“You can really imagine that you’ve stepped back in time at the Vintage and Steam Fair”
This weekend I shall be heading to the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum’s annual Vintage and Steam fair. The museum’s collection of traditional buildings, set in the rural landscape of the South Downs National Park, will be brought to life by traction engines, vintage vehicles, a fairground and stalls. You can really imagine that you’ve stepped back in time with sights reminiscent of the 1930s and even earlier!
I love the scene depicted here with the gallopers roundabout powered by a Fowler Showman’s steam engine in the centre of a small traditional vintage fairground. It is a combination which always delights the senses; the sound and smell of steam and pistons, the colour and movement of the horses.
At the heart of the museum’s work are some fifty buildings of national and international importance. They have been saved from demolition and neglect from across the South of England and reconstructed in this beautiful landscape at the heart of the South Downs National Park. Amongst my favourites is the medieval shop saved from Middle Street in Horsham which is thought to date from the 15th century. It was dismantled in 1967 to make way for redevelopment and the timbers given to the museum. After much research it was reconstructed in its current form copying a surviving shop front of similar date at Lingfield. Shops became increasingly common from the 14th century onwards. Goods were sold across the open counters like market stalls. Most of the buildings are open for visitors to go in and discover what it was like to live and work in them.
As you walk through the square and around the museum’s rural landscape you will discover traction engines working, local crafts, vintage music, a narrow gauge steam engine to ride on and very importantly a themed tea tent – something for all the family to enjoy!
In the Events Field Arena there will be displays to enjoy including the St Giles horse drawn steam fire engine and the popular “steer a steam engine” shown here.
On Sunday the Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club from Portsmouth will add their regional annual meeting to the show, displaying marvellous cars from this fine British marque alongside other vintage cars, commercial and military vehicles.
It occurs to me that we are all at least seventy years older than our years because the memories that an older generation shares with us seem real to us. Having lived in Sussex all my life I have listened to tales of traction engines at work in the fields, with teams of people and horses at harvest time, and of steam driven fairs. The stories have been told to me in the warm Sussex accent of an older generation which is sadly now fading. Their memories seem real to me in my imagination. It is as though they are my own. The wonderful work of the Weald & Downland Museum allows us all to inhabit and experience bygone ages. You cannot fail to be excited and learn about our social history, the common story which unites us, here in Sussex.
Visitors to the Vintage & Steam show will enjoy all the bustle and excitement of this traditional Steam Festival. It is being held at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton, near Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 0E, on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th August, between 10.30am and 5.00pm. For more information go to www.wealddown.co.uk or telephone 01243 811348. Tickets are available on the gate – I hope to see you there!
By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 12th August 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.