Preston Hall Park & Museum (Stockton-on-Tees)
Member Name: bones78
Preston Hall Park & Museum (Stockton-on-Tees)
Advantages: Great day out for all the family.
Disadvantages: Can become costly if not properly planned
A Little History:
The name can be quite confusing as it gets called Preston Park Museum, it's sign posted from the road as Preston Hall, yet it is actually called Preston Hall Museum and Park, but if you do have to stop and ask for directions, simply ask for Preston Park - that is what the local's know it as. This is because it was originally built next too the River Tees by David Burton Fowler in 1825 to be his Georgian gentleman's home, Preston Hall. It was not until 1882, when the estate and lands were sold to Robert Ropner, a wealthy shipping magnate (great man) for the sum of £27,500. The Hall and grounds passed through the hands of a number of companies, before being purchased by Stockton Borough Council in 1947 and the hall and grounds are now a grade II listed building which officially opened to the public as Preston Hall Museum and Park in 1953.
After much deliberating I decided the review should be about the museum as the title clearly states, however I couldn't leave out the grounds altogether as they compliment the museum greatly, so I stole the following paragraph from their website to give you an insight.
"The all new adventure play area is the perfect place for children to let off steam, while parents may prefer a coffee in the cosy surroundings of our very own Cafe Tees. Explore a haven for wildlife enthusiasts in Quarry Wood Nature Reserve, or kick back and relax by the banks of the River Tees. Both young and old can be introduced to a magical display of colour in Butterfly World, while summer Sundays see journeys on a miniature steam railway."
There is actually two play area's a crazy golf and a picnic area that I seen to add to the list as well as lots of theatre show available now. This is where you can spend quite a sum of money so if it's a cheap day out your after, take a couple of blind folds for the kids.
When we arrived at 11am the main car park to the front was already full, be sure to check opening and closing times before going as there was a temporary board up leading me to believe this changes often. - we travelled round the ditch ridden road to the over flow car park situated to the left of the park, which is basically a huge field inside the grounds. One big tip for your day out, it's very regularly water logged so remember your wellies if your going on a particularly wet day, and do not let the kids run across the field on the way in, my nephew had soaking wet feet and mud splashed up his back before we even got to the museum, and it was a lovely sunny dry day! It didn't seem to spoil his day though and to be honest the gravel muddy path isn't that much better anyway.
After 30 minutes of negotiating, aka bribing, the kids, we managed to navigate past the two adventure parks, picnic area, crazy golf, bouncy castle, butterfly world, and the Ice cream selling cafe up to the museum. Standing out front it's clearly of the Victorian era, ornate and conservative is the words that sprung to mind. Acre's upon acre's of green parkland out front and a winter garden the size of my whole ground floor, it's most definitely excessive in terms of once being a home, however just the right size for the now Hall Museum. Once inside it's no different, eloquent if not oversized spiral stair cases and ornate rooms - the original foyer is now host to the reception desk and the gift shop so this should give you a good insight into the scale of things. The Victorian excessiveness and recent renovations to include lifts did work in our favour though - I never struggled anywhere once with my double pushchair, not in the street nor the 2 story house.
It cost me £4.00 for a family ticket that included two adults and four children which I thought was excellent value straight away, when I noticed annual pass on the receipt I didn't quite believe it and questioned it with the staff, they obviously get this question a lot as I got one of them 'can you not read looks' - sure enough I have a 365 day pass into the museum. The annual pass comes in a handy wallet along with information of whats on over the coming months so it can assist you planning your next visit. The museum opened at 11am and last entry was at 3.30pm before closing at 4pm - I think they are a bit relaxed about times as people were still gaining entry at 3.45pm just as we were leaving. The gift shops was just as reasonably priced - we came away with a selection of items ranging from pens costing £1 to postcard colouring packs costing £2. You can easily pick up a treat for the little one as well as there was a large selection of history books although I suspect they will be more expensive.
Immediately to the right of the reception desk is the start of the museum and although I'm not going to go into detail about every display individually, not only would it spoil your day out but it would take me weeks to write up. I can however tell you that the main themes of the museums collections seem to concentrate on domestic and working life over the last couple of hundred years, although you can also view one of the only three left in Britain - George de la Tours painting's, The Dice Player, here. In the displays, you can view pretty much everything we have today along side either a 200 year old version or they're equivalent back then. I found it amusing and a little surreal to check out a Dyson Bag less standing adjacent to what can only be described as a silver bullet shaped nuclear device thingy, no way would I be hoovering my stairs with one of them!
The layout has been well thought out too, for example after browsing the shipping trade and working displays, the kids (adults too if you wish) can Clock out, as if leaving work, using a restored machine before moving onto the next displays of entertainment. Really quite clever and all adds to the charm of the place. The most impressive has to be the backward turning clock, after wandering round the rooms of the now modern Hall you come to a foyer in which there is the clock sunken into the ground, you step over the clock and as if transported back in time you arrive at the other end in a 1895 Victorian street., this has always been my favourite part of the museum.
Here, where the streets are cobbled and the ally's narrow and roof's are low, there are many Victorian shops and behind every door lie's a new story and bit of history to be heard. The shops have been restored and some have changed since my frequent visits as a child. I was extremely pleased to find that the sweet shop was still there but then equally as gutted to find it was closed awaiting stock, as a child I came away with some gorgeous boiled sweets and was hoping to find out what they were this time round.
The Victorian tea room is a new great addition to the street, I'd say excellent but the digital tills with credit and debit card facility took away from the completely traditional 1895 look and feel of the place. The staff are even in line with Victorian times, no fast food here, just a 15 minute wait for your coffee and biscuits when there was only one person ahead of us in the queue and worse still a 25 minute wait for a cold drink later in the day. Waiting time wasn't a problem with the kids, they had all the Victorian outfits hanging outside to try on and games to play just outside the doors. Here is the only place I found that served refreshment so I was not very happy when it cost me £7.55 for 2 small coffee's, 4 ginger biscuits and One Bottle of 275ml pop! If I'm honest the coffee tasted like smart price and I could have made the ginger biscuits and I can't cook to save a life, the pop however I was impressed with when I read the bottle. Anyone who's on a gut healing diet would know that the fermented fruit drink is actually so much better for you and also not as easily mass produced like common pop today so you don't mind paying a little extra for the authentic produce.
The Victorian street is also host to many activities depending on which day you visit - ours was build a boat day. Only a short 20 minute session but my 3 boys loved it and they're boats actually floated so thumbs up all round from them. The session leaders were excellent and taught the children about the local shipping history all while they had some fun. The session was free although they do ask for a donation of 50p per child to cover material cost.
Always got to mention these places and inline with the rest of the grounds they were impeccably clean. I noticed when walking past the disabled toilet that there was enough room for two wheel chairs in there and numerous hand rails around the walls - I can't imagine anyone of any ability having a problem in there. I also made a point of taking a look around the ladies toilets, although small there were 4 toilets and 4 wash basins and was ample room (without going into too much detail) to do what needed to be done, again these were immaculate. Only one hand dryer and no paper towel's but I also never noticed a queue large enough to cause problems.
The odd digital Till and lack of refreshments available are the only let downs, so whether you're after a quick trip out or planning a full day trip, and taking refreshments and a couple of blinds folds for the kids I would most definitely recommend Preston Hall museum to anyone, I hope I've done it justice in this review.
The value for money is excellent and it's a great resource for education as well as fun for all ages - I'll be making full use of my annual pass! Planning my next visit already, only this time I'll be ringing ahead to find out which day's activities best suit me.
* Preston Hall Museum and Grounds
* Yarm Road,
* TS18 3RH
* Telephone - (01642) 527375
Summary: Great day out for all age ranges, something for everyone at very reasonable prices!