In 1968 the Museum was not yet open to the public but its collection was building rapidly; by the end of 1968 the Museum had been formally established as a charitable trust.
Edward James’ generous offer of the site on West Dean Estate on a peppercorn rent of £1 had been accepted and outline planning permission granted. Kim Leslie was appointed honorary treasurer – with a bank balance of £11. 17s. 2d!
That year saw the arrival of the first building on the site, the timbers of Winkhurst farm as it was then called, later to be revealed as a Tudor kitchen. One of the houses displaced by the building of the Bough Beech Reservoir in Kent, it was an excellent example of a late-medieval timber-framed building with a crown post roof. Dendrochronology later showed that it was built between 1492 and 1528. Re-erection began in 1969. It was a landmark building for the embryonic project and appeared on the first Museum logo.
Later in 1968 the timbers of its Bough Beech compatriot, Bayleaf farmhouse, also arrived (it was re-erected in 1972). Bayleaf was a classic Wealden hall-house, dating mainly from the early 15th century, which became perhaps the most iconic structure at the Museum and for many its most-loved building.
1968 also saw the Museum dismantle the early 19th century Toll house from Upper Beeding, West Sussex, and rescue the timbers of the medieval shop from Horsham. It also took into its care important Tudor wall paintings discovered in a house undergoing refurbishment in Fittleworth, and collected the first artefact for its rural life collection.
Lintott’s Walking Stick Factory, was effectively a set of artefacts, the working tools and equipment from a threatened workshop near Chiddingfold, Kent, and is now an important feature in the Museum’s new interpretation gallery.
A Sites & Buildings Committee was established to agree the acquisition and siting of exhibit buildings, and two key figures arrived – Master Carpenter Roger Champion helped Founder Roy Armstrong and his team dismantle the 17th century Pendean farmhouse from near Midhurst, and Chris Zeuner, who was to become Museum Director for nearly 30 years, joined as a volunteer putting his own Land Rover and trailer at the disposal of the Museum to transport buildings and artefacts.
The site itself was very busy with the first pathways being created, building sites being identified, and volunteers recruited. The Friends of the Museum was set up and the first fundraising appeal was launched (for £35,000).
Roy Armstrong was building support through a letter writing campaign, to people such as Frank Atkinson, who was setting up Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham, Nigel Nicholson at Sissinghurst, East Sussex, archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Ingemar Liman, who led the world’s first open air museum, Skansen in Stockholm, Sweden.
He was also recruiting people for his committees, including architect John Warren, accountant Norman West; Robin McDowall, Senior Investigator at the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments; Stuart Rigold, a leading authority on medieval buildings and Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, and historian Betty Murray, who was principal of Bishop Otter College, Chichester.
James Farmer, a senior alderman from Surrey, was the first Chairman, and General Hawes, who had planned the movement of the British Expeditionary Force to France for the Second World War and lived at Harting, brought order and confidence.
The Museum was in full throttle, with boundless enthusiasm and determination, and getting ready for its first public opening in 1970.
Images 1–3: Museum founder Roy Armstrong, with one of its earliest supporters and later vice president, Marjorie Hallam, at the dismantling of Pendean farmhouse in 1968. Pendean (pictured before and after re-erection) was the first building to be dismantled wholly by a Museum-led team.
Images 4–5: Volunteers stripping tiles from the roof of the Toll house at Upper Beeding, and the building on its new site at the Museum.
Image 6: Lintott’s walking stick factory became the first rural life artefact to be collected by the Museum in 1968.
Images 7–10: Winkhurst ‘farm’ as it was then known, on its original site. Following delivery of the Winkhurst timbers in 1968, the building was re-erected the following year. It was moved from its original site at the Museum to a new site near Bayleaf farmhouse many years later after it was discovered to be a Tudor kitchen.
Images 11–12: The Fittleworth panels in situ and the Museum site pictured in 1968.
You can find out more about the Museum’s history – and the history of vernacular architecture and rural life in our region – in a variety of ways.
One is via www.wdoam.co.uk, which provides information on where books and offprints are shelved within the Museum’s on-site Armstrong Library.
There is also a section called ‘Museum History’ where searches can be made for the Museum’s newsletters, magazines and early minutes from 1968-2013.