General information on House from Walderton, Sussex

This article is from the Museum Guidebook. © Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

In 1979 this building was about to be demolished when it was offered to the Museum. One half had been empty and derelict since about 1930 and its flint walls had partly collapsed. As an exhibit it has provided an opportunity to demonstrate in a single building the radical differences between 15th- and 17th-century living conditions.


The medieval structure which survives within the 17th-century exterior was itself a replacement of part of an earlier building, the foundations of which were discovered during archaeological investigation of the site. The medieval house was timber-framed and contained a ground floor room and cross passage at the east end, a chamber covering them both, and one bay of an open hall. The roof and a few lower timbers of this house are well preserved and can be seen in the central room of the exhibit.

In the 17th century the outside walls of the house were completely rebuilt. The medieval roof was retained, but a new upper floor was inserted, together with a massive brick chimney stack. Nothing is known of the specific economic or social conditions which prompted this change, although it is probable that the medieval house had become quite dilapidated. The reconstruction of the house at the Museum represents the form it took immediately after this 17th-century rebuilding.

In plan it provides, at the east end, a ground floor living room (probably known as the hall) with a chamber above. Both these rooms have fireplaces and are linked by a winding staircase. In the position of the old open hall, at the centre of the house, is a room with a bake-oven (probably known as the bakehouse). This also has a staircase to the chamber above. At the west end is a pair of storerooms side by side, reminiscent of the traditional buttery and pantry.

The external walls of the house are built of flint, with brick used at the corners and for the windows and doorways. All the original windows were altered in the 18th and 19th centuries but sufficient evidence remained to allow us to reconstruct their original form. The window in the east end chamber was protected by an added outshot and retained one of its mullions complete with original plaster. The window mullions were built with bricks that were roughly chopped to shape and then plastered, rather than being specially moulded as they were for the Lavant building.

Several other details of the 17th-century reconstruction were also very well preserved at the east end, including the original doors to the cupboard under the stairs. As a result of the archaeological investigation it was found that portions of the original 17th-century brick floor survived underneath a 19th-century floor which had been laid on top. The original floor has been relaid exactly as it was found.

In order to give an impression of the way of life in the house, the two rooms at the east end have been furnished with replica items based on suitable 17th-century examples. The furniture and equipment is based on an inventory of 1634 of the ‘goodes and chattles’ of John Catchlove, thought to have been the occupier of the house at that time. The room in the middle of the house has been designed to demonstrate as vividly as possible the change from the lofty, black-sooted medieval hall to the white plastered bakehouse and chamber of the 17th century.

After the 17th century the house underwent a series of changes. The main one was the late 18th-century insertion of a second chimney backing onto the earlier one, possibly in order to divide the building into two self-contained dwellings. After 1837 it was certainly divided between two different owners and in 1874 the eastern half became the village post office.

The Walderton house during dismantling

The Walderton house during dismantling. The roof timbers are medieval,
and the flint and brick walls date from the 17th century.

An article by F. Aldsworth and R. Harris describing the house and the archaeological investigation of the site was published in Sussex Archaeological Collections in 1982.Click here to download it. (pdf 9.8MB)

The dismantling and reconstruction of the house was the subject of a BBC Chronicle programme transmitted in March 1982, produced by Anna Benson-Gyles and edited by Tariq Anwar.