York Castle Museum – possibly my favourite museum ever

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August 9, 2012 by talkaboutyork

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In my last blog post I wrote about our visit to Clifford’s Tower. Directly opposite the Tower is the York Castle Museum.   At first glance it’s hard to figure out why it’s the Castle Museum as you can’t see a castle. However, it is on the site of the old castle and indeed some of the castle walls are visible from the other side of the building.

We popped into the museum after our visit to Clifford’s Tower. As proud carriers of Yorkcards, we can get into the museum for free. YorkCards cost the princely sum of £2 but give residents free entry or discounted entry into loads of places, so they’re well worth getting. That said, it costs just £8.50 for adults if you don’t have a YorkCard, kids under 16 go free and you can return as many times as you like during a year free of charge once you’ve paid once. Which is great because there is so much to see that it’s far better to go there several times over.

The first time we visited, we went to the South Building which houses many intriguing exhibits as well as the main draw card: Kirkgate, the recreated Victorian street. One of the first exhibits you come to is called Spotless and it gives you a flavour of the rest of the museum. It’s a collection of how people kept themselves and their houses clean in times past. A collection of very ordinary household items like soap and vacuum cleaners might not sound scintillating, but it is. You see current brands and how they have evolved over time and you certainly get a healthy respect for housewives of times past. The only downside was that my children were very keen to explore fast so that they could find the Victorian street, while I wanted to read all the interesting little facts.

There were plenty of other really fascinating displays – like objects celebrating birth, marriage and death throughout various periods.

We finally got to the Victorian York street. It was fab, like walking back in time. Every shop (based on a real York business from the past) has so much attention to detail  and the sound effects bring it all to life. They even turn the street from day to night with a thunder storm rolling in. Some of the smaller, darker alleyways representing the poorer side of life had my six year old clutching my hand rather tightly, such was it’s authenticity.

We’d seen so much but that was only half of the the museum, so we decided to return another day to view the rest. And we did.

The second half starts with your more traditional museum type artefacts – military attire and the history of various battles in and around York. While the boys loved looking at the weapons, it didn’t fill me with the same joy that the household items had. But I would like to return to read all the details about the history of York which we had to race through once again to get to look at the WW2 collection (great day to day items like ration books and the kind of personal kit that soldiers carried) and the toy room.

Here you can see toys from various periods, all mingled together – from recent games consoles to memory lane items from the eighties (thunder cats and care bears anyone?) and items much further back. We then got to stop in to make some Victorian toys – peg dollies. I had a lot of fun doing this even though I think it was meant for the kids. We also go to see Victorian clothes that children would have worn, and fashions through the ages – like swim wear from 1900 to now. So fascinating to see the changes.

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We then headed outdoors and the kids got to play old-fashioned games. Not sure which era the games were meant to be from (think I missed the sign) but we had a fab time playing them and I might have convinced my children that there is life beyond a wii console. Skipping ropes and hoola hoops, hop scotch and skittles. I was exhausted by the end of it.

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But it wasn’t over yet. After a brief look around the old mill, we headed back indoors to the Sixties. Wow – what a fab collection of sixties memorabilia and a great chance to explain how this awesome era changed life forever (I glossed over the sex and drugs bit but the rock and roll was fine). We got to see sixties fashions, games and icons including the famous 1966 Football World Cup winners.

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The final part was the Castle prisons, which 6 year old found a bit scary so we skimmed through them fairly fast but my boys agreed that they wouldn’t like to have spent much time there as an inmate. I imagine that being there after dark on your own would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

The museum has the obligatory cafe and gift shop too.

The reason I’d rate this as one of my favourite museums is because it examines social history, really showing how life has evolved. Another reason is that the exhibits appeals to all ages – take the toys, kids love looking at them while you’ll hear any number of adults going: ‘I remember those!’ The exhibits are so varied yet they really give an honest, everyday look at life past (but not soooo far past that it seems unreal).

So if you fancy a great day out with great value for money (particularly if you’re a resident!), get yourself to York Castle Museum.

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