of our current Endowment Appeal to ensure they are safeguarded for the future.

Regular annual maintenance and one-off urgent repairs need careful planning to target human and financial resources most effectively, explains Julian Bell, the Museum’s Curator. Working constantly with the buildings, we know which are in need of most attention and where our priorities should be, but the Museum decided to commission a more comprehensive study from a fresh pair of eyes. So, earlier this year a Buildings Condition Survey was carried out on all the exhibits by buildings surveyor David Vanns. His brief was to provide a report for each building using the same criteria, which would enable us to prioritise the most urgent work before carrying out more comprehensive studies. David visited the museum on several occasions this year, and it was reassuring to find that his reports tallied with our own concerns very closely.

Titchfield market hall is top of the priority list and will require careful repair. This is a project in itself, separate to the more regular repair and maintenance work outlined by the survey, and the Museum’s Endowment Appeal will make a crucial contribution to the cost. Look out for more on this next year. The plan is to dismantle the building and restore the timber frame using the latest technology and research and the Museum’s well-established timber conservation repairs and documentation, before reconstructing it on the same site. The market hall was opened in 1974 and is situated in a relatively exposed position in the Lavant Valley. The effects of rain and bad weather are a major cause of decay on some of the timbers.

Studying the rest of the priority list we identified one where the necessary repairs could be completed this year – the Smithy from Southwater, West Sussex, and four others which we aim to complete during 2019. The Smithy was one of the very early buildings to be re-erected (1971) so after 47 years, it’s not surprising that it needed attention. We began work in September and the building will re-open to visitors in November.

The carpenter’s shop from Windlesham, Surrey, is suffering from spreading walls and the main vertical wall posts (which are earthfast) have rotted at the base. We will need to lift the building, remove affected timbers and replace. On the medieval house from North Cray, Kent, in the market square, some of the major structural timbers have rotted, noticeably around the door and window sills, and will need replacing. At Whittaker’s cottages from Ashtead, Surrey, internal repairs to the plasterwork and joinery, and roof repairs to slates and the chimney brickwork are required. The toll house from Upper Beeding, West Sussex and the church from South Wonston, Hampshire will need repainting.

£1 million Endowment Appeal to safeguard our fantastic historic buildings

Our major Museum Conservation Endowment Appeal launched a year ago, is steadily building up. Thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund support we can double every donation made to the Museum up to our target of £1 million – a fantastic opportunity to ensure that our 50+ buildings are cared for in perpetuity. Give a Christmas present to your favourite building – and secure its future for ever! To make a donation to our Endowment Appeal, call us on 01243 811041/811010 or visit www.wealddown.co.uk/donate.