Fond memories of bringing her children to the Weald & Downland inspired Madaleine Owens to become a volunteer in 2015, but it was her passion for cooking that soon led Madaleine to the Winkhurst Tudor kitchen.
Her enthusiasm for the role is infectious: “There’s always something to do in Winkhurst”, she says, “even in our quieter periods at the Museum, I’ll be busy preparing food for our visitors to sample. When we have a lot of people in, there’s usually plenty of interaction. People like food, they relate to it and it’s this enthusiasm that I really enjoy!”
One of the most common questions Madaleine is asked is: ‘What’s that you’re doing there?’ and ‘can I try some?’ “Our visitors like to taste everything we make and they want to know who ate the food we’re showing them,” she says and this is where Madaleine’s training and experience comes in.
Since joining the Museum in 2015, she has steadily built up her knowledge of historical food and cookery, learning not just about the food itself, but also a great deal about the social history surrounding it.
“At first, it was the cooking itself that attracted me to Winkhurst, but now I am just as interested in the people who lived here and how they went about their daily lives. For instance, Thomas Wells and his family lived in our wonderful Bayleaf Tudor farmhouse, which helps me relate the food I make to the family, then I can put it into context for our visitors.”
According to Madaleine, the learning never ends, not just from the training volunteers receive here at the Museum, but as she points out, from her fellow volunteers. “I am always amazed at just how much they know and how much knowledge I have picked up from them. They are so generous in sharing information,” she says.
Dressed in layers of authentic Tudor clothing, Madaleine keeps warm in the even and relatively cool temperature of Winkhurst kitchen. “As soon as you put on the clothes, you become the part and get into the character,” she says. “The clothes are a talking point for our visitors and they often want to take photographs.”
Was she camera shy? “At first I wasn’t used to having my picture taken, but now I enjoy wearing the various authentic garments and I am more used to the camera now!” A fact born out by Madaleine’s appearance in our souvenir guide and above.
Food is evocative, bringing back all sorts of memories and it’s the sensory experience of watching it being made and enjoying the taste that visitors enjoy. “Parents often remark on how their children try food here that they’d never eat at home!” says Madaleine. “When they’ve been here on a school trip, it’s often the food they talk about!”
For Madaleine, it’s the teamwork and social side of volunteering that adds greatly to her experience. “You’re nearly always in the kitchen with someone else and you soon form friendships. You get a sense of belonging in this place, especially when you have fond memories of it as a visitor yourself.”