The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, is a museum for rescued buildings, set in 40 acres of the West Sussex countryside. The buildings have been laid out as an imarginary village with a small centre and outlying farmsteads. This is the perfect setting for our first person interpretation, providing not only small scale buildings, but also the surrounding land, portraying a rural community.
We have been bringing the buildings here to life since 1994. For many years we held a 5 day run, allowing us to try experimental archeology a bit further, including the building of a breadoven. Being in character for a longer period and in such an immersive setting allows us to interact with the visitors with more involved stories of life. Many events followed on in progressive years developing longer storylines that repeat visitors would recall and want to know how they progressed.
Originally, we interpreted the Pendean Farmhouse back in the 1590's, with the Coldham's living there, a family of Yeoman farmers. In 2000, a new building, the Poplar cottage was completed and we interpreted that and the Pendean farmhouse together for 1600. However, after that event further work was carried out on Pendean and dendochronology showed the building to be early 17th century instead. So in 2001 we took Pendean and Poplar forward to 1625, and introduced some new families of the next generation.
As a complete change, in 2004 we did two events: the Bayleaf farmstead in 1545 and the Walderton house in 1684, spreading our involvement to the further extremes of the two centuries.
In 2000, the museum carried out further research on the Pendean Farmhouse, establishing it to have been built in the early 17th century. The house was refitted out for the 1620's and we moved the re-enactment on to 1625, along with its new owner, Goodman Clare.
Year on year, we portrayed the Coldham family living in the Pendean Farmhouse and the surroundings. Once Poplar Cottage was complete, we were also able to put two families living there as well. The later dendochronology showed that the house was later than we had been portraying it and that the Coldham's must have lived in an earlier house on the land.
As the years go back, our records loose track of which year some of the photos were actually taken.
To coincide with the completion of the Poplar Cottage, the museum invited local artists along for a competition to create a suitable piece to go within the house. To enhance the feeling of living in the past, the museum asked us to create a famliy or two living there. Unfortunately, the funding for the competition didn't appear.