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Mara and The Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre (Great Missenden)
Member Name: marandina
Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre (Great Missenden)
Date: 17/04/06, updated on 18/04/06 (2003 review reads)
Advantages: Interactive, interesting exhibits, the kids love it
Disadvantages: It's only a half day out at best
Filling in those long days during half-term school holidays can seem interminable. These days I find myself a slave to the Internet more and more as I seek out new ideas. This particular half-term saw me resorting to a quick search on Google to hopefully return some suggestions. Scanning the deepest recesses of the Hinterweb, I ended up at www.kayukay.co.uk, which lists places to go in "Middle England with kids". Of the locations shown, the one that piqued my interest the most was the Roald Dahlís Childrenís Gallery in Aylesbury. In a bizarre twist of fate, whilst researching for even more information, I ended up locating a relatively new museum dedicated to the famous childrenís author just a few miles further on from Aylesbury based in the small village of Great Missenden.
Great Missenden is situated a few miles to the south of Aylesbury off the A413. From the Midlands and North by road you can either go M6/M1 > M25 > A41 >A416 Amersham > A413 to Great Missenden or approaching from the South, generally get to the M25 then follow the above. Interestingly, AA Routefinder didnít recognise Great Missenden so I had to use the old-fashioned road atlas (shock) and took the A43 > A413 from Northampton so our route was straightforward. Trains arrive at Great Missenden, which has its own station, every 40 minutes from London Marylebone. You have to use the local council car park if using your car and take a short walk into the heart of the village to get to the museum. It costs £1.50 for 3 hours or £2 for 4 hours, which should be ample for most peopleís visit.
The museum and Story Centre was established in 2001. Its stated aim is to tell Roald Dahlís life story, to care for his archive and to promote creative writing. The Museum employs professional staff, has a board of Trustees and is supported by Patrons. When you leave the car park to get to the museum, itís a couple of minuteís walk into the village. Situated on the left of the main street, the Roald Dahl Museum is almost hidden amongst a row of terraced shops and houses. The actual museum itself looks like converted terraced houses and would be easy to walk straight past! Entering through the front of the building, you are greeted with the reception room on the left whilst the rest of the museum is a set of rooms based around a courtyard in the centre in of a quadrangle (just like one of my old schools used to be *sigh*).
The Boy and Solo Galleries are devoted to Dahlís life and times as he grew up. Entering through doors made to look like bars of chocolate, the Boy Gallery houses exhibits such as original letters from Dahlís childhood along with artefacts such as his school tie and other childhood mementoes housed in glass cabinets and presentations hanging on walls. Adorned with written snippets of real life tales from his childhood, family photographs and touch-screen monitors set up to give more background to his books, itís an opportunity to revisit the authorís life from school times to wartime as an RAF pilot and beyond. Given a list of activities at reception to undertake whilst going around the museum, did you know that ďMatildaĒ died in the original draft of the book or that ďCharlie and The Chocolate FactoryĒ featured 15 children to start with, eventually finishing with just 4 after several re-drafts?
The Solo Gallery builds on the exhibits in the Boy-themed displays and large, plastic moulded books (looking as though they have been lost by a giant) with Dahl titles and a mini-puppet theatre that children can play around with add to the feeling of good humour that goes with all things Dahl. The archive of manuscripts, letters and photographs are available online at www.roalddahlmuseum.org if you wanted to have a look either before hand or afterwards. Both the Boy and Solo Galleries form the larger Crocodile Gallery, which is merely the corridor that takes you down one side of the quadrangle. Itís very child friendly with baby buggies actively encouraged throughout the site.
The Story Centre houses plenty of interactive features that my kids loved. There are interactive word exercises where kids and adults alike can make up silly words and phrases, TV screens playing excerpts from famous authors like Philip Pullman and J K Rowling reflecting on what makes a good author, a mock up of Dahlís Writing Shed and (at the moment) an exhibit dedicated to the movie ďCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryĒ and more. Itís all very hands on and the children in there were having a wail of a time. I just had to sit in the replica of Dahlís writing chair, prepared meticulously with accurate measurements as to where his writing board was positioned to give him maximum comfort when writing.
Round on the other side of the quadrangle is The Inventing Room, The Children Eating Room and the Cafe. The Inventing Room is a rather sparse affair designed more for visiting authors and storytellers rather than anything else. We were talked into listening to a silly rhyming session undertaken by two of the staff who kept the 30 or so adults and children royally entertained with some particularly colourful renditions of some of Dahlís work. The worringly named, Children Eating Room is designed for arts and crafts and children can make things, paint and generally be creative. We only really peeked in at this room as it was packed to the rafters when we were doing our rounds! The Twits Cafť had opened on its first day during our visit. A bit too small, itís a cramped affair with a small room aimed at providing drinks, cakes and snacks. A couple of hot chocolates and 2 fruit juices set me back around £6 with the hot chocolates costing £1.60 each alone but the most noticeable thing was the number of people who took one look after opening the door then walked out again as it was full. I guess the saving grace will be the tables and chairs in the courtyard when sunnier days arrive giving more people the chance to find a seat out in the open although it was under-employed when we there.
Finally, back to reception, youíll find a gift shop dedicated to Dahlís books and general bits and bobs for kids. I didnít entertain buying a book from the shop as I suspected it would be top end of the price range but itís always nice to have a mooch and see whatís available.
There are all sorts of activities that go on at the museum throughout the day. On our particular visit, a professional author and story-teller was resident for the day and £5 per head would have secured a spot listening to his stories (that included the normal admission). By checking the web site in advance, it is possible to see whatís going on before you arrive to get more from the day than maybe you would without checking first.
Another reason for checking in advance is that the museum is popular for organised school trips and you may want to side-step the attraction on that particular day!
The Roald Dahl Childrenís Museum has been long-listed for The Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries for 2006. With the short list due to be announced shortly and the winner on May 20th, itís a reflection of the museumís standing that it is being considered. Neatly laid out with enthusiastic staff and a genuinely interesting archive, the site has lots to see and do for kids and Dahl enthusiasts alike. We spent around 2 and a half hours there and I couldnít see it taking up much more than half a day at most for most people but it's good value for money and a nice way to spend a few hours. Go try it!
Thanks for reading
Opening hours are 10am Ė 5pm Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays. The museum is closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Ticket Prices: £16 Family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children under 18), £4.95 adults, £3.50 children over 5 and under 18 and over 65s, under 5ís go free. Bookings can be made by telephone or online as well as pay on the day.
The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
81-83 Great Missenden
Summary: Write up of museum
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