Following a £6 million investment, our new visitor centre was opened on Thursday 18 May by Hugh Bonneville; local Sussex resident and avid supporter of the Museum. The complex has been made a reality thanks to a £4 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, plus £2 million in private donations (from individuals and charitable trusts) gathered through the Museum’s robust ‘Gateway Project’ fundraising campaign.
Over two hundred guests attended an evening of celebration that culminated in the opening ceremony. Our oxen, Sol and Saxon, paraded the Market Square that bustled with Tudor folk, 15th century tradesmen and a host of volunteers showcased ancient crafts such as basket weaving and carving. The traditional sounds of the lute and hurdy-gurdy brought the scenes to life as well as dancing by local teams of dancers, musicians and storytellers. Guests toured new visitor centre buildings, designed to transform the visitor experience with a newly configured car park, visitor centre, shop, waterside café (opening June 2017) and community space.
Following 10 years of planning, designing and building, these new areas are now open for the public to enjoy and give a fascinating insight into the Museum’s collection. Visitors will walk through hands-on and interactive displays explaining the Museum’s origins, region, purpose and collection, plus the South Downs National Park, before entering the glorious outdoor collection at the recreated Market Square.
BBC South East and ITV Meridian film crews came to the Museum and filmed throughout the day. ITV Meridian interviewed Hugh Bonneville about why the Museum is his favourite place:
- BBC South Today – Lunchtime news, Evening News and Late Night News
- ITV Meridian Evening News
- ITV Meridian Late Night News with Hugh Bonneville
About the new visitor centre
The new buildings, clad in local materials including 60,000 hand-crafted sweet chestnut roof shakes (heartwood) and locally produced clay tiles, echo elements from many of our rural farm complexes. Large areas of glass highlight the new green oak frames and offer enticing views of our collection of vernacular buildings. These bring our craft and architectural traditions right up to date, with new buildings that embrace traditional materials along with new techniques.
The addition of these extraordinary buildings are testament to the principal aim of the founding group led by the Museum’s founder, the late Dr. J.R. Armstrong MBE; to establish a centre that could rescue representative examples of vernacular buildings from the South East of England and generate an increased public awareness and interest in the built environment.
“The Weald and Downland Living Museum represents an important part of the South East’s rural heritage with a number of its rescued buildings the only surviving examples of their type. It also does award-winning work preserving traditional skills, ensuring they are passed onto future generations. Thanks to National Lottery players, a whole range of new facilities will now provide a wonderful resource for people to learn more about the architecture on display and the people who inhabited it.”
Stuart McLeod, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East England
“I am absolutely delighted to welcome public to the three new buildings that make up The Gateway Project following the largest investment in our 50 year history transforming the visitor experience at our museum from today and for years to come. Our visitor attraction is not a stately home or a castle telling the story of the lords and ladies of the land, Weald and Downland preserves the cultural heritage of the ordinary folk and brings to life the extraordinary people that made this country, our own ancestors. We make the ordinary extraordinary.”
Martin Purslow, Chief Executive Officer, Weald & Downland Living Museum