Newest Review: ... having seen the original I can only admire the workmanship in the reproduction. Other exhibits have a clearer link to the town its... more
Culture - in the middle of Reading!
Reading Museum (Reading)
Member Name: azana
Reading Museum (Reading)
Date: 04/06/10, updated on 04/06/10 (98 review reads)
Disadvantages: may not be worth a special trip, but still good
I don't think I am being unfair to Reading if I say that, probably, most people's image of the town don't include culture and history. Having lived nearby for 3 years now, I've come to learn that actually dotted amongst the 20th Century architectural mistakes, and off the awful ring road there are a few hidden gems - this museum being a case in point.
A very short walk from the station and housed in the Town Hall, Reading Museum is a place that I go to quite regularly; I've taken visitors from out of town there too. It's a place that is worth a visit, apart from the fact that it is free, which is always a bonus, you will find you can happily fill an hour or so here and come away feeling that you have learned a thing or two.
The museum is easily accessible for all; there's a ramp at the entrance and a small lift goes to each of the three floors. Probably the most unexpected treat in store, if History is your thing, is a complete reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry on the first floor, completed by a Ladies' Guild of Embroiders in 1835 apparently; having seen the original I can only admire the workmanship in the reproduction. Other exhibits have a clearer link to the town itself, on the ground floor Reading "People and Places" is an intriguing mix of the history of the town back to Roman times, South American costumes and Brownie costumes circa 1970 - on recent visit I spotted the Brownie handbook I had as a child on display, which did make me feel a tad old!
The museum does seem to aim to be a vibrant and changing place, at Half Term and weekends there are plenty of "make and take" activities for children, all free though a donation is encouraged. There is a non permanent exhibition room, at time of writing this houses a display about Paddington Bear. The Madjeski gallery hosts an every-changing display of artwork; it's an eclectic and interesting museum full of diverse items mainly with some connection to the town.
One of my favourite galleries is the Palmer Biscuit collection, though the company left the town in the 70's sometime, all the information about the glorious manufacturing past of the company in the town is really interesting, as is the vast collection of biscuit tins that are displayed here. As you look at tins shaped as trucks or houses, some of the dating from the 1900's it's hard not to think that things used to be just made better than they are today.
Elsewhere there's a glimpse of a Victorian school room, which is sometimes used to re-enact school of yore, there's also a fairly large collection of Roman relics, and a small collection of Natural History items. Though stuffed animals aren't really my thing I was irrationally amused on my last visit to learn that there is a beetle called a Cockchafer - sadly the otherwise excellent information everywhere didn't solve the mystery as to how this mini-beast got its name.
Before you leave the museum you should visit the Box Room, which as you might expect has a number of boxes in it which are loaned to schools but also has an every changing display of items to be touched. There's a microscope and, randomly, a huge hippo skull.
The museum is a great place for everyone, but children will enjoy completing some of the worksheets provided for a sticker reward, the staff are all exceptionally friendly and keen to share their knowledge about the exhibits in a non-preachy way. The museum does also have a second part to it, a staff member told me, there's a display of vehicles on the old Biscuit factory site apparently, which I have yet to visit.
Overall Reading Museum is a great place to pop into to escape the hustle and bustle of the main shopping areas which are literally yards from its door, if nothing else the cafe will beckon, and you will find there are good toilet facilities, my only criticism would be that there isn't a museum shop, but this is a free museum after all. Those out of town visitors I mentioned at the start have, they assure me, been surprised by how good the museum actually is - I don't think they were just being polite! If you live nearby and haven't been because you didn't know it existed or haven't spotted it behind Marks and Spencers, I recommend visiting. It's a good little museum, maybe not worth a special trip, but definitely worth spending some time in if you are in the area.
Details of opening times and more info here: http://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/
Summary: one of Reading's hidden gem
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