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Chester is a city steeped in history that dates back to the Roman times and beyond so it is not surprising to learn that it has a large museum to serve the purpose of showing off its rich heritage. In fact Chester has several different specialised museums like DEWA the Roman museum and the Military Museum but the Grosvenor Museum is by far its largest museum.
I suppose that it would be fair to describe the Grosvenor Museum as Chester's general museum. It is housed within an impressive Grade 2 listed building right in the heart of the city centre and since admission is free it's a great starting point for any visitor to the city to learn about its past. It opened in 1886 with its full title that it still holds today, which is rather a mouthful; The Grosvenor Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, with Schools of Science and Art, for Chester, Cheshire and North Wales. Hardly surprising therefore that it is colloquially known simply as the Grosvenor Museum.
Its name is taken from the street on which it stands: Grosvenor Street, which is turn, comes from the family name of the Dukes of Westminster who were the largest landowners in the city. The first Duke of Westminster officially opened the museum on the 9th August 1886.
The exterior of the building is rather impressive, with a red brick façade that makes it stand out from the other buildings around it. The entrance on the main street is less conspicuous with a short flight of steps leading up to entrance, which is elevated above the street level. In 1999 the museum received a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund that enabled it to be modified to make it more accessible for disabled visitors. It should however be noted that whilst there is now an alternate entrance into the building for wheelchair users that the age and original design of the building has meant that only the lower floors of the museum are completely accessible by those with disabilities.
Stepping inside the building it is instantly obvious that this is an impressive building. There is a reception desk just inside the doorway. Whilst a grand staircase lined with portraits of some of Chester's most notable figures leads to the upper floors. The ceilings are high and when I visited here a couple of weeks ago I was instantly reminded of stepping into one of the many English country houses that I have visited. Before you head off upstairs though there's plenty to be seen on the ground floor first and there's a basement too.
The first room I discovered was an exhibition area set out quite plainly in a style reminiscent of a school classroom. There were rows of seats positioned around a large TV screen that was showing a short documentary of around 15 minutes in length that covered the history of the city from the prehistoric time when the dinosaurs were its only inhabitants right up to the present day. After spending the last couple of hours trudging around Chester I was thankful of the short rest and found this documentary a perfect tool to whet my appetite and make me wonder what the museum had in store.
It came of little surprise to find a room next door full of display cabinets that were packed with artefacts that had been uncovered from archaeological digs. These were mainly from the Roman era. These displays however serve only as a teaser for what lies beyond for the next area is transformed to look like Chester might have appeared during its Roman heyday. On the walls there are brightly coloured artist impressions that look so realistic they almost leap out of the wall and come alive. Scattered around the floor space there are huge stone tombs that carry Latin inscriptions. There are quite literally dozens of these tombstones, some of which are a couple of metres tall, they stand like gigantic gravestones in an old graveyard but they are much older than anything I had ever seen in a churchyard before. Some of the more important stones carry drawings and carvings in addition their inscriptions and beneath them there are placards deciphering what the carvings portray and also a translation of the text. There are no specific dates on any of them but most of them refer to the person dying within the reign of a specific Emperor and can therefore be accurately dated to within two or three decades. The stones seemed to span around three centuries and ranged between the period 150BC and 150AD. They have all been found locally.
At the end of the Roman display visitors find themselves inside a gift shop which led me to think that I'd probably managed to walk around the museum back to front. I managed to resist the temptation of walking through the shop and instead re-traced my steps back to where I entered. The basement area that I mentioned earlier can be accessed either via a flight of steps or by a lift. There are no displays in this area, just toilets (including ones for disabled patrons and baby changing facilities) and there also seemed to be various research rooms and study areas.
The upper floor can only be accessed via a staircase and is therefore unfortunately out of bounds to those that are unable to climb them. This floor contains two large areas set aside for art, one with what I would naively refer to as "standard" art and the other "modern" art. Amongst the collections of paintings are 23 paintings by Louise Rayner, the largest number held in any public collection. There is also a room with pottery, glassware and silverware and the Mayors Chamber. The Mayors Chamber is a room set out to resemble the office of the town's mayor and there are a number of authentic articles of relevance in this room.
The final room was dedicated to natural history and contained a number of stuffed animals, bird and insects that the Victorians so delighted in collecting as trophies. Many of these exhibits were originally part of a collection held by the Chester Society of Natural Science, which was founded by Charles Kingsley in 1871. This is the most interactive part of the museum and in addition to the animals there are also microscopes when you can look at things like mosquitoes and there are touchy feely displays too.
Adjacent to the Grosvenor Museum there is another building known simply as 20 Castle Street. This Town House depicts life in Chester during the 17th century and has been fully reconstructed to look like it would have appeared over the centuries. The dining and kitchen display is called "Mary in her Victorian Kitchen" whilst elsewhere in this house there is a Georgian nursery and drawing room and a typical Edwardian bathroom.
The Grosvenor Museum has been under the ownership and control of Chester City Council since 1938 and today receives well over 100,000 visitors every year. In 1993, the year that the Roman stones exhibition was added the museum won the North West of England's Museum of the year award.
The Grosvenor Museum is open daily at the following times:
Monday to Saturday - from 10.30am until 5pm
Sunday - from 1pm until 4pm.
27 Grosvenor Street
Telephone - 01244 402008
Fax - 01244 347587
OF LOCATION: Grosvenor Museum, Chester
BACKGROUND: I had planned a weekend trip to Chester for my boyfriend and me and looking online (on this review site), I saw the Grosvenor Museum advertised. Reading this review, I decided it would be ideal for us to visit and it was free entry! This swayed it we had to see what it was like. I printed off the review to show my boyfriend and he was hooked too, so the decision was made.
1. The first room on the left as you enter has a video display about the history of Chester which we didnt watch as it was part way through and we decided not to disturb the other people watching it in order to read the Chester timeline panels.
2. The first room on the right had a display about China/Japan (dont ask me why I do not know), which had interactive activities for the children of making an origami crane (bird) and trying on a Kimono. Robert really liked the designs in this room and it had displays of swords and regalia, which he is into. I tried to do the origami but found the instructions difficult to understand and failed to make the bird.
3. Go back in time from the 17th century to the 1930s in specially designed rooms where there are interactive displays (like guess why Mr so-and-so is (or isnt) welcome in the Victorian household and put the pictures together to show what people were wearing down the centuries). These exhibits are through the shop area and are on 2 floors although there was a small lift to get you down the (2 or 3) stairs into the shop, I am unsure if there was a lift to the Stuart rooms above the Victorian and 1930s wedding display, although I think there might have been. These were really interesting and I enjoyed them especially as this area seemed to be a well-kept secret we were alone for ages in this area.
4. Computerised catalogue after the shop and before the special rooms as outlined in 3 above were a few computers where you could search the exhibits catalogues for specific people or items. I had a play on this and found it quite interesting but it seemed wasted and there was nobody to ask if you didnt know how to use it. It may be a useful resource for school parties.
5. Displays about Roman Chester (including how they locked doors and made archways). Robert really enjoyed playing with these interactive exhibits but the room was really quiet otherwise and he got quite a few stares so I got embarrassed and we ended up moving on quickly. This spoiled it for me yes I am 34 but I like to learn by doing things and the interactive displays hold more interest for me than standing reading loads of stuff although if it is a topic that interests me I will read most displays.
6. Explore hands on geology and natural history of the area (there was a room with plenty of stuffed animals in it but didnt seem to have very many hand on exhibits the microscope one wasnt working very well and we didnt get to see the other one as someone else was using it). Note, this is upstairs and I am unsure if there was a lift.
7. Art galleries 2 rooms upstairs (not sure if there was a lift as we used the stairs but I didnt see one). Robert and I found this area extremely dull and Robert even refused to go in one of them.
8. Conservatory Shop some reasonably priced items but we didnt buy anything so cannot comment on service etc.
9. Tea & coffee in the Kings Arms Kitchen must admit I didnt see a café. Upstairs we did find a room that looked like a mayors committee room with panelling, fancy seats and it had maces and swords over the seating areas. I wondered what it was and as I came out noticed a sign stating that it was the school party lunch area! This had a coffee-making machine outside. We made a hasty retreat and wondered why such a posh room had been allocated as the lunch area. This is the Kings Arm kitchen according to my Grosvenor Museum leaflet and is therefore not available for disabled people.
We arrived on a coach trip and then used the City Sightseeing bus to drop us off a few doors down from the Museum at stop 12 on Grosvenor Road, Chester
Free, although you can make a donation
If you get a Chester Attractions leaflet from the Tourist Information centre or other attractions, you get 10% discount in the Museum shop.
Mon-Sat 10.30am to 5pm, Sunday 1pm to 4pm
Closed Christmas, New Years Day and Good Friday.
We went on a Sunday and although we arrived just after 1pm, we only spent an hour and a half here so dont expect to stay all day here, although you might spend longer if you have children who try every activity available
1. Interactive displays in some but not all rooms
2. It was free to enter
3. Something to pass the time in Chester on a Sunday
4. Suitable for educational groups especially as a wet weather attraction
5. Open all year (with 3 days closed as above)
6. Bus and train services available nearby, including open bus tour (see other review).
1. Not very good for disabled access as Chester attractions leaflet states, There is independent access to ground floor galleries, stairs to the first floor. This may be because it is an old building that would be costly to add a lift too.
2. Chester timeline to read the panels would be difficult as it is dark and there is a video going on in the background.
3. There are too many objects in glass cases, with little interest for children or adults. The interactive displays are in the same rooms and people reading the information dislike the noise of children (or in our case big kids) playing with them.
4. Roman stones gallery dull, uninteresting and no interactive displays or person to ask for more information about this display.
5. No staff available to discuss exhibits except in art gallery only other members of staff seen were on reception and in the shop.
6. Nearest parking is the Little Roodee car park some distance away not suitable for disabled to walk to museum from. Although there is apparently a park and ride scheme with a bus stop on request opposite the museum but it is not clear if this is available from the car park.
Decide where else to go or whether to go back another time. In our case, we decided that we have done Chester! We had visited this museum, the Deva Roman Experience (see review), the Chester Visitor Centre and Amphitheatre excavations, and the Military Museum as well as gone on the City sightseeing tour, walked on the walls including near the Eastgate clock, walked through the city centre and seen various places of interest such as the canal, the King Charles Tower, the Cathedral (from the outside only Robert is terrified of going inside churches with me, in case I either trick him into marrying me or get dragged into a church service by mistake (and I do have previous for the latter!)), the ruins of St Johns church where we saw a coffin in the wall (yes, really!), the River Dee, Gods Providence house, and where the town crier shouts from daily in certain months. Not bad for a weekend! We failed to find the Toy Museum, though, so if anyone knows where it is we might go back for that and we did say wed like to visit the zoo another time.
MORE INFORMATION FROM
The Grosvenor Museum, 27 Grosvenor Street, Chester CH1 2DD Tel 01244 402008 www.grosvenormuseum.co.uk. Please note that I have not checked the website personally as I didnt know it existed until I returned and we have no inclination to return to this particular attraction, so have no need to visit the website.
1. Step free access by platform lifts to ground floor galleries and shop.
2. Fully accessible toilet
3. Induction loop in the Lecture Theatre, Shop and on reception desk
4. Braille and large print gallery labels available on request
The Grosvenor museum is based in Chester, deep in the heart of darkest Cheshire. This an historic city, and the collections the museum holds reflect this - it is most well know for housing the finds of over a century of excavation into the Roman origins of Chester (known then as Deva). I have been visiting this museum since I was first taken there as a child, and this is probably where my obsession with archaeology began! The museum has its origins back in the Victorian period, when civic pride and the wealth of Britain reached its peak - any city that was to be considered important had to have its own museum as a focus for culture and learning. The building of a museum in Chester was first suggested in 1871, when the local Society for Natural Sciences (founded by Charles Kingsley of ‘Water Babies’ fame) proposed the idea for the purposes of using their collections to educate the public. However, it took a further two years before they joined forces with the Chester Archaeology Society and the local schools of science and art to start raising money for the project. The museum finally opened to the public in 1886, and is named after a local family who were major contributors to the fund. The building really reflects this attitude towards civic pride, with a beautiful Victorian red brick exterior and a mosaic and sweeping staircase through the main entrance. All very grandiose for a provincial museum! So what is actually on display there today? Well, there certainly is a range of exhibitions, not only the archaeology galleries - the collections reflect the interests of the various bodies who founded the Grosvenor, with a few more recent additions. Currently, there is: -Chester Timeline This is the newest part of the museum, opened last year after the awarding of a heritage lottery grant. The timeline is the first part of the museum you go into, just to the left of the reception area; it is only a small room, but pro
vides you with a concise overview of how the city has developed from the earliest prehistoric settlements to the twentieth century. Time periods are split up into major sections, each with a panel of information, illustrations and a selection of artefacts that typify the period in question. If you don’t feel like reading all that though, there is a video to hand that explains the history of Chester in a 10-minute presentation. This room also has a plan of the layout of museum to help orientate you and decide where you want to go. -Newstead Roman History Gallery Moving on from the timeline, you come to the first of two archaeology galleries, both inevitably devoted to the Romans. This is the older of the two, and sadly it shows - despite fresh painting and the addition of some new hands-on activities, you get the impression that little has changed since it was opened in 1952. Personally, I find the material in this room to be fascinating, and the quality of some of the finds (including a skeleton found down an abandoned well and Roman military equipment) is excellent, but the old-fashioned appearance and interpretation lets it down. The basic ‘objects in glass cases’ approach has long since ceased to be the dominant form of presenting objects in museums - visitors used to computer programmes, interactive exhibits and entertainment are not going to find this appealing if they are non-specialists. I would love to see the museum get a grant to sort this room out; it has so much potential! -Webster Roman Stones Gallery Next door lies the second, and far more modern, Roman stones gallery. Don’t be put off by the name though, this actually an interesting place to visit! On display here (thankfully not in glass cases I might add) are 35 of the museum’s best examples of carved Roman stonework, from a collection of over 150. These stones were found during repair work to the city walls in the late nineteenth cen
tury, where for some unknown reason they had been used to fill in a hole in the wall around AD300 ? protected from the weather for 1500 years, the quality of preservation is much better than you normally get. An excellent touch to this gallery is a painted replica of one of the stones, as it would have looked when new, which visitors are invited to touch. -The Period House This house dates from 1690 and is an addition to the back of the museum, which are connected via a conservatory containing the museum shop. Although some original features of the house do remain, it has now been converted into a period house display area, with reconstructions of Georgian, Stuart, Victorian and Edwardian rooms after the museum’s curator saved it from demolition in 1954. This is a rather strange experience, almost like walking through a series of National Trust houses that have been jumbled up together! I rather like it though - it is a good way of presenting the changing domestic setting in Chester over time, and the use of figures in ‘active’ poses and period costume help you to appreciate that these were once rooms people lived in, not a museum like the rest of the Grosvenor. -Kingsley Natural History Gallery Back in the main part of the museum, this is one of the first floor galleries (although please note there is currently no wheelchair access to the upper floor). Here you will find a history of Chester Naturalists, displays of local species and a hands-on activity centre (available whenever school visits are not using it). Not one of my favourite rooms I must say, but then I never was a big fan of stuffed animals! However, one interesting point that I picked up from playing around with the computer catalogues was that some of the birds kept by the museum were used by the BBC as props for their production of Gormenghast. -The Silver Gallery Being an important centre for silver production, the museum here displays
the largest collection of Chester silver held anywhere in the world, some of it dating back to the 1570s. This again is a simple glass case based presentation, but then they could hardly put silver on open display! The amount of silver in the room is really quite breathtaking, and worth going to look at even if you are not especially interested in the history of assaying and hallmarking. -The art gallery I must say that I was quite surprised when I cam across this room on my last visit ? a single gallery of paintings is not quite what you would expect to be tucked away in museum that is primarily history and archaeology based. The paintings range across many times and styles, but all are linked together with the common theme of either depicting Cheshire or having been painted by a Cheshire artist. This section is really mainly for locals (which I’m not - I live over the border!) so this wasn’t quite so interesting for me. -Temporary exhibitions There are two other galleries in the museum devoted to temporary exhibitions (advertised in local press and on the website). Recent displays have included costume displays, works by local artists, local history and embroidery exhibits. -Other points Chester Archaeology Service is based at the rear of the museum - they produce a regular newsletter and organise a variety of public events, including the Explorers Club for children. Phone (01244) 402009 for more details. An object identification service is run by the museum on weekday afternoons, for natural history (Mondays), costume and history (Tuesdays), art and architecture (Wednesdays) and archaeology (Thursdays) and you can meet up with curators without appointment between 2pm and 5pm. The museum is open 10.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday and 2pm to 5pm on Sundays. Admission is free, but donations are welcome! The museum can be found at: 27 Grosvenor Street Chester CH1
2DD (01244) 321616 www.chestercc.gov.uk/heritage