“ There are 400 years of history on display in the York Castle Museum. Housed in the city's old prison buildings, the museum gives intriguing glimpses of the prison life of 200 years ago, and includes a genuine cobbled Victorian street. „
York Castle Museum is probably one of the best museums I have ever visited. It is located in the centre of the city of York, walking distance from Travelodge where I stayed in, and also easy to reach from the railway station.
The museum has several different themed areas. My favourite was definitely the Kirkgate. It is the miniature or replica of how an old city from the Victorian era would look like. It was beautifully made, and well displayed. It is not only informative for those who are interested in city history, but also very much entertaining for kids as well. This would be a great place to bring family with small children to.
The second favourite, is where they displayed everything from the sixties. It looks fabulous. It is a bright little area, with a lot of colour and the music from the beatles and the who in the background. This area is a little bit separated from the main building by a small garden that would lead to the riverside.
It would be great if I was there on summer, I just wasn't, unfortunately. If it was a great sunny day, I could have had a little picnic in the riverside as the view from there was incredibly lovely.
The entrance fee is not cheap, although it is free for children. Tickets would be valid for the next 12 months, but unfortunately it would be unlikely I could visit York that often. However, I would still recommend this museum to anyone who is planning to visit York. This museum could be the highlight of your visit in this beautiful city.
This has to be one of the best Museums ever invented. I have been to quite a few museums in my time, it being my nan's summer holiday day trip destination of choice. I have to say, I have been here before, about 4 years ago, but it remained as fresh as if it were my first visit.
The museum is ideally located near to the river Ouse, about a 5 minute walk from the centre of the city. It is well sign posted, and very easy to find. It is located in part of York castle, hence its name. It also can claim the nearby Clifford's Tower, which is a separate attraction, but also worth a visit.
You could easily spend most of the day at this museum, especially once the soon to be finished refurbished cafe area is ready. Due to this refurbishment, you have to leave the building and re-enter around the corner, but the staff were very helpful, and this situation shouldn't last too long.
The price is very reasonable, at £8 each for an adult ticket, and children going free. The other great thing about the prices, is that tickets are then valid for 1 year after purchase. Meaning you can re-visit as many times as you like within the year. If you live far away, this might not be useful, though.
The exhibits themselves are fantastic. My mum really loved it as most of the exhibits contain some items from very recent history, and she enjoyed seeing objects that had formed part of her childhood. I found the recent history items more interesting, as I find it brings history alive to see what looks like very archaic equipment, but know it was used until relatively recently.
My favourite exhibits were the collection based on Birth, Marriage and Death, and the Victorian street. The BMD collection is very interesting, as it chronicles our recent history from the cradle to the grave. You can see almost anything from christening gowns to mourning wear, it's interesting to see how customs change.
The victorian street is a masterpiece. It is a full sized street, complete with cobbles, and street lighting. As you explore the various shopfronts, some of which you can enter, the light and sound effects take you from dawn to dusk and back again. I would imagine it's very engaging for children, as you can sit in the school, talk to the policeman, and even buy sugar mice in the sweet shop.
I also loved the prison exhibit right at the end. It is situated in the actual prison cells of the castle, and I have to say, I was definately spooked! It isn't scary, and I would say it would be very interesting for children. Each cell has a motion sensor activated hologram of a well known prisoner, telling you their own tale of woe. It certainly brings these characters to life, and the hologram of Dick Turpin is VERY attractive, which makes it easier to be interested...
I would certainly recommend this museum, especially for people who think they don't *do* museums, as I think you just might be proved wrong...I will definately be returning, possibly within the year, to claim my free entrance!
I would say the only negative about this museum is that due to the refurbishment, there isn't much of a shop area, but this will be sorted soon!
York Castle Museum is an amazing building which houses a range of exhibits defining the history of this famous city. It is suitable for all the family. One of the highlights of this museum is the Victorian replica street where families can observe history unravelling in front of them with reenactors playing their role in this super example of living history. My own children aged 6 and 9 were fascinated by the policeman who kept in character whilst been interogatted by my lively little one! Visitors can purchase a sugar mouse from the Victorian sweet shop and take part in a trail where you can spot objects and find out information in a kind of I Spy type of game. Relatively new to this zone is the change in lighting from day to night. My eldest was a little taken back when we were thrown into darkness and the street lights went on, so be prepared!
Other areas such as costume galleries do change regularly so as to display the range of exhibits stored. There is a reasonably priced cafe which sells both hot and cold food, however it is not huge so it is well worth arriving earlier for lunch, or leaving it a little later. The gift shop is well stocked and has a range of both of pocket money treats and other more expensive gifts.
I myself have not yet visited this but new to this attraction is the history of prisons. Underneath this building the infamous criminal Dick Turpin was locked away. In this new exhibit visitor's can learn about the true nature of prisons through the ages. I have read positive reviews of this zone.
There is an entrance fee but currently if you gift aid this you will receive free entry for 12 months from that date. It is well worth looking out for special events and offers on line too, for example this February half term children went in freen with a paying adult.
This is a brilliant place for all the family to visit.
There are plenty of different exhibits ranging from health through time, houses across the ages to a sixties exhibition last time I visited.
My favourite part is the mock up of a Victorian street complete with all the different shop windows and shopkeepers you can talk to (although the one in the general store had not heard of Reckitt's Blue whitener that was on her shelves and had to be told about it!
My daughter enjoys the toy exhibits especially the selection of Victorian toys she can play with outside. For me, it made me feel very old to see the toys that I used to play with in a museum!
The dungeon bit is really well done with film projections of the various characters who may have inhabited the cells all around. The sound is quite low though so you need to listen carefully.
All in all, this is a great place to visit. If you agree to do gift aid, they will also give you free entry for the next 12 months if you keep your ticket.
I have been to York a couple of times now but kept putting off a visit to the York Castle Museum. Strange really as I love museums but when we visited York last month I decided it was about time we paid a visit to this museum, and I was glad I did!
York Castle museum turned out to be a very nice surprise for us. Nestled near Clifford's Tower we went in one afternoon on a weekday. There were no queues and entrance was only £7.50 per adult, and there was the option to gift aid this. One thing I do notice about York is the amount of Americans there, and the girl working behind the counter here was no exception. Before asking if I wished to gift aid my entrance fee, she asked 'Do you pay taaax in this country at alllll?' I had to hold my tongue to stop from replying 'Do you?'
The entrance to the museum also comprises of the gift shop and, because of the way the museum is set out, you start off in an area behind the main desk. As you work your way around the museum you end up back in the entrance area and you have to walk to an area behind the gift shop to enter the second part of the museum. The girl at the desk explained this to us before we went in, which is just as well as I would have thought that was the end of it. As I walked around the museum the areas were well signposted so you knew where to go next. This ensured a smooth transition from one area to another, and also made sure you didn't miss any areas out.
At the start of the museum they had rooms set up from different periods of time, for example a typical York cottage in the late 1800's or an old Victorian room of a more upper class family. They had gone into a lot of detail with these rooms, even adding sound effects to the cottage room to make it sound windy and cold outside and trying to imagine if the room was warm enough with the small stove. There was a panel on the wall explaining different features of the room and the family that might have lived in this sort of room, and these were interesting to read through.
There was a large section going through the various stages of life, such as birth, marriage and funerals. We spent a good amount of time in here reading lots of stories in the displays, and viewing old books, baby's clothes and reading horror stories of how women used to die quite frequently during child birth! It was mostly based on people in York, explaining on average how many children died and again, these were all really interesting to read through. I seemed to spend a good amount of time in this area as there were lots of display cases to look at featuring different items and bits of information to read. There was a huge display case featuring the different types of wedding dresses worn by women over time, this was quite amusing to look at especially much older ones which were just nice 'Sunday best' clothes. Reading the information it turned out this is exactly what women used to wear, Sunday best, and they wore that same outfit whenever needed for the rest of their lives, much different to the modern wedding dress.
There was a good section on the English civil war and York's part in this, and again there were some good displays in this area. Most of it however was simply boards of information and pictures, and I couldn't imagine children finding this area fun or useful to them. I personally found it interesting to read through it all, but children would need to be kept occupied!
My favourite part of this museum was the Victorian Street. You go out into a very large room which is done out exactly like a Victorian Street, with cobbled pavements and lots of shops. You can peer in through the windows of the shops and there were tons of things to look at. Sound effects of horse's hooves and people chatting or children shouting are played onto the street giving it a very life like effect, and as we were slowing making our way around this street it turned to night time. Candles came on in the windows above the shops (and a young boy peering out from one!) along with the street lights and a heavy rain sound effect. I thought this part of the museum was excellent and I really enjoyed wandering around here.
There was also a 60's exhibit which was better than I expected, but I much prefer looking at older things when I visit museums so I didn't spend too much time in this area. It did of course feature plenty of The Beatles and the moon landing, and it was a very bright colourful room.
I was looking forward to visiting the Castle Prison area; however this wasn't as good as I was expecting. It's an area with low ceiling and various rooms which all look the same. You wander into an empty room and projectors suddenly come to life and a character appears on one of the walls telling their story of how they came to the prison. At first this seemed fun but after wandering in all the rooms and realising this was basically all it was I did leave feeling a bit disappointed. At the end it mentioned what really happened to that particular prisoner, which was interesting to know, but I was expecting a little bit more. There was one room which I did like. It was very small and it mentioned how a number of prisoners where stuffed into a room this small and ended up suffocating to death. The projector asks you to think about what this would have been like, and then the lights go out leaving you standing there in darkness, and plays sounds of other prisoners coughing and groaning. This was quite a haunting little experience and raised the hairs on the back of my neck! There were also a couple of computers which asked you to type in a family name to find out if they stayed in the prison at what for. They claim to have thousands of records in the database, but unfortunately my surname wasn't in there. My mother's maiden name was, however it's quite a common one so I'll never know if it's some old relation or not who was in the prison for stealing! Despite the slight disappointment of the castle prison, it was interesting enough and you did get a slight feel for how the prison was, walking around in the low ceiling rooms.
There was an interesting section on how people lived through World War II. Again there were some good display cases here with some very interesting information to read. I learned some new things I never knew about the war, and I really enjoyed seeing the newspapers announcing the war is over. It had the usual gas masks, ration books and information about the black market, and I really enjoyed looking at this area.
We spent a good 2-3 hours in this museum and I did really enjoy it. It's not too expensive and I learnt quite a few things about York of old. Some areas are probably a bit boring for children, but there is a lot of information to read through if you are interested, backed up by some very interesting displays. I can understand why children have free entrance to the museum as they might not enjoy it as much as the adults do!
The day we visited it seemed some art students were having a day out. They were everywhere and you couldn't escape from them. They were sat down drawing various things on sketchbooks, often sat in a group. You can to walk around them and it was annoying in parts when it wasn't too spacious! They were sat in the victorian street too which did kind of ruin the feel of the place. However you will always expect to see school groups visiting so I suppose this is quite the norm.
They are open daily from 9.30am until 5pm, except 25 and 26 December and 1 January.
Tickets are valid for a whole year , so you can go back in the same year if you wish. All tickets include admission to the new exhibition - York Castle Prison.
Tickets are valid for 12 months, at no extra charge, so you can go back as many times as you like for a year.
Children now get free entry to the museum as long as they are with a paying adult, prices are:
Adult - £8 (Concessionary Adult - £7)
Children - FREE with a paying adult (includes concessionary adults)
Residents with a York Card - FREE
Wheelchair user plus one carer - FREE
If you have any questions about visiting, telephone York Museums Trust on 01904 687687.
On 1 October 2009 I visited York Castle Museum for the first time.
It is a social history museum that is located in York on the very site of York Castle, which was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068. It is two minutes walk from Clifford's Tower and five minutes from Jorvik Viking Centre. It is considered to be a landmark in the development of museums and has twice won the York Tourism Award for best attraction.
During the 18th century the museum buildings were used as a prison. First they were a Debtor's Prison and then later a Female Prison. As a museum it was founded by Dr John Kirk in 1938, who was a Yorkshire country doctor and a passionate collector of historical items used daily in the local area. Today the museum collection is of national importance in its scope and quality. So far over 31 million people have visited the museum.
When I entered the museum there were just a few visitors in front of the reception. The entry prices are £7.50 for adults, £4 for children and £6.50 for concessions. You are entitled to free entry to the museum at any time over the next 12 months. It is open daily from 9.30am to 5pm except for the Christmas period and New Year's Day.
After buying my ticket a staff member directed me towards the left part of the building. However first I stopped to admire a red fire engine that had belonged to Rowntree, a famous chocolate factory in the area. Beside the engine you can see part of the original bailey walls of York Castle. In my opinion that is the reason for the museum to be named York Castle Museum.
Then I walked up to the first floor, where I saw a few recreated rooms that represented lifestyles from Late Medieval to Victorian and on to post war. So in the Victorian Parlour you can see beautiful furniture, fine china and 'fresh' desserts, etc. Those reflect the prosperity and comfort of a middle class family, who lived in the expanding city suburbs in 1870. Moving on, you pass by a Moorland cottage in the north-east of Yorkshire in 1850s, and then you can see the peat fire, which was the centre of family activity, and was used for heating, cooking and providing hot water. The furnishings were practical more than decorative and often home made. Gradually moving back in time you will come across a Georgian drawing room, which is lined with pine panelling from a house in Davygate, and has been painted a fashionable 18th century colour. You can see the silverware, glass and ceramics that are typical of the kind being manufactured in England at that time. The largest recreated room you will encounter is a dinning room from the 17th century. It belonged to a prosperous family of the period. The family no longer ate with the servants in a communal hall as they had done in mediaeval house. The fireplace was moved to the side of the room; the beams, panelling and furniture are all made of oak, but have darkened considerably with age. If the darkness of the room depressed your visit, I bet you will be pleased to go forward in time to a front room in 1950s. This is a living room of a semi-detached suburban house belonging to a working class family at the time of Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953. Here you can see furniture of 1930s, 40s and 50s. Last but not least you can see a television set had already become a new form of entertainment, displacing the hearth as the focal point for the family. It is said that at the time many people purchased television sets especially to watch Queen Elizabeth's coronation. This recalled my childhood, and how excited I was when in 1980s my family had our first TV set.
If these recreated rooms made me feel like a guest in different families homes the next exhibition of daily used products was more like rambling around the household department of a store. However here the most important thing you should take is your curiosity, not your wallet. You can see almost everything connected with people's daily life, such as mops, vacuum cleaners, bath tubs, washing machines and refrigerators, etc. There is an empty bucket there. I tried to pull it up, but failed. In the past before the water pipe was introduced to families, women and children had to carry a full bucket of water from distance to home. I did enjoy this section particularly because some displays reminded me of items my family and I had used.
Next I walked downstairs to a gallery "From cradle to grave; birth death and marriage 1700 to 2000". From the name you can imagine how informative it is. Before I visited the museum I had read a few articles about its displays, in particular this gallery. When I was there I was still lost. Slowly moving my feet I passed birth, wedding, till death and mourning. I was surprised to see how complicated it is to dress a baby. In 18th century baby clothes were not just a matter of function and fashion. They were also a declaration of family wealth and status. However the tradition of 'blue for a boy and pink for a girl' did not appear until the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century. Compared to the beautiful wedding dresses displayed inside a glass studio, Victorian attitudes to death and mourning were more tempting to me. In Victorian times a widow had to be in official mourning for two and half years after the death of her husband. When I read the information panel and saw the black dressing a widow had I remembered an American film' Gone with the wind' and understood the desperate feeling of Scarlett O'Hara, when she had to wear the widow dress all day everywhere. The Burneston Parish Hearse, which is displayed in the centre of the gallery, brought the Victorian funeral history more alive.
Leaving the gallery I encountered an exhibition titled Chinese Reflections, which was opened at Chinese New Year, 2008. In this exhibition you can see 300 years of Chinese influence on everyday life in Britain. Needless to say, it was one of my favourite sections. It was here I found Willow Pattern plates and vases, etc, also known as Chinoiserie, which are totally Chinese in design yet completely English in manufacture. When I visited some famous houses or castles in the UK I was surprised to see the owners had so much valuable Chinese porcelain. Now I realise I was being rather ignorant.
Then I passed by the Kitchen display area, where you can see different kitchens in different periods. One of Yorkshire hearth is noticeable. At one corner of the section there is a transparent modern kitchen, which had TV shows. When I visited this section I felt less interested as well as a bit tired, so I did not spend long there.
Following guide signs I walked downstairs and passed through a display of farm tools of the region. I did have a quick look at these tools, but I could not figure out their functions. It's really a pity most visitors just take this area as a way to next destination- Kirkgate.
Kirkgate is a recreation of a Victorian street and named after Dr John Kirk, the founder of the museum. In the street you can see a woven basket handcart for delivering parcel and mail, a bank, a police station, different shops and a grocery store, etc. It reflects the flourishing prosperity of Victorian times. Sitting on the bench and experiencing the street scenes from early morning till late night I was lost in the sound effects. One month later when I put the keyboard to write this article I still clearly remember the staff member of the grocery store, who was outfitted Victorian dress and explained to me how Victorian shop worked, also the sound of coins being counted in a shop, not to mention the Hansom cab, the horse of which is so real and it made me hesitate to go near it for a picture.
Next to Kirkgate there is an area of Edwardian shops. An ice cream handcart is standing in the front of two shops. At the exit I also played an early slot machine which mimicked an English execution. Unfortunately 20p just gave me thirty seconds to see it. When the prisoner dropped into a hole I finally got the idea this was an execution not a game.
So far I had spent almost 4 hours in the museum. I thought I'd take a break. However I found for such large museum the toilet facilities and the café are somewhat limited. I preferred the fresh air so I left the museum.
Next day in the late afternoon, after visiting the National Railway Museum and Yorvik Viking Centre I popped over to York Castle Museum again to continue my discovery of the rest of the exhibitions. I headed towards the right part of the building and walked upstairs to a weapons gallery, a children's gallery, costume displays and 60s show, etc. Last but definitely not the least I went to the old cells, which once locked many famous criminals in British history including the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin. Because it was near the museum's closing time a staff member followed me around the cells. In case he lost his patience and put me in the prison I escaped in a hurry, leaving the protest of the criminals behind me.
All in all, York Castle Museum is the best social history museum I have seen. If I had enough time and energy I would like to have spent more time there, especially to have played a couple of old-fashioned games in the old prison exercise yard. If the museum could apply more modern museum technology, such as audio guides and interactive points, I would be further impressed.
Summary: York Castle Museum is perhaps the finest social history museum in England, but a few small improvements would make it great.
PS. Welcome to visit my blog for more pictures.
I've been to York Museum many times and that's because I think outside of London its one of the best Museum I have ever been too. It holds a large collection of local items and has a great layout. I personally loved the collection or Iron Cooking ranges but that's just me!! Other exhibits include various rooms showing different interiors from different centuries, also a large collection of period clothing, a large part if the museum is to do with York and Yorkshires role in the English Civil War, with many displays for weaponry, armour and descriptions for local battles.
The highlight and pride of the museum is the reconstructed Victorian street, based on York, with shops reflecting the era, sounds and sometimes volunteers wondering the street in costume. I personally love this exhibit. Its extremely interesting and invocative, adding something special to the visit to make you feel as close as they can to what it may have been like, in Victorian York.
Alas the Museum is pretty big and incorporates the old city jail that once held Dick Turpin, which is also open wonder around. Some of the cells have been turn into displays for old workshops collections for example a gunsmith tools.
Once you have bought a ticket you can return free with in one year, which is nice. From what I can tell on Half term holidays they do plenty of activities for kids and families. It has a big car pack outside and is close to the city centre. Plus also nearby there are some handy restaurants.
YORK CASTLE MUSEUM
If you are fed up of all the modern day glitz and expense of 21st century Christmas, take a step back in time and visit York Castle Museum and see how the Victorians celebrated the festive season.
From early December the castle museum is hosting a series of evening carol concerts Carols in Kirkgate. The York Philharmonic male voice choir will join with the Kirkgate singers, dressed in Victorian costumes, to sing traditional Christmas music in the cobbled street which forms part of the museum.
I was going to wait until after the Carols in Kirkgate to write this review, but then decided that some of you might not know about this and if there is a chance you want to go, perhaps there may still be time for you to obtain tickets. As I live near York I visit the museum frequently, but if you have never been, then I am sure you will love it, even if you cant make it to the carol concert.
Tickets have been on sale for a few weeks now but I managed to get a couple fairly recently, so you never know, there may be a few left or there may have been some cancellations and you might be lucky.
(See their website for more details www.yorkcastlemuseum.org.uk)
If you have never been to York then this is a wonderful walled city, with excellent rail and road links. It is a great place to do your Christmas shopping (Yes, I have actually started mine now!). But back to the museum
The museum is not at all boring or stuffy and there is lots of interest everyone of all ages. I have been going there since I was a kid and still keep going back as it is so fascinating. The only difference nowadays is that the hansom cab and horse in the Victorian street seem much smaller than they did when I was little!
Open every day from 9.30 am until 5 pm, except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day, the museum has good admission prices. Adults are 6.50, children 3.50 but there are also additional ticket combinations which allow discounts on these. There are also concessions. One thing I like about the ticket prices is that you can buy your ticket then use it as many times as you like throughout the following year for free! Now why dont all museums do this I wonder?
There is a café, and in summer there is a picnic area. Disabled access is not good apart from the main areas, but I think they are working on improving this. Also no pushchairs are allowed into the museum, but again they are trying to help with this.
York Castle Museum is situated about a five minute walk from the main Coppergate shopping area, there are some good restaurants around here too (I particularly recommend 31 Castlegate, the food is excellent and the prices are very reasonable, the restaurant is only a few yards from the museum, near the Hilton Hotel).
Sorry, I digress again! Back to the museum, but there is so much to see in York I want you to have an enjoyable visit and look at the surroundings as well as the museum itself!
So you pay your entrance and you step inside this historic building, which used to be the county jail! You can see the cells where debtors and felons spent their time, you can see where the famous Highwayman, Dick Turpin, was incarcerated until he was hung in 1739. Incidentally, he is buried in St Georges churchyard, York if you have time to go there too.
The prison was built in 1709, to replace the castle prison which had existed on this site earlier. It became overcrowded (nothing new there then!) and in 1835 a new prison was built , but less than a hundred years later this was demolished and in 1938 the Castle Museum was opened on the site.
Not only do you see the seedier side of life as it was, you can also look at some social history of family life too. A Victorian parlour shows how people from that era lived, but there is also a range of household history from 1600 right up to 2002. This includes a 1950s living room, complete with many things that we probably remember our grandmothers having in their houses! Oh dear, not a good idea, it made me feel old that I am now old enough to remember things that are museum pieces!!! But it is fascinating, really and you are sure to hear someone say Oh I remember those! or My mother had one just like that! as the visitors point at the ordinary household bits and pieces. (Makes me feel good, I am a bit of a hoarder and it makes me realise that if previous generations had not hoarded these ordinary things, there would be no museums like this, so I come away not feeling guilty about the boxes of junk in our loft!)
There is also a Military History section where there are displays of arms and armour, from medieval times to modern day. These show body protection for the todays military forces and other related stuff. Personally, I found this all a bit uninteresting, but for those of you who like militaria then it is great.
You can learn about the siege of York, narrated from actual accounts by a Royalist soldier, from the English Civil War until the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.
There are various costumes on display, needlework, textiles, showing how these have changed through the years. It really is impossible to list everything on here, so do visit for yourself.
Now to my favourite parts of this museum - the streets, where you can wander round and feel as if you are really stepping back in time. Half Moon Court is an early 20th century Edwardian street. This was built in what used to be the old prison yard. There is a drapery store, an ironmongers, a butchers and lots more.
Then there is the Victorian Street Kirkgate. Wander around here and you will find yourself in a schoolroom witnessing how children had to be seen and not heard, you can see the bank, a sweet shop (with luscious displays of old fashioned glass jars full of old time favourites), there is a toymakers and a pawnbrokers. Well worth a visit!
So if you just want a day out over the Christmas holidays, or maybe a weekend break, then do go to York and take a trip to the Castle Museum.
Or maybe you want your company to organise some team building or want to hire a special venue for a corporate event? The Museum can cater for all this, they can organise buffets for up to 700 guests or dinners for 80! So if your boss has been a bit of a Scrooge this Christmas, then butter him up at the Christmas party and suggest he books the Castle Museum for next years Christmas party!
I have been to York several times, but strangely enough for me, the castle museum was one of the attractions that I didn't get around to visiting until just recently. To be honest, I was not quite sure what to expect from the museum (although the name implied that it was the history of the nearby castle), and visited more because it was cold outside rather than anything else! I was very pleasantly surprised though - it was far bigger than I had expected, and had won the York Tourism Award for best attraction for the past two years. And it was very quiet; I assume that everyone else must have been queuing up at Jorvik... ● Location Personally, I think York is a wonderful place, and it is easily accessible from all over the north of England - I live in Newcastle, and it is just an hour away by train. The castle museum is located in the heart of the city next to Clifford's Tower, so you just need to follow the signs for the castle area. It is just 10 minutes walk away from the train station, and five minutes from Jorvik. The museum comprises the two large classical buildings on the edge of the green by the tower, and a smaller modern building that joins the two and has the entrance and gift shop. There is a car park outside, but you will have to be quite early to get a space, especially in summer when the city is busy. ● What is in the museum? Well, I was wrong! The castle museum does not just house items relating to Clifford's Tower (although it does have on show some of the original bailey walls among other things), but has exhibits from 400 years of the social history of York. This means that it contains the history of the ordinary people of this region, representing area such as domestic life, childhood, technology, military service, costume and games. To start with, you enter the first of the two large classical buildings, and are confronted with recreated domestic settings, gradually
going back in time from Victorian to Late Medieval. Much of the material has been salvaged from houses around the city and restored, with evocative smells added to help recreate the times you are looking at. So in the Victorian room you can smell polish from the furniture, while the older rooms smell smoky from the open fires. Moving on, you are taken through rooms with traditional museum-style glass cases containing objects from every conceivable aspect of life over the past four centuries. There is so much to look at and take in that it can get quite overwhelming at times! Upstairs, you are then taken into the museum's brand new exhibition (it only opened in March of this year), called "Spotless". Granted, the history of keeping clean does not sound the most thrilling of things, but the museum has done a lovely job in presenting the material, and have included a number of recorded oral histories to give it a more personal touch. My mum especially enjoyed this section, although she said that seeing some of the items she remembered from childhood made her feel a bit ancient! :-) The next gallery has to be one of my favourites - "From cradle to grave; birth death and marriage 1700 to 2000". While wedding dresses may be popular favourites in any social history museum, it is not often that you can read about attitudes to death and mourning (for example, a Victorian widow had to be in official mourning for a full 2 and a half years after the death of her husband!) and see items relating to babies and childbirth. Although I have to admit that seeing the midwife's equipment from the turn of the century did make me a bit squeamish! I especially liked the way that two wedding case studies were displayed by the museum, of woman married a few years ago compared with that of her grandmother. Needless to say, this was a very popular gallery amongst female visitors, so it did get a bit crowded in here, despite the quietnes
s of the rest of the museum. The impressive size of the museum buildings has also allowed for staff to recreate a complete street from Victorian Kirkgate and an area of Edwardian shops, all of which you are free to wander around. Sound effects have been added to help bring the streets back to life, such as the clinking of glasses in the inn, and the sound of coins being counted in the bank. Leaving the streets, you come back into the entrance area and can take a break in the museum gift shop, before heading into the second of the two buildings for the rest of the exhibitions. In this second building, you can visit recreated farms, stables and dairies, and go on to see the old cells that were once used when the castle was a city prison. Included of course are plenty of stories about famous criminals (including notorious highwayman Dick Turpin), trials and punishment through the past 400 years. Fascinating, if a bit gory! If you have got an energy left after seeing all this, then you can go outside and visit the old watermill that has been built on the river bank from salvaged remains of sites across Yorkshire, and play some old-fashioned games (such as hopscotch and spinning tops) in the old prison exercise yard. In the final cluster of galleries are costumes, childhood, arms & armour and the inevitable WW2 display. What is interesting about this last section though is that is tells you that it is not a history of the war itself, but of the local people between 1939 and 1945 - there are personal stories of ARP wardens, rationing, what is was like to be bombed and of conscientious objectors (something you don't often come across in museums). This was such a breath of fresh air from the usual method of exhibiting items from the war. There was also an excellent range of materials on display to back up the text. ● The good bits The pros of the York Castle Museum are: - excellent central location -
loads to see and do - good concession discount on entry fee - variety of display techniques used - friendly helpful staff - most interpretation is well done - some hands-on activities available ● The bad bits However much I enjoyed my visit, there was downside to the museum: - disabled access limited to ground floor only - poor security has led to the theft of some items - some of the galleries were a bit old fashioned - those on low incomes may find it too expensive to visit ● Worth the effort of visiting? Certainly, yes! Although the entrance prices may seem a little high, I spent a good three hours in the museum and could have been there longer if I had had more time - this was for just £3.50. Compare that to the £6 I spent on visiting Jorvik Viking Centre, where I spent only about an hour. There are a good variety of things to see, and visitors are well catered for with plenty of toilets, a good café and gift shop and helpful attendants. It can be well combined with the castle and/or Viking centre for a good day out in the city. I would certainly recommend this as a family day out; the children I saw there seemed to love it, especially when they were allowed to play with the old toys outside. Not so good if you are in a wheelchair though, I'm afraid, as you will pay the same entrance fee but have access to only a small range of galleries available. The museum does claim to be the finest social history museum in England - from what I have seen of it, I am not going to argue with that! ● Details The York Castle Museum is open April-October 9.30am to 5pm, and November -March 9.30am to 4.30pm. Adults - £5.95 Concessions - £3.50 Children - £3.50 Family ticket (2 adults, up to 3 children) - £16 Information Line - (08457) 660280 Enquiries - (01904) 653611 Email - firstname.lastname@example.org Website - www.york.gov.uk/heritage/museums/castle/ Disabled Access Information - www.doherty71.freeserve.co.uk/c_museum.htm