By Alicia Denny
A combination of heavy rain and unexpectedly large numbers of visitors to its Christmas market led to roads chaos around the Weald and Downland Living Museum at Singleton.
The popular annual event had been extended to a third day this year with plenty of customers visiting the 200-plus stalls scattered around the site’s historic buildings, grounds and in marquees last Friday.
On Saturday, with the field used for parking becoming churned up into thick mud, visitors arriving from lunchtime onwards were unable to get into the museum grounds until others had left, causing frustrated drivers to park on roadside verges near the museum entrance and in the village of Singleton, leading to chaos on the narrow roads, especially as there was also an event nearby at Goodwood Racecourse.
Further rain late in the afternoon led market organisers to close the parking field and restrict entry on Sunday to pre-booked ticket holders and people arriving on foot with discounted entry for travellers by bus or bicycle.
Many disappointed people, who queued for up to an hour to reach the entrance then found they were unable to go in, expressed their upset on social media.
On Monday, museum marketing manager Emma Keen said: “Following last weekend’s Christmas market at the Weald and Downland Living Museum, we would like to apologise to anyone unable to attend the event and for any inconvenience caused, due to the problems we experienced with car parking.
“The issues came as a result of the high volume of rain in the run-up to the weekend as well as over the Friday and Saturday of the event. During the event we were forced to drastically reduce the parking available, in the interest of the health and safety of our visitors, which is something we take very seriously.
“To combat this, we kept everyone updated via our website and social media, and encouraged visitors to arrive by bus, bike or foot. We are offering refunds to anyone who pre-booked but could not access the Christmas market.
“The Weald and Downland Living Museum recognises that the parking caused a significant issue to many people trying to attend the event as well as local residents, and we are very sorry for this.
We are grateful for the support and understanding of the public as well as volunteers, staff and stall-holders, and are doing everything we can to review the issues and current policies in place to ensure this does not happen again.”
For people who were able to visit, the market offered plenty of festive food and drink, such as roast chestnuts and warming mulled cider and mead, alongside stalls selling a wide range of goods with an emphasis on originality and hand-crafted items, including ceramics, knitted garments and toys, jewellery, books and prints, wooden bowls, soap, candles and art.
Hayling Island donkeys were a popular attraction for young visitors and there were demonstrations of traditional skills at the Tudor kitchen and newly-opened bakehouse.
Musicians throughout the weekend kept up spirits with seasonal tunes and songs. Performing were FB Pocket Orchestra, Chichester City Band, Southdowns Folk Singers, Worthing Silver Band, CFT’s Get Singing! Choir, Sussex Folk Orchestra, Get Vocal Choir and Southdowns Concert Band.
A pop-up stand hosted by representatives of television’s The Repair Shop was a draw for many fans of the programme who were also able to look at the set where it is filmed in the museum’s Court Barn and hear stories from behind the scenes.