Rye Conservation Society visit to Weald and Downland Living Museum
Our Autumn visit on 11 October broke all our own rules. We visited the Weald and Downland Living Museum at Singleton, near Chichester. Our main reason for the visit was to see the four architecturally important modern buildings. They have all been designed to show the use of a variety of traditional local materials in a modern architectural manner.
First is the world famous award winning Gridshell building designed by Edward Cullinan Architects working with Buro Happold engineers. It was completed in 2002.
The other three buildings were opened in May that year. Known as the Gateway Buildings the Museum raised some £6m. including £4m. from the Heritage Lottery to pay for their construction.
The buildings include a visitor reception area, a permanent exhibition explaining the aims and work of the museum and a new cafe.
Christopher Strangeways wrote an excellent summary of the visit and background information on the Museum which was published in the Society's November 2017 Newsletter and reproduced below.
The main purpose of the visit was to see the new Gateway Centre. It was opened in May this year at a cost of £6 million - £4 million from the Heritage Lottery and the rest from donations. Designed by ABIR architects , the series of wooden-frame buildings provide a gallery space, café and other facilities for both visitors and staff. It is clearly a very high-quality construction and has an attractive location at the lower end of the site, next to the artificial lake, and works well as a Gateway to the museum from the car-parking area.
The Museum’s 40 acres provide a beautiful setting for a collection of historic buildings dating from 950 AD to the Victorian era, all saved from demolition. The site is within the South Downs National Park, close to Goodwood racecourse, and occupies a corner of the West Dean Estate. It was the estate’s eccentric owner, Edward James, who gave the land to Roy Armstrong and his small group of volunteers in 1967. The Sixties was an era of architectural vandalism and Roy Armstrong had been appalled at the destruction of fine medieval buildings in Crawley and other parts of the South-east. Inspired by the “Open Air” museums in Sweden and elsewhere, he had been looking for a suitable site to preserve Wealden traditional vernacular architecture. The land he was offered is outside the Weald so the area of interest was extended to include the Downs. As well as preserving doomed buildings he wanted the museum to raise awareness of the built environment and to preserve the traditional crafts and industries associated with their construction and maintenance. Old industrial skills were also to be preserved and there is now a working mill and blacksmith on the site.
Most of the houses are furnished with original artefacts that demonstrate the way of life of the occupants. Overall the impression is that one could quite happily live in these houses although we would probably miss some comforts of the 21st Century.
A recent addition to the Museum was the construction in 2002 of the innovative Gridshell building. This was designed by Ted Cullinan and the Cullinan Studio and was the first of its kind to be built in Britain. Some members of our group were given a tour of the building and its large basement storage area. The spectacular upper interior space known as the Jerwood Gridshell Space is used as a conservation workshop and for training. The basement houses a large collection of tools and artefacts of rural life.
There is a strong emphasis throughout the museum on the contribution made by volunteers. Since the foundation of the museum by the small group led by Roy Armstrong, the local community have been much involved in making the museum the success it is today. At every stage during our visit we were able to turn to helpful and well-informed volunteers who answered every type of question – such as how the medieval occupants relieved themselves in the middle of the night and how the smoke on the floor at the centre of the hall escaped without a chimney. The volunteers in the mill and the smithy were all too happy to explain every detail of their trade including the origin of the phrase “rule of thumb” – it was the miller’s way of precisely calibrating the gap between the millstones by rubbing the flour (Wikipedia disagrees).
Trips of this kind are regularly arranged by Rye Conservation Society and was meticulously organised by the hard-working chairman John Griffiths. As the weary but contented group travelled home in the coach it was John again who was reminding them of the next Society event – the Christmas Party on Friday 1 December 6.00 pm 'till 8.00 pm in Rye Town Hall.
Visit to Canterbury May 2016
On Wednesday 25 May we made a memorable visit to Canterbury: discovered the delights, both food and surroundings, of the Café du Soleil and were welcomed as members of Rye Conservation Society by the Dean of Canterbury at the commencement of Choral Evensong in the Cathedral. I am grateful to Nicky Frith, our Honorary Legal Adviser, for this write-up of the day:
"We arrived in Canterbury on a cold, damp morning to be greeted by Tim Less, Nick Blake and Clive Bowley from the Canterbury Society at the Café du Soleil, a former 18thc wool store which had been very well converted. Over coffee we learnt about the Canterbury Society which was formed over a hundred years ago but was resurrected in its present form over sixty years ago. We heard about the problems the Society has experienced with the City and the County Councils and the Planning Authority's obsession for "square blocks clad with white rendering". In some ways it was comfort but also very sad to hear that the City Planners go through the usual consultation processes then generally ignore the Society's representations, especially replacing old buildings with modern designs and materials out of keeping with the surrounding area.
After coffee we split into two groups to walk around the old City centre (surprisingly compact) to see examples of good and disappointing rebuilding and renovations. We started at the Westgate Tower, at 18m tall the largest surviving mediaeval gateway, completed in 1350, so younger than the Landgate in Rye. It was designed by Henry Yevele, the King's Master Mason, who worked on Westminster Palace from 1389 to 1391 during which time Geoffrey Chaucer was Clerk of Works to the King. The Westgate Tower which had formerly been the City Gaol has been converted into residential units with commercial units at ground level and fits in well with its surroundings.
The new Marlowe Theatre was an example of something disappointing. From a distance it seems to be covered in scaffolding but, according to our guide, it was "ladies' fishnet tights", the purpose of which was unclear, but the building was an uninspiring white rendered box with an extraordinary shaped roof which blocked out views of the Cathedral from the surrounding area.
View of Canterbury Cathedral West Gate and River Stour
We saw historic older buildings interspersed with either modern new buildings on derelict sites. Our guide explained that the Council had made several attempts to provide a ring road and in anticipation had purchased property, much of which it still owned, as a result of the schemes being abandoned.
There was some good new building of new blocks of flats which fitted well into the street scene and some 'pastiche' developments which were either well received or hated. The Buttermarket and 41-44 Burgate which were built by the Cathedral between 1449-68 providing shops on the ground floor with lodgings for 58 pilgrims above was destroyed by a huge fire and rebuilt in neo-Tudor style in the Edwardian era. It fitted appropriately with its surroundings.
St Augustine had lived a simple monastic life when Archbishop but the Norman Archbishop Lanfranc wanted a Palace which was incorporated into part of the monastic refectory. Palace Street was 'moved over' to make room for his new Palace which after being abandoned for some time is now home to the Archbishop and the Bishop of Dover.
After an excellent lunch at Café du Soleil we made our way to the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge for a guided tour of the various sections of the museum including a large display cabinet of Victorian curiosities, an Explorers and Collectors section containing artifacts from Ancient Egypt and those unearthed during rebuilding projects in the city, one of which was the beautiful Canterbury Pendant. Other collections included a memorial to the local regiment, the Buffs, coins, glassware and paintings of people, places and local livestock. We could really have spent a whole day there.
After a reviving cup of tea we hastened to the Cathedral for Choral Evensong, which was sung beautifully by the Girls Choir with the Lay Cantor - a fitting and moving experience to end a most interesting and enjoyable day."