Monday, 22 April 2013

The Weald and Downlands

I have to tell you and spread the word about one of my favourite places in England. I must have visited this place at least 8 times and would never hesitate to find an excuse to go again. A visit to one of the most spectacular displays of English houses from as early as the fourteenth century is a must should anyone happen to be in West Sussex. The Weald and Downlands open air museum  features original historic houses and buildings that have been dismantled from all over the country and reconstructed painstakingly to ensure faithful reproduction. 

A visitor would need at least a day to explore the 50 acre site, displaying not only historical houses and buildings but a range of livestock from Shire horses to pigs and chickens living in and around the reconstructed buildings. There is also a charming lake populated by a variety of ducks; a working mill, where you could buy freshly milled flour and biscuits made from the same flour; a cafĂ© with a selection of delicious cakes; a Tudor kitchen where authentic early modern recipes are prepared and served to visitors; and a variety of activities and special features depending on the time of year and occasion. 

Walking into one of the houses, you are instantly transported to another time and another world. These ancient structures with their authentic and accurately reproduced interiors capture a way life you may have only read about or seen in films. Every detail is considered and during the colder months you may even experience the warmth and the welcoming glow of a real fire lit for heightened authenticity in some of the houses. You can see how people slept, ate, socialised and cultivated their vegetable plots. You can smell, touch and see what the original inhabitants may have experienced in their homes and obtain a flavour of how life may have been. I found myself captivated by the aura and simplicity of a house I visited. I sat in a chair placed opposite a roaring fire, and felt a strange compulsion to remain there for a long time. The Spartan-like surroundings, the earthy musky smell, the rustic and 'honest' aura combined to create a sensation completely unique and mesmerising. This is history experienced in a way that cannot be compared. 

Hangleton exterior adjusted IMG_3331

Cottage from Hangleton. 13th century


Hall from Boarhunt. Late 14th century.


Bayleaf: Wealden House. 15th century.


Medieval house from Sole Street Kent


Barn from Cowfold. Built 1536.


Pendean Farmhouse. Built in 1609.

parkland bayleaf aerial view


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Mousehold Heath

My Easter weekend in England was spent in Norfolk, mainly near and at the historic city of Norwich. It's a part of England I have always wanted to visit, specifically for its historic significance. Aside from the medieval relics and shrines which pilgrims from far and wide would visit, such as the Our Lady of Walsingham shrine, Norfolk contains sites where some of the most dramatic moments in English history occurred - one of which is Mousehold Heath. 

Arriving at the site, I felt a rush of anticipation and excitement at the thought of walking in the footsteps of thousands of brave men who camped and fought as part of a rebellion in the name of the common man against the forces of repression. In 1549, during the reign of Edward VI, Robert Kett and his men numbering in the region of 4000 engaged in a massive rebellion which verged on civil war against enclosures erected by the aristocracy and the landed gentry. Mousehold Heath was their camp site. Here they remained for weeks, camped in defiance of the law and the army. They slaughtered local livestock for their survival and organised their next plan of action. Ultimately, their rebellion was crushed under Protector Somerset's leadership by the Earl of Warwick and an army of 14,000 men including foreign mercenaries. The men were slaughtered and those who were captured were hung, drawn and quartered. 

As I walked with my family and friends through the woodland, I knew they were oblivious to my thoughts and sentiments. I felt a sense of detachment and isolation in my preoccupation as I contemplated the magnitude of what had once occurred in this beautiful and peaceful woodland park. Ghostly apparitions - products of my over-active imagination - presented themselves in various spots. Here they lit a fire. There they slaughtered a cow. Around the corner they trained in armed combat, while next to them men sharpened their weapons. These ancient apparitions seemed somehow strangely tranquil and benign in the peaceful serenity of Easter Sunday, 2013. Their presence was not one of turbulence and anticipated doom, but one of hope and liberation. In my romantic mind's eye I envisioned Spartan-like brave warriors preparing for the ultimate sacrifice.  

My family's laughter and chatter rudely interrupted my pensive mood, when a friend discovered a rope attached to a tree branch with a piece of wood tied at the end in the shape of a swing's seat. They took it in turn to jump on the rope and swing before jumping off. Such happy, frivolous playfulness - similar to countless other examples of families and children who grew up in the area and have visited the site for leisure and exploration. I wondered how many of these casual visitors ever stopped to contemplate the plight of Robert Kett and his rebels? Or is it just the indulgence of the occasional sensitive history enthusiasts, who seek to walk in the footsteps of ancestors while recreating dramatic moments in their mind's eye?

Robert Kett and his rebels.
File:A group of dissenters in Norfolk during Robert Kett's rebellion of 1549.jpg

Mousehold Heath Woodland.