So, there is no getting away from it, it is nearly Christmas.
For the people of Hassocks, like many of us, this means the usual preparations: spending hours untangling fairy lights; eating far too many chocolates and, of course, a trip to the local garden centre. After a visit to this small town over the weekend, I can definitely see why the latter is a priority. Hassocks boasts a huge nursery called South Downs, which definitely seems to have it all; from thousands of outdoor statues, to a wonderfully cosy café. On Saturday, while hundreds rushed to select the perfect Christmas tree, and younger residents formed an orderly queue to visit Santa, I made my way to find the garden centre’s museum. That’s right – the museum.
As I entered The South Downs Heritage Centre, a sign explained the story behind this unusually located space. The Tate family, who currently own South Downs Nursery, have lived in Sussex for over a hundred years. With a long tradition of working in farming, carpentry or wheel maintenance, the family now run two successful nurseries, and a garage business. The Heritage Centre was consequently set up as a document of the rural life that they have been a part of for so many years.
To find such a place nestling within a garden centre is quite a shock, but when you begin to engage with the objects, it soon starts to make sense – much like The Flower Makers’ Museum. Everything in the collection is tied to a way of life, or means of earning an income. For instance, there is a small corner shop; a blacksmiths; a wheelwright’s workshop; a herb garden, and a vast collection of local farming equipment. Looking at these objects, in a family run business, is therefore like reading the Tate family memoirs. This sense of deep rooted rural history is made all the more tangible by the nursery’s location in the heart of the beautiful South Downs.
Contributions to the centre are regularly made by Sussex residents. If you would like to donate any Sussex memorabilia, please email the museum at email@example.com with a photo and short description.