I can’t walk past a museum without popping in. A completely legal addiction and a lot of fun.
Favourites include the Museum of Costume in Bath and the august Victoria and Albert – can’t resist the miniature portraits – tiny jewel-like things painted with squirrel hair.
It doesn’t have to be a large or well-known museum. A childhood holiday to Cornwall is forever linked with a visit to the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. The place terrified me! I used to be a frequent flyer to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which houses my beloved pre-Raphaelite paintings. And then there are the open-air ones. At Blists Hill you can spend pre-decimal pennies in the Victorian shops. Avoncroft Museum of Buildings has a collection of carefully rebuilt buildings from various periods in history. I’ve seen the enchanting Black Country Living Museum develop over the years and love how it frequently appears on television. Oh, and how could I forget Jorvik? Smell an authentic Viking! Who could resist?
Yup. I am well and truly addicted.
Dorchester County Museum is another to add to the list.
It’s housed in a Victorian high Gothic building which in itself is well worth a look – it’s beautiful. As you wander around it’s like a condensed time travel experience – a digestible slice of British history. You can walk on an actual Roman floor mosaic excavated from a house in the town, learn about a possible Viking war crime and wander into a Victorian parlour. I’ve saved this name, seen on the side of this wagon, to use for a character.
Of course what most fascinated me was the Writers’ Gallery. There’s a reconstruction of Thomas Hardy’s Max Gate study, snippets about John Meade Trenchard of Moonfleet fame and Tom Sharpe who moved to live just outside Bridport.
Then there’s this story about poet William Barnes. Look, I’m a romance writer, I love this sort of stuff! The story goes that young William spotted Julia Miles stepping down from a stage coach in 1818. It was love at first sight for him and she was obviously quite keen too. There was only one problem: William’s lack of prospects. Dear reader, let this be a lesson to you – don’t fall in love with a writer! William and Julia kept in touch by letters and became secretly engaged. It wasn’t until 1827, after William improved his lot by becoming a teacher, that the couple could marry. It was a happy ending though, as they went on to have six children. Personally, I’m not sure going through pain-relief-free childbirth six times is my idea of happiness but each to her own.
I was a Billy-no-Mates on my visit and, as it was a glorious spring day, the place was fairly quiet. I love that slightly creeped-out feeling I get of being in museums on my own. Sometimes I sense the exhibits looking back at me. Or is that just me? You can imagine my surprise when I came around a corner and encountered this guy.
He’s an Ooser mask, once common in parts of the south west and used to scare people at midwinter gatherings. Why? I have no idea. Maybe running away from it was the only way folk could keep warm in pre-central heating days. It was either that or indulge in something else energetic – and that recreational activity could often result in six pain-relief-free childbirths. I’ll take the Ooser any day, even if he’s enormous and made of horns and bull’s hair.
There’s a good shop too. I snaffled up several books on local history, myth and legend to use as possible background to the third Millie Vanilla novella.
Dorchester County Museum comes highly recommended. More info here: