Museums for Families: Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, East Sussex

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In late September, the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft re-opened.

It is quite a thing to behold and most definitely my kind of place. There are so many reasons why, but these probably don’t make that interesting a read. So I’ll cut to the chase.

As well as showcasing the art and craft wonders made by its local community, the museum has designs on being a cultural learning space for all ages – and has a dedicated room just for this purpose.

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Besides its monthly Little Museum Visitors workshops, which I blogged about yesterday, the museum holds other children’s workshops – I’m doing a separate post on these which will go out shortly.

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In general, it is a low-key, stimulating place for a cultural family jaunt for the following reasons:

  • There is a Family Trail anyone can help themselves to inside the museum. I didn’t manage to have a proper look through the sheets, but from a quick flick this is a questionnaire of facts to find and things to spot, observe and draw/write about. It asks the child to ‘be a craftsperson’ for today and to ‘skilfully make things by hand out of different materials’. The first page asks them to find an object made of out wood in the museum, imagine that they made it and then draw what tools they would need to do so. Charlotte, my contact at the museum, told me that they will soon be taking delivery of  hand-made leather satchels for carrying the pens and sheets around in. For now they’re on clipboards
  • In the café, which is housed in a converted 18th century cart lodge, there are paddles printed with facts related to things to find. There are also numbers around the room so that children can marry up facts to what they’re looking at
  • The museum is fronted by a duck pond, which tinies always love
  • There is the village green to the side for a run about afterwards
  • I didn’t seen enough of what’s inside, sadly, to recommend specific exhibits – I’ll be returning soon and will update this post accordingly when I do. For now, there’s a mini roundup below under THE MUSEUM.

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THE ESSENTIALS

Drive: 19 minutes

Address: Lodge Hill Lane, Ditchling, East Sussex, BN6 8SP

Tel no.: 01273 844 744

Website: ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk

Hours: Tue-Sat + bank holidays, 11am-5pm; Sun, 12-5pm. Closed 23 Dec ’13-11 Jan ’14

Price: Adult, £7.50*; Conc £6.50*; Free for under 16s, Friends of Ditchling Museum, Art Fund members, and carers for registered disabled visitors. *Including Gift Aid

Workshops: contact learning@ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk or call the number above for details, prices and booking

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THE MUSEUM

The Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft was first established in 1985 by a couple of artists from the village’s famed pool of talent. Latterly it has been the deserved recipient of just shy of £2.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Thanks to this wedge, a carefully considered architectural gem now sits on Ditchling’s little village green. Fronted by a duck pond, it’s an amalgamation of glass and black zinc and beamed converted barnishness in soft pale engineered woods by Adam Richards Architects. (Excuse my  non-tech terminology – you wouldn’t know I studied the history of classical architecture at university, would you?).

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The new branding is a thing to behold – a sans serif typographic beauty in black and red by Phil Baines, Professor of Typography at Central Saint Martins, that translates elegantly as frosted letters across windows. If you’re as interested in branding as I, take a look at this Design Week feature from a few weeks back.

You can also get more in-depth break down of the history of the museum and its conversion, in this great article in the Telegraph by Rupert Christiansen.

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He tells of the museum as a brilliant addition to the coastal culture trail of museums in East Sussex. I just picked up a pretty postcard on this exact subject only last week!

This consists of a 20-mile stretch of Sussex coastline along which you can find the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, and the Towner in Eastbourne.

It’s a good reminder of how possible it is to expose our children to museums without having to hop to London. 

Inside, the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft is not big. It houses a collection of weaving looms, letterpress, paintings and artefacts. I literally whizzed round, so the pictures are just an impression. And I didn’t see all of the rooms.

A pamphlet I picked up in Lewes about the museum mentioned artists associated with Ditchling and included in the collection here as: Frank Brangwyn, Eric Gill, Philip Hagreen, Edward Johnston (the ‘father of modern calligraphy and creator of the first typeface used across the London Underground), David Jones, Ethel Mairet and Hilary Pepler.

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THE CAFE

It would be remiss of me not to mention that OF COURSE we went to the café. This serves nothing but delicious cake, giant biscuits, local juice and great coffee and tea. I am A-OK with this, because, if there is nothing else to eat, then let us eat cake!

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However, I should mention that are only three tables, supplemented by a sort of breakfast bar along one wall.

There are also no high chairs, which is a problem if – or rather when – your toddler discovers the button that opens the (heavy) electric sliding door to outside and the duck pond.

I would have been grateful for a way to contain my son. Between the perils of the door and the easily-grabbed-at trinkets on display in the shop, it was in truth a fairly hectic experience given the serene feel of the place.

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THE SHOP

This is a joy. Not exactly relevant to this blog’s raison d’être, but I do love a museum shop and it’s my blog, so I’m going to include it because I feel like it.

This is a small but carefully edited selection of gifts and craft items such as handmade sketchbooks, art tomes, typographic reference books and ceramic and wood kitchenware. I will be making a return visit for Christmas presents.

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Disclosure: I went to Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft to attend one of their Little Museum Visitors drop-in sessions with my younger son a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping to do a proper review of the museum and look at its exhibits, but time didn’t allow it. I was not financially compensated for this post and have written and photographed it purely because I am excited about the museum’s existence as an addition to those near Lewes. I want to share that with my readers. However, I am planning on asking the museum to allow my family entry at some point soon so that we can have a proper look through the eyes of both a one-year-old and a five-year-old, the latter who will be able to road-test the Family Trail! I will update this post when we do.

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I’m Kate, a copywriter, brand consultant and editor who creates messages that are clear and clean. I create these for brands and agencies both big and boutique, in areas including design, homes and interiors, travel, fashion, lifestyle, beauty, food, and kids and families. I believe clear, clean messages bolster brands and businesses. They evoke emotion and ignite inspiration, and when written well, they’re easier to absorb – and respond to. I live in Copenhagen and am half-English, half-Danish. I write as comfortably in American English as in British, and behind the scenes I'm also studying Danish. Need help getting your message out? Contact me.

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