Thanks to £6m investment including £4million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the generosity of several hundred other donors new visitor buildings at the fascinating museum in the South Downs National Park were opened yesterday by Hugh Bonneville; local Sussex resident and avid supporter of the Weald and Downland Living Museum

Over two hundred friends of the museum were welcomed to a day of celebration that culminated in the opening ceremony of The Gateway Project. Oxen paraded the market square that bustled with Tudor women, 15th century tradesmen and a host of volunteers showcased ancient crafts such as basketweaving and carving. The traditional sounds of the lute and hurdy-gurdy brought the scenes to life as well as the frenetic dancing of the local team of dancers, musicians and story tellers of Mythago Morris.

Guests toured The Gateway Project, designed to transform the visitor experience with a newly configured car park, visitor centre, shop, café and community space. Following 10 years of planning, designing and building, these new areas are now open for the public to admire and give a fascinating insight into the Museum’s collection for visitors. The idea is that visitors will walk through displays educating on the South Downs as a true “gateway” to the National Park as well as explaining the museum’s origins, region, purpose and collection before entering the glorious outdoor collection at the recreated market square.

The new buildings, clad in local materials including 60,000 hand-crafted sweet chestnut roof shakes (heartwood) and locally produced clay tiles, echo elements from many of the museum’s rural farm complexes. Large areas of glass highlight the new green oak frames and offer enticing views of the museum’s collection of vernacular buildings. These buildings bring the museum’s craft and architectural traditions right up to date, with new buildings that embrace traditional materials along with new techniques.

The addition of these extraordinary buildings are testament to the principal aim of the founding group led by the museum’s founder the late Dr. J.R. Armstrong MBE; to establish a centre that could rescue representative examples of vernacular buildings from the South East of England and generate an increased public awareness and interest in the built environment.

“The Weald and Downland Living Museum represents an important part of the South East’s rural heritage with a number of its rescued buildings the only surviving examples of their type. It also does award-winning work preserving traditional skills, ensuring they are passed onto future generations. Thanks to National Lottery players, a whole range of new facilities will now provide a wonderful resource for people to learn more about the architecture on display and the people who inhabited it” – Stuart McLeod, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East.

“I am absolutely delighted to welcome public to the three new buildings that make up The Gateway Project following the largest investment in our 50 year history transforming the visitor experience at our museum from today and for years to come. Our visitor attraction is not a stately home or a castle telling the story of the lords and ladies of the land, Weald and Downland preserves the cultural heritage of the ordinary folk and brings to life the extraordinary people that made this country, our own ancestors. We make the ordinary extraordinary” –Martin Purslow, Chief Executive, Weald and Downland.