Newest Review: ... as they don't seem fully sized or in a great condition. There are also some strange pointless additions to the collection like a puffin ... more
Member Name: cyberem78
Hancock Museum (Newcastle)
Advantages: Lots to do and see. Very child friendly.
Disadvantages: Some of the taxidermy displays look old and not well done.
I live locally to Newcastle Upon Tyne and our main city museum, The Hancock, has always been a source of interest and pride to me ever since I was a child. The museum was recently closed for a long time undergoing a major make-over which was badly needed to help the building and exhibits fit in with the new cultural aims of the North East. The museum is now managed on behalf of Newcastle University who funded and directed the redevelopment process. As well as the overhaul of the actual architecture and the exhibitions the museum has a new snazzy name: The Great North Museum. It's 'Hancock' epitaph is tacked onto the end of this rather boring and generic new title. Signposts and special footpath stickers around Newcastle will often completely miss out the 'Hancock' in the title though.
The museum is located near the Haymarket Metro station and bus station and is a few minutes walk in the direction of Newcaslte university.
When you enter the museum you are at the Welcome Point where the shop and information desk is located. In the wings of this area are toilets for family, men, women and an accessible toilet as well as a baby changing area. There is an induction loop available for those with hearing disabilities. Free leaflet maps are available. There is no entrance fee.
There are two floors in the Hancock and each is divided into exhibition sections. There is not a lot of ground to cover as far as walking distances and there are seats all over the place if you need them. There is no set pattern for how or what to explore first. You can simply wander to your heart's content.
The first section behind the Welcome Point is the Living Planet section. You can't fail to not be pulled into the magic here as there are so many extremely loud sound effects emerging from the area. It is a collection of taxidermy basically featuring animals, marine life and birds from around the world. Some of it is well done, others not so much. I couldn't help but notice that a stuffed fox had obviously been shot in the back of its head and it was badly patched. Other creatures, in particular some birds, appear to have died due to malnutrition as they don't seem fully sized or in a great condition. There are also some strange pointless additions to the collection like a puffin with a pale beak. There are some wonderful sights too though, such as the enormous elephant or the exotic birds section. The exhibition takes over both floors so you have to go upstairs for the full experience. The world famous talking budgie, Sparkie, is housed here. He looks slightly incongruous in the display case sitting on a perch whilst all the birds around him are posed in natural stances. To hear Sparkie talk you have to go right around the balcony area and find a computer touch screen where you can zoom into the display and learn all about the creatures. It's a little odd to have Sparkie detached from his voicebox! The exhibition is atmospheric but for me the animal sounds were too loud and it was almost a relief to move to the next segment. Even when I was gone I could hear an annoying mega-voiced Chiffchaff chirping nonstop!
Beyond this section is the Hadrian's Wall area. This area has a lot of interactive features like virtual maps you can control using hand movements. You can have your initials marked on a virtual stone and then placed in a virtual wall by a Roman which is a lot of fun. There is a lot of fascinating artefacts found in the region and all are described in detail on markers beside the pieces. It's a comprehensive collection which covers more ground than I thought would be possible outside of the museums located near the wall itself.
There is a Crystals and Gems area which is fascinating for geology fans. It's amazing to see gemstones in their raw forms, some encased in rock. Some gemstones are unrecognisable. It's interesting to see so many different colours, shapes and forms of rock. Again these pieces are from all over the world so it's an education. The gems are well placed in cases with black backgrounds and wonderful light sources to show them off. Beautiful to look at.
Beside this is the Fossil Stories exhibit. Remember that cute dinosaur from that Ben Stiller movie, 'Night at the Museum'? Well, he's here! Or his cousin, anyway! It's an awesome giant structure alongside smaller dinosaur reconstructions which show what British dinosaurs would have looked like. Seriously, it blew my mind a bit! They are all colours and shapes, bird like or monstrous. There are a few 'living' exhibits too which showcase creatures that are closely related to these ancient animals. Fun and slightly scary exhibit as the lights are dim and the cries of the dinosars are piped out on a loop. There are lots of fun things to do on the touchscreen computers around the area. This includes learning how to be archeologoist. One task asks you to select a tool in order to successfully excavate a fossil. You can also assemble bones and reconstruct skeletons. Kids will have a ball doing these tasks.
The Anglo-Saxon area is a bit sparse although there are a couple of foreboding exhibits and some interesting artefacts. In the same area there is a special 'Explore' area for group visitors where you can see displays of animals and insects.
The Ice-Age to Iron Age area feels more like an adult themed area and there are some slightly disturbing pieces like burial artefacts, bones and coffins. It's an amazing revelation to the past.
Upstairs on the first floor, which can be reached by stairs or lift, there is a Planetarium section. This area requires a fee as there are special shows on throughout the day. There are two shows: Infitinty Express and Dawn of the Space Age which show at specified times during the day from 10.10am to 4pm. Tickets must be purchased at the first floor shop at the rear of the museum.
The Ancient Greeks area is wonderful and I really loved that I left this area feeling like I'd learned a lot. There are seats in the area where you can sit down, press a button and listen to tales of Greek mythology. These are remarkably entertaining although the narrator is a broad Geordie and even I (a fellow Geordie) couldn't understand every word he said! There are some fascinating things in the collection like vases and figurines and I was captivated.
The Ancient Egyptians area was my favourite place as there was a lot to read and learn. There are explanations of things like belief system and culture, medicines and way of life. There is some great hands on things to do like match Egyptian symbols to their meaning. You can also see what your name looks like in heiroglyphics. In the centre of the area is a tunnel where you can enter and listen to a short tale about what Egyptians think about the afterlife. It's scary, odd but exhilirating. The exhibition would not be complete without a mummy, obviously, and there is one. It's a very strange experience to be standing over the leather-like remains of a person but it tells and shows you a lot about practices and beliefs.
The World Cultures area is alongside and has some very interesting and beautiful artefacts which mostly reveal how different cultures from around the world worship and live according to their beliefs. So there are things like Buddhist bowls and bells, Chinese dresses and headrests, Hindu statues, Native American rattles etc. It's very interesting and a colourful, varied display.
In the heart of the first floor is a area dedicated to Natural Northumbria. This shows us animals from around the region. There is an extensive collection of wild birds and native animals including the red squirrel which is highly worshipped in these parts! Lots to do here to including things like guessing which artefact matches which creature, ie. an owl pellet or a rabbit dropping. Again, aimed at young kids and some great educational tasks.
There are two cafes at either end of the museum and two shops which are reasonably priced.
I would say that it's impossible for any child to visit this place and not absolutely love it! As an adult visiting with other adults I also thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt there was a high degree of interactive features throughout the whole museum which helped sustain my interest in the exhibits. I would rate the collections overall as very good. The only let down for me was some of the taxidermy displays. I loved the Ancient Egyptians area to the extent that I intend to read up further about the subject. If you are a visitor to the area don't miss this place and if you live nearby go and have a look as it'll exceed your expectations!
Tel: (0191) 222 6765
Open: Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 2pm-5pm
Summary: A very exciting museum with lots to see and do.
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