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The Museum of the Broads (Stalham)

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Address: The Staithe / Stalham / Norfolk NR12 9DA / England

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      21.10.2011 08:38
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      Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

      Review of The Museum of The Broads, Stalham, Norfolk

      During our recent break in Norfolk, my partner and I visited this museum. We have had several boating holidays on the beautiful Norfolk Broads in years gone by so we did have a little knowledge of the area.

      **About the Museum, Location and Prices**

      Located on the breathtakingly gorgeous Stalham Staithe, The Museum of The Broads is a registered charity. The aim of the charity is to help locals and visitors alike to discover and bring alive the history of the Broads. They also conserve and restore objects from the Broads and rural Norfolk.
      By road, the museum is easy to find, it is situated just off the A149 Norwich to Cromer road. For those arriving on public transport there are buses to Stalham from Norwich, Wroxham, Mundesley, North Walsham, Cromer and Great Yarmouth.

      There is car parking provided for disabled badge holders, but everyone else will need to park outside of the museum grounds. This is no hardship as it is located on a quiet road with a reasonable amount of space for cars.
      The museum is staffed by volunteers and is open to the public throughout the summer. It is open 10.30 - 17.00, seven days a week from just before Easter until the end of October.

      The admission costs are:-
      Adults £4,
      Children (up to 15 years) £3.50
      Under 5s free.
      Concession £3.50
      Family £10.00 (2 adults +2 children)

      Audio handsets available free of charge, these give a mix of anecdotes, poems and informative commentary for various points of interest around the Museum.

      On certain days of the week, one can also take advantage of a river trip on the Victorian Steam Launch, 'Falcon', from the museum. This trip takes around 50 minutes and costs an additional £3.50 for adults, £2.50 for children.
      Unfortunately we had not timed our visit to coincide with a river trip day, so were unable to take advantage of this.

      Further information can be found on the museums website:-
      http://www.museumofthebroads.org.uk

      **The Museum and the Exhibits**

      To be honest, there was far too much in the museum, to mention everything here in this review, so I will just recount the items that particularly impressed me!

      As you might expect given the location, the museum focusses on all things boat related. The museum is extremely interesting, with boats to see and learn about, crafts such as thatching, reed gathering, fishing for pleasure and for the eel trade and other rural occupations are all covered.
      I was particularly interested in the boats as I am a bit of a boat nut, having lived on a narrowboat for some time and having travelled the inland waterway system of the United Kingdom pretty extensively.

      A cut away of a traditional Norfolk Broads sailing barge was absolutely fascinating. It was kitted out exactly true to the way the boat would have originally been built. To think that a family would have lived in this tiny cabin day in, day out, as they plied their vessel around the Broads is amazing. In many ways, this was similar to a canal barge, but wider. The audio commentary of this told of the deaths of many children in boating families who drowned after falling overboard, a horrible thing to consider!

      As many will know, the Norfolk Broads are a network of rivers that criss-cross East Anglia, inter-spaced and connected with 'Broads' or 'Staithes', basically large stretches of open water, some natural and some man-made, the after effects of the peat cutting industry. Boats and barges were vital for transporting goods and travel in this area before the advent of the road system as we now know it.

      The Broads later developed into the tourist attraction for which they are now known. A wealth of industries has developed as a result of this, from boat builders, hire boats operators and sail makers. In the tourism exhibition, I was amused to see an old receipt for a holiday boat hired from Wroxham on the day I was born in 1958. The family of four hired a boat for a one week holiday at a cost of £55. Considering that the average weekly wage in those days was in the region of £7 or £8, it is obvious that boating holidays in the 1950's were definitely for the rich!

      The museum houses a huge collection of boat building and sail makers tools, these were very well displayed as wall mounted features and kept Mr Brittle amused for ages! There is also a very comprehensive exhibition room dedicated to the involvement of the Broads and the people living beside them in the 2nd world war.

      There is a lovely outside area where you can sit to enjoy the scenery of the river. While sitting there, we felt rather sorry for the occupants of a hire boat who had pulled into the Richardson's boatyard on the river bank opposite the museum, for fresh water. They were having a bit of a job to moor up and with museum customers sitting gawping at them, it was obvious that they felt like inmates in a zoo!
      The museum has a tea room, we didn't use this ourselves, but were able to see it as the entrance is combined with the refreshment counter. Light snacks and beverages were on offer and everything looked very clean and appetising. There are also toilets for men, ladies and a unisex disabled cloakroom. I used the ladies and found it clean, tidy and well equipped with toilet tissue, soap and so on.

      **My Thoughts and Conclusion**

      I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Museum of the Broads. I am, as mentioned, a bit of an 'anorak' when it comes to boats so this really was an ideal place for me! I guess for those who do not have more than a passing interest in boating and rural crafts, the museum may not appeal, but in my opinion it is well worth a visit if you are in this area of Norfolk.

      It was lovely to see so many old boats having been restored to their former glory, instead of being left to rot on the river bank. The exhibitions of old time crafts and occupations was a delight too. I considered the museum to be extremely well laid out, the exhibits were imaginatively displayed and apart from a couple of boats where one needed to climb a few steps in order to peep inside, everything was easily accessible for disabled people.

      The volunteer staff on duty the day we visited were knowledgeable, friendly and very professional.
      My only criticisms of the museum would be that apart from a play boat, there was little to amuse young children. I also found the audio commentary rather irritating in parts, so didn't really use it. This was not a major problem as one can choose which bits to listen to by punching in the number found beside each exhibit into the key pad. If you choose not to listen, there is comprehensive information available to read for yourself, so you do not really miss out on too much by not using the audio commentary.

      We spent a very happy couple of hours in the museum and I would love to go back again, preferably on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in order to go on the Falcon!
      I am awarding The Museum of The Broads a 5* rating, it is definitely worth a visit in my opinion.

      Thank you for reading
      ©brittle1906 (First published September 2011)

      N.B. My reviews may be found on other sites under the same user name.

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      • More +
        02.08.2009 09:53
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        Gives the visitor a real feel for how life was like in the 'olden days'.

        The Norfolk Broads consists of a series of lakes (broads) connected by rivers covering nearly 200 miles of countryside in Norfolk and Suffolk. Despite its natural appearance, the Norfolk Broads is a man-made landscape. In the Middle Ages, the underlying peat beds were excavated for fuel (this was before coal was discovered). This created pits which, when sea levels rose, flooded to form the shallow broads we see today.

        As this unique landscape was being created, people moved into the area and new industries and ways of living were developed. The big rivers provided over 100 miles of navigable waterways connecting the sea to towns like Norwich; a cargo industry grew up with unique boats, called wherries used to transport up to 40 tonnes of material through the area.

        The wildlife rich broads meant that wildfowlers and fishermen could earn a living from the waterways, and the acres of Norfolk reed provided the best thatching material in the country (and still does today).

        Several hundred years of history is intertwined in the snaking rivers and the calm, shallow waters of the Broads. The special landscape of the Broads led to people working and living in ways unique to the area.

        The Museum of the Broads exists to bring this history to life for modern people. The museum is located in Stalham, in the north of the Broads, just off the busy A149, and on the banks of the lovely River Ant (which means it can be visited by tourists using a hired motor cruiser).

        Entrance to the museum is cheap (family ticket is £10, adult £4, child £3.50) and very good value for money considering the size of the exhibit. There is an extra charge of £3.50 for adults and £2.50 for children, if you wish to take a trip on "Falcon", a steam powered launch. The trip lasts 50 minutes and will transport the visitor back in time to the age of steam.

        The museum is housed in several large buildings on the sprawling site: each has a different theme. Children may be most fascinated with the Wherry Room. This houses a scale model of a wherry 'cuddy'; the master's sleeping quarters and living room, which visitors can enter and explore. Despite the boats being large, the living quarters are very cramped. One can only imagine what it must have been like to spend days on end confined to such a tiny living space.

        Other models of wherries are housed in this room, giving the visitor a chance to see how these magnificent boats were made up. On the day we visited, a real wherry, Hathor, was moored at the museum. Visitors were not allowed on board, but it was amazing seeing one of these ancient craft, 'in the flesh'.

        The discovery room will be enjoyed by adults and kids alike. Here, there's a video describing the history of the Broads, together with many activities for visitors to try out like taking quizzes, painting, or tying knots (not as easy as it looks, I can tell you!). The room is decorated with many tapestries of the Broads which look amazingly intricate. There are also display cases of stuffed animals and birds, including a huge 20lb pike.

        For me, the Marshman's Building was the highlight of my visit. Here, the exhibit shows how a typical 'marshman' would live in the Broads. Thatching materials and tools are shown, as well as a boat used to harvest the reeds.

        Wildfowling would have provided the marshmen with much of their food, and the various methods and equipment to catch ducks and geese are shown. The huge display of bird's eggs is interesting, showing the variety of species that would have had their nests robbed to feed the marshmen's families (a collection like this, in private hands could lead to a jail sentence nowadays, as owning birds eggs is illegal).

        Life as a marshman was a hard way to earn a living. Out in all weathers, in all seasons, in a flimsy boat, today's visitor can only admire the tenacity that allowed people to live in this way, whilst being grateful for our modern conveniences.

        The boat building is the largest building and houses a collection of Broads' boats. Comparing these old sailing boats with modern craft, it's evident that sailing a boat now is much easier. The old boats had no electric motors or winches, everything was done by hand. There is also a selection of marine engines used in the powered boats of the area. More boats are on show in the outside area of the museum.

        The museum has a large shop, which sells typical tourist fare, as well as some really tempting paintings and other articles of the Broads, so it's well worth a look around. The shop also sells a range of drinks and snacks.

        I really enjoyed my time at the Museum of the Broads. The old ways of life of this unique area were brought to life for me and gave me a real insight into what living here must have been like so many years ago. The kids really enjoyed it too, the activities, and clambering around the wherry really made the difference for them and allowed them to really enjoy the museum.

        If you're holidaying in the Broads, and travelling near Stalham, the Museum of the Broads will provide a good value, fascinating, enjoyable day out for the whole family.

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        Learn about the heritage of the Broadland waterways.