This year’s Museums at Night was special for the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum as it was their first time participating in the festival. Museums at Night intern Holly Parsons went along on the Saturday night to discover more.
The Weald and Downland Museum promised an evening that would explain how people who lived in their collection of historic buildings would have experienced the hours of dusk and darkness in the past – and the event did not disappoint!
The night began in the museum’s newly-thatched barn, where around 70 visitors meet and were split into groups of around 15 for the tour. Each tour group set off from a different starting location so that tours wouldn’t clash, and progressed around the site exploring six different traditional houses and various other stopping points.
Each building was lit as it would have been traditionally, with fires and candle light. Poplar Cottage is a rescued building from around 1630, which was built without a chimney. Its fire pit had very little ventilation, making the tiny two-room cottage very smoky inside: although this created an authentic atmosphere, it became uncomfortable to stay in the room as smoke got in our eyes!
The tour progressed onwards to take in a shepherd’s caravan, cottages and barns. As the evening progressed and darkness fell, the reality of night-time in the past took hold … especially as we walked through the woodland and learned about the man trap, which would have been used to catch poachers on the estates.
The tour guide was very knowledgeable and knew vast amounts of information not only about the buildings and the people who lived in them, but also about the historical background of the period.
The weather also really helped to establish the atmosphere: there was a chill in the air but it wasn’t too cold, and we were kept warm by the fires in the buildings and walking between the locations. The night was clear, with some natural moonlight, so although we used torches they weren’t essential. This gave us the chance to see some of the wildlife on site, including bats and owls.
Overall, the night was a great success and the Weald and Downland Museum is worth a visit during the day or night!