Things To Do In Norfolk: The Museum of Norwich.

IMG_1826When the history of the building is as interesting as what’s now housed inside, you know you’re in for a treat – as is the case with the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell.

You’ll find it tucked away down a little alley, just a short walk from other attractions such as the castle.

It started its long life as the home of a wealthy merchant in about 1325 and changed hands (and was updated) several times until the 1580s when it was sold to the city.

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Part of it was then converted into a Bridewell – or prison for women and beggars, who were occupied with manual work or, in some cases, taught a trade.

By all accounts, life inside was harsh and, on occasions, barbaric – indeed, the threat of being sent to the Bridewell was supposed to act as a deterrent.

When fire broke out in 1751, destroying much of the building, it apparently had a rather famous (or infamous) inmate, Peter the Wild Boy.

Infamous resident refuses to leave.

He was a child found living wild in the forests of Hanover, in northern Germany, in about 1725 and brought to England by King George I as a “curiosity” for his daughter-in-law Caroline, the Princess of Wales.

The boy could not talk and instead of walking preferred to scamper on all fours – apparently picking the pockets of courtiers and stealing kisses.

While he initially caused quite a stir (Jonathan Swift was among those to write about him), he was eventually sent to live on a farm in Herfordshire, from where he would regularly escape.

You can find out more about him here but his time in Norwich is commemorated by the nearby Wildman pub in Bedford Street and a blue plaque on the side of the building.

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Museum life.

After the fire, the Bridewell was rebuilt as a prison and stayed in use for another 77 years before it then served as a tobacco factory, leather warehouse and shoe factory.

Given the stories the walls could tell if they could talk, it seems rather fitting that the building should eventually be turned into a museum, which first opened its doors in 1925, focusing on a city at work and play.

Refurbishment.

In 2008 the museum was granted £1.5m for a major revamp, which included a new entrance, enhanced displays and better access for visitors.

It reopened in 2012 and, as soon as you enter, you can see the money has been very well spent.

A fantastic history wall – a huge mosaic created with mainly donated photos on a lightbox, is one of the first points of interest – and that high standard is maintained throughout the museum.

The galleries are full of interesting, often quirky, displays with plenty of things to touch and smell, audio to listen and videos to watch – all the while learning about the people who lived and worked in our Fine City.

There’s a guide to the various areas of the museum here.

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Credit: Museum of Norwich.
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Credit: Museum of Norwich.
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Credit: Museum of Norwich.
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Credit: Museum of Norwich.
What we thought.

I have a major soft spot for this museum and, whenever possible, always take visitors to Norwich there – and I still feel like I haven’t seen it all.

There’s so much to look at and get involved in. I always find something different every time. It’s also all so accessible and I genuinely feel more connected to the city and its people – even though I wasn’t born here – when I’m inside.

My favourite area is the pharmacy, full of colourful bottles with lotions and potions for all sorts of ailments. It’s behind floor to ceiling glass (my photos really don’t do it justice) but still provokes a “wow” as most people enter.

While I think Freya is perhaps still a bit young to really appreciate the museum, entry was free last week (thank you to the Freemen of Norwich) and so I knew it wouldn’t matter if she got fed up after 30 minutes (as three-year-olds do) and we had to leave.

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As it happened she had a great time trying on wigs and hats, looking at maps, sniffing various things and discovering sparkly red shoes to clomp about in (it was hard to get her to leave the shoe drawer).

Even if you’re not local, I would suggest it’s worth a visit (my visitors have all loved it). I can also see it being a regular haunt for us as Freya grows up.

Costs.

Adult £5.70
Concession £5.40
Child (4-18) £4.55

For full information about prices (there are also family tickets and a twilight ticket) and opening times please click here.

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Suitcases and Sandcastles

 

 

Things To Do In Norfolk: Time And Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth.

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“Does it smell fishy in here?” My mum asked.

We all stopped what we were doing and sniffed the air.

We were on holiday in Great Yarmouth where it had been raining almost solidly for 48 hours. I love hearing rain on the roof of a caravan but even I was getting a bit fed up. As it turned out, the wet weather was a blessing because it led us to the fantastic Time and Tide Museum.

What is it?

My running buddy suggested a visit after I sent her a text recounting yet another soggy trip to the beach. That night I made the most of the free wifi while at the disco (Mark was dancing with Freya) and looked it up. I don’t mind telling you, I was excited about going the following day (and not just because the pitter patter on the roof was sending me a little crazy).

The website said:

Discover Great Yarmouth’s fascinating history, its rich maritime and fishing heritage and some of the colourful characters who made their living from the sea.

Wander through a Victorian ‘Row’ and see inside a fisherman’s home. Experience the heady atmosphere of a 1950s quayside, take the wheel of a coastal Drifter and hear gripping tales of wreck and rescue on the high seas. Follow Great Yarmouth’s transformation from a sandbank to the present day, through times of boom and bust and war and peace.

Relax in the spacious courtyard beneath a spectacular canopy of sails, surrounded by historic fishing boats.

Lively hands-on displays, games, puzzles, free audio guides, film shows and children’s activities bring the great story of Great Yarmouth vividly to life.

Pleasing three generations is never easy, although my parents are fairly relaxed, but from this description it seemed like there was something for everyone.

The reason my mum’s sensitive nose was twitching after we arrived is because the museum is housed in a converted Victorian herring curing works (it closed in the late 1980s) so the fishy smell is probably ingrained in the fabric of the building.

After a lovely welcome, we followed the signs to the recreated Victorian “Row”, which is a very impressive introduction to what the museum has to offer.

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Here you can peek into the tiny homes and shops and imagine what it must have been like to live in such close quarters. It’s fascinating stuff.

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Heading back outside and across the courtyard there was time for my dad to admire some of the boats that are currently being restored and for Captain Freya to have a quick play before we entered the next part of the museum.

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Now we stepped into the heart of Yarmouth’s maritime history, with lots of fun and interactive exhibits teaching us about the past. It is in this section that you can take the helm of a drifter, fish for all sorts of undersea creatures and do some nautical stencilling among many other things.

There are also various works of art to admire “depicting vessels and beach and quay scenes by such artists as William Joy, Joseph Nash, Rowland Fisher, members of the Norwich School and nineteenth century Italian marine artists”. Find out more here.

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Parts of the building have been left almost as they were so there’s a chance to see what a hard life it must have been for the herring workers, especially in the heyday of the early 20th century when “the fishing grounds off Great Yarmouth were the most productive in the world and the port was the most important in the country”.

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But the museum is not just about fishing. Upstairs is a fascinating range of exhibits including from the Gorleston Hoard – a collection of Bronze Age weapons and axes which were found in 1952. There’s also a section about Yarmouth during war time and, of course, the town’s transformation into a booming seaside resort (aided by the arrival of the railway in 1844 which opened it up for mass tourism).

While we were visiting there was also a touring exhibition, Titanic: Honour and Glory  (until September 24), about the most famous ocean liner in the world. It includes an exploration of some of the local links, which I found interesting.

One of the bits both Freya and I loved the most was the memorabilia section, which includes television, music and toys. Freya became rather attached to an old fashioned rotary dial telephone (which we had when we first got a home phone) and was having some lovely imaginary conversations with all sorts of people.

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Once you’ve finished exploring there’s a shop and also a lovely cafe, where we stopped for a snack.

What did we think?

Everyone loved it. This well-set out museum is a lot of fun and kept us entertained all morning. We will definitely be heading back again (even without the rain) when Freya is older – although there was plenty for her to enjoy at three, even if she didn’t understand it all.

Costs.

Adult – £5.70.
Concession – £5.40.
Child (four-18) – £4.55.

There are also family packages and a twilight deal.

You can find full information and opening times here.

Top tip.

There’s a car park (next to a play area) just across the road from the museum.

Norfolk Museums Service has produced a little promotional video, which you might find interesting.

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