Course News

Trades and Crafts at the Museum: Leadwork

By 13 January 2016January 26th, 2021No Comments

The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum is home to many exhibits, depicting the historic homes and working lives of people in the South East from Anglo-Saxon to Edwardian times.

We also have a regular programme of domestic and craft demonstrations, including cooking in our Tudor kitchen; milling flour in our watermill; blacksmithing in our Victorian smithy; plus seasonal demonstrations.

Leadwork is another one of the fascinating skills that we illustrate here at the Museum, and following the Worshipful Company of Plumbers (WCP)’s 650th anniversary of its establishment last year, we thought we’d provide a brief look at the history of this important trade and our connection with the WCP.

Leadwork at the Museum

On October 4, 1980, Her Grace, Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk CBE officially opened Court Barn which now plays host to a display of plumbing artefacts from The Worshipful Company of Plumbers and provides regular live demonstrations of plumbing skills by knowledgeable and friendly volunteers.

court barn exterior crop


(Above) The Museum’s late 17th/early 18th century timber-framed barn from Lee-on-Solent, houses an exhibition illustrating the craft of the plumber.

Why ‘Plumbing’?

The name ‘plumber’ comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum, and has become the common term used for lead workers. It is also the origin for lead’s chemical symbol of Pb.

Lead has been used for many practical and aesthetic functions for hundreds of years. In Tudor times, pipes for hot and cold water were made of lead as well as weathering details for roofs such as elegant lead heads and downpipes to discharge rainwater.

After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Fire Marks made from lead would be attached to the outside of buildings so that they could be easily identified by the fire brigade and show the buildings were insured.

Nowadays, sheet lead is still very popular to weatherproof buildings and when properly installed will last for over 100 years. Such items are usually made by casting lead in special moulding sand.

Press play below for a video filmed at the Museum demonstrating this fascinating process…

More to see and do…

As an easily sourced and versatile material, lead has often been used to form beautiful, decorative items such as this replica of a lead plant trough (below) made at the Museum by the WCP in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

Although the original was presented to HM the Queen, this replica can be found behind the Museum shop.

lead plant holder crop

All manner of beautifully crafted items and depictions of traditional techniques can be seen at the exhibit in Court barn, including lead works, stonemasonry and glazing.

So come and pay a visit to the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum to see these and many more fascinating exhibits and demonstrations on traditional trades and crafts across our 40-acre site.

Hungry for more information on traditional trades at the Weald & Downland?

Read our blogs on milling through the years and a day in the life of a volunteer miller at our working watermill from Lurgashall.

Joining a tour of our award-winning Downland Gridshell building will also provide an inside look at our extensive artefact collection, displaying rural trades and crafts throughout the ages.

For a hands-on experience, we also run an extensive programme of adult-education courses in traditional rural trades and crafts, historic domestic life and building conservation.