Farewell Liverpool

Penny Lane Sign

Penny Lane Sign

So my time in England has come to an end. The last museum I want to review is the Museum of Liverpool. I don’t have a lot to say about this one. We visited just to see the Beatles installation show on the top level. That, in itself, was worth visiting. You step into darkened room that plays Beatles music and tells you a bit of their back story.

There is something else I’d like to write about – the Fab Four cab tour of Liverpool. It wasn’t a museum per-se but we saw a couple on the way.

 

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Strawberry Field

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Childhood Home of John Lennon

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Childhood Home of Ringo Starr

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Childhood Home of Paul McCartney

 

This was one of the best tours I have ever experienced in my life. If you’ve read my other posts you’ll know that I’m a huge Beatles fan. This tour took us to the birth house of Ringo, the childhood houses of George, John and Paul (the latter two are museums), the church where Paul and John met, Penny Lane, and Strawberry Fields. Let me tell you it was absolutely incredible to see these places. The stories behind them are something I’ll leave you to find out for yourselves. A little teaser – on Penny Lane you will see the shelter in the middle of the round-about, the barber, and the bank.

So that concludes this chapter for the blog.

Signing out from the History of Medicine Conference in Sydney. Heard some pretty amazing presentations today on medicine and the museum. Great conference!

The Beatles

Liverpool – home of the Beatles and the coolest/hippest city in England. The former is true and the latter is opinion. We dropped off our rental car yesterday morning and headed straight for the Beatles Story Museum at Albert Dock. The dock is absolutely beautiful packed with restaurants and museums. There are two bands in this world I love more than I should: the Beatles and Franki Valli and the Four Seasons. So the Beatles Museum was an obvious start to the trip. Putting it out there I cannot be completely unbiased reviewing this museum. In fact I’m writing this review listening to Hello, Goodbye. If the museum was just two boards that said THE BEATLES I still would have loved it.

But it wasn’t so here’s a go at a review. The audio guide is voiced by John Lennon’s sister and, at times, Sir Paul McCartney. Already it was winning in my books. The guide was excellent providing so much information! The museum is set out really well. As you move through their career you are transported to different “sets”. One of the Cavern Club, one of their time in America etc etc. Each contained many objects and great explanatory boards. The whole museum explains the Beatle phenomenon very well. The gift shop at the end is a whole other post in itself.

Moving on before I give myself away as a Beatles fan…

The other museum I visited at the dock was very very different: the International Slavery Museum. What I respected most about this museum is it didn’t shy away. It had everything from letters about slaves to forms of punishment that were inflicted. It presented the trade in full – the only way, I believe, we can properly learn from the past. Slavery is still everywhere. The museum did a great job bringing this to everyone’s attention. The bit I enjoyed the most was a whole exhibit on life in West Africa. In a way this exhibit provides more of an identity to the slaves than I think anything else would. You can learn what customs and lifestyle they may have had before their time in slavery.

The other two segments of the museum are about the trade itself and its legacy. Really glad I’m presenting in a couple of days on this theme of slavery and museums. So, a fantastic and insightful start to our time in liverpool. A huge thanks to both museums and the history they are preserving.

The Beatles

The Beatles

Let me Regress

So technically we didn’t go to a museum today but an “attraction”. For the sake of this blog, however, we went to a museum – The World of Beatrix Potter. I can understand why they don’t call it a museum. On the other hand, though, it was a building that contained various objects that told a story and represented a memory.

This is why I’ve called this entry “Let me Regress”. When I was younger my mother used to tape (on VHS my gosh remember those) episodes of Beatrix Potter on the ABC. I would watch them over and over again. My favourite, of course, was Peter Rabbit. I loved the stories and soon enough I was reading the books and admiring the illustrations.

I wanted to visit this museum to see the 3D displays and relive a part of my childhood. The introductory film was quite good in establishing a context. A bit of history about Beatrix Potter and the inspiration behind her tales. You then walk through a range of 3D displays representing all of her stories. These are absolutely adorable. In front of each display is an interactive screen where you can learn a little more about the story.

About halfway through the displays is a door leading to Mr McGregor’s Garden. This is a very very cute garden. You can even see Peter Rabbit’s little jacket!

Peter Rabbit jacket in the garden.

Peter Rabbit jacket in the garden.

There is also a room where you can take a virtual tour of the Lake District and see some Beatrix Potter sites of interest. This is quite fun to have a play with so make sure you do!

So although being an attraction rather than a museum there are definitely elements of both intertwining throughout the displays. There was also an introduction panel right at the beginning with a word from Emma Thompson. She is brilliant – enough said.

Standing next to the message from Emma Thompson - let's have coffee.

Standing next to the message from Emma Thompson – I want to meet you.

Hadrian and Derwent

How can you improve a long road trip? Go to a museum! Whilst driving from York to the Lake District we detoured slightly to visit Birdoswald Fort and Hadrian’s Wall. The Fort itself was quite impressive. However, I really enjoyed seeing the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall. Birdoswald is where you can see the longest remaining intact stretch of the wall. Inside Birdoswald you can see the wall up close – you and a few dozen sheep. There are so many sheep roaming around it’s quite atmospheric.

Hadrian's Wall with Sheep!

Hadrian’s Wall with Sheep!

After the Wall (pause for Jon Snow reflection time) we drove to our accommodation in the Lake District. We are staying in the town of Keswick where they have the Cumberland Pencil Museum.

To be honest, one of the main reasons why I decided to visit this museum was because the entrance ticket is a graphite pencil. You literally get a pencil with the name of the museum inscribed on the end. Stationery makes me happy – museums make me happy – it seemed like a good combination.

If you know your colouring pencils, this is where the famous Derwent colouring pencils are manufactured. This museum tells the history of the pencil. Trust me, it is more interesting than just that.

A Range of Pencil Tins from the 19th century to Today.

A Range of Pencil Tins from the 19th century to Today.

For example, a great exhibit focused on the Second World War. Charles Fraser Smith, who worked for MI9, created secret maps and compasses that would fit inside a pencil. These pencils were manufactured by Derwent and were then given to British soldiers. The maps contained German military routes and escape routes from the Netherlands and Belgium.

I also loved seeing the various pencil sets that have been released for special occasions. The pencil presented to the Queen in 2012 was actually quite beautiful.

The gift shop is excellent for all art supplies so I helped myself to a replica Fraser Smith map pencil.

Very different types of museums with very different contents. Both, though, were great to spend some time in and around.

Cold War and Castles

The first museum we visited today, the York Cold War Bunker, is something you all need to see. Early last year, whilst in Berlin, I did their Cold War and Second World War bunker tours. They were phenomenal. When I saw that York had something similar, I just could not resist.

We arrived bright and early just before the first tour of the day. You can only access the bunker on a tour (times are on their website). At 10.00 am sharp we were greeted by an incredibly enthusiastic tour guide who welcomed us, along with five other people, inside. It is a small entrance price to pay to literally walk through history.

The bunker was occupied by the ROC (Royal Observers Corps) from 1961 until 1991. The main job of the ROC volunteers and staff was to be on the lookout for any nuclear activity and to notify the wider community as soon as possible if any was detected. Luckily, nothing serious happened during the Cold War with regards to nuclear weapons and England.

Cold War Bunker in York Control Room.

Cold War Bunker in York Control Room.

Everything inside is original, how the bunker was left in 1991. This just adds so much atmosphere to the place. The full capacity of the bunker was sixty people that could, theoretically, survive for thirty days inside. Being in there for just one hour was enough. The most time anyone spent down there was 72 hours so very lucky indeed. I cannot speak highly enough of this museum/living history site. Get yourself there if you’re ever in York!!

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Afterwards we decided to visit the York Castle Museum. Another great museum. I say that a lot but like I said in a previous post I strongly believe museums have different things to offer. The Castle Museum has a reconstructed Victorian street you can walk down. Fully equipped with shops you can walk inside and check out. There was also a police station and school.

On another level was a First World War exhibit. Similarly, it was incredibly interactive. It was an incredibly moving temporary exhibition taking you through the trenches, the homefront and the end of the war. Object highlight: embroidered pieces of fabric soldiers would send home to their loved ones (pictured below).

Assortment of beautiful embroidered cards sent from the frontline to the homefront.

Assortment of beautiful embroidered cards sent from the frontline to the homefront.

We were also lucky enough to see an exhibit on the 1960s. Fashion, music and homewares all combined together to make for fascinating displays.

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Today was very interactive and insightful. From the Victorian era to the Cold War we saw, touched and smelt history – the way it should be. History at its absolute best!

Vikings and Quilts

We were so glad to leave Nottingham and come to the beautiful town of York. Better town, better museums (in my opinion).

Our first stop was the Jorvik Viking Museum. I can’t get over how fun it was. The first room you walk into has some archaeological finds and a few other bits and pieces. You then literally go on a ride through the museum. I’m not even joking. You get to sit in a viking-ship style car. As you are transported through the Viking village of Jorvik, the car talks to you – it explains what you’re seeing and how the settlement would have looked. I love it when museums get this interactive. You learn a little something and you enjoy yourself immensely. I loved going down the “main street” and seeing the stalls on the side of the road. It was packed full of information and provided the most fantastic introduction.

When you exit the ride you come face to face with heaps of displays. There are viking coins, bits of pottery (some of which you can touch) and human skeletons. The skeletons were amazing! Forensic testing etc has allowed archaeologists to gain an insight into how each person died. One died during battle and one from old age.

IT HAD A RIDE

IT HAD A RIDE

This is a really great museum. Especially if you are interested in the Vikings or in the ancient history of York (“cough” or if you watch the Vikings on the history channel “cough”).

The next museum we walked to was the Quilt Museum. Loud and proud quilt lover here. I just love the patterns and the intricacy of the shapes fitting together. There were some beautiful quilts from the 18th and 19th centuries on display. It’s not like the Viking museum, a museum for everyone, it’s more if you have a specific interest. Luckily I do and luckily the museum was excellent to see. There were about twenty quilts on display. The staff were so helpful and obviously passionate about the textiles which made the experience even better.

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My absolute favourite quilt. Credit: Kaffe Fassett and the Quilters' Guild Collection.

My absolute favourite quilt. Credit: Kaffe Fassett and the Quilters’ Guild Collection.

So far so good York! I cannot wait to see what fun tomorrow will bring.

The Bad and the Good – First Negative Review

Well today is the day I have to bite the bullet and write my first negative review. I really don’t want to because I like to think that every museum has something to offer – something positive to write about. Wollaton Hall, however, has been the exception. It is a Hall but it also claims to be a Natural History Museum. Let’s start at the beginning.

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To enter into the property is near impossible. There are no signs indicating the location of the car park, Hall and cafe/gift shop. So we arrived in a pretty bad mood to begin with. To be fair, the gentleman on front of house was pleasant and tried to help us as much as possible.

The bottom story of the Hall is meant to be a recreation of the Hall from the Elizabethan and Georgian periods. It kind of resembles that but it’s mostly just “hey let’s throw some stuff together and say Batman was filmed here”. Upstairs is the natural history section. You cannot throw a whole bunch of stuffed animals into a room and go “hey now we have a natural history section we can say was not in Batman”. My sarcasm is helping me to not cry at how this whole experience went.

So we left pretty disheartened. Alas the one good thing that came out of it was we found a brochure to an old Victorian Workhouse. I’ve learnt a bit about them so I was quite eager to see one.

Front of the Southwell Workhouse in Nottinghamshire.

Front of the Southwell Workhouse in Nottinghamshire.

Thank whoever is up there for that brochure. We turned a horrible day right around before lunchtime visiting the Workhouse in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. This was such an awesome museum. A free audio guide that explained every room of the workhouse was a bonus. The building itself is great to just walk around and get a feel for how these famous workhouses would have functioned. It’s one of the largest intact remaining workhouses in England. What I like most about them is that they counteract this romanticism people seem to have developed about the Victorian era. For the most, life was tough. Very, very tough. This workhouse was a reminder of this history and it was presented very well.

Childrens' slates hanging in the classroom of the workhouse.

Childrens’ slates hanging in the classroom of the workhouse.

Almost none of the furniture from the workhouse has survived so most of what you see are replicas. I understood their justification – if you put replicas in it might take away from the place. It really didn’t need bits and pieces thrown in. The building told the story all by itself.

Don’t miss the garden out the front where you can find plants that would have been harvested in the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. You can even buy fresh herbs or berries from the reception.

So on the balance scale today was more on the good side than bad with regards to the museums visited. It could have gone horribly, horribly wrong.