The UK is blessed with some of the world’s best museums; from London’s Natural History Museum and The British Museum to Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland and the World Museum in Liverpool. Alongside these world famous institutions are some unusual museums and attractions that are a bit more off the beaten track. Take a closer look at our Top 10…
1. Pencil Museum, Keswick
The first pencil factory in Keswick opened in 1832 and this museum celebrates all things pencil related as the graphite pencil industry was centred in Keswick for many years. Enter the museum through a replica graphite mine before exploring the displays. The museum’s star exhibit is the Guinness World Record holding, biggest colouring pencil in the world which is nearly 8 metres long and weighs over 400 kilograms!
2. British Lawnmower Museum, Southport
Who would have thought there was an entire museum devoted to the humble lawnmower? Well there is! Located in Southport on the North West coast between Liverpool and Blackpool, the British Lawnmower Museum features numerous examples of grass cutting technology dating back as far as 1830. There are plenty of quirky examples including a solar powered robot lawnmower, lawnmowers used for racing and even a lawnmower that stands just two inches tall! The museum even houses a display entitled “Lawnmowers of the Rich and Famous” which features machines that used to belong to famous faces such as Brian May, Alan Titchmarsh and Prince Charles!
3. The Smallest House in Great Britain, Conwy, Wales
Conwy in North Wales is more famous for its imposing castle, part of Edward I’s “ring of stone” but a hidden gem nestles on the quayside in the shape of Britain’s Smallest House! The house includes a bedroom and living area yet measures only 10 feet high by 6 feet across. Unbelievably, the house was still occupied until the early 20th century when it was declared unfit for human habitation, it then became a tourist attraction. You probably won’t even be able to stand up inside but it’s worth sticking your head in for the £1 entry fee.
4. The Royal London Hospital Museum, Whitechapel
This collection is really off the grid! It is located in the crypt of St Philip’s Church near the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, East London. Its opening times are very limited, Tuesday to Friday, 10am-4.30pm and closed on weekends and bank holidays so you’ll have to plan your visit carefully. However, if you do manage to get there you’ll be rewarded by some fascinating exhibits on the history of the hospital and medicine in general. The highlights are some original material relating to the “Jack the Ripper” murders and some personal items belonging to Joseph Merrick, better known as “The Elephant Man”. There are also some frightening looking Victorian medical implements! Admission to the museum is free and is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in the area.
5. Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, Cornwall
Prepare to be spooked at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic located in the picturesque fishing village of Boscastle on the North Cornwall coast. The museum celebrates all things occult including a recreation of a traditional cunning woman’s cottage, exhibitions relating to 16th century witch trials, ceremonial magic, modern religious Satanism, Pagan witchcraft and alchemy. The braver souls among you may want to try one of the museums late night candlelit evenings (check the museum website for dates)
6. Warley Museum, near Halifax, West Yorkshire
Warley Museum claims to be the world’s smallest museum as it is located in a telephone box! The museum was opened with a flourish by the Mayor of Calderdale along with a brass band and a display of Morris dancing. The former telephone box has been completely renovated and given a new lick of bright red paint and now features displays on local history including artefacts and curiosities donated by local residents. Warley Museum is situated in the centre of Warley village, at The Maypole Inn. Opening hours are 8am-4pm but you may have to queue as there is only space for one visitor at a time!
7. The Old Operating Theatre, Southwark
Another medical related hidden gem in London! Standing in the shadow of The Shard, the operating theatre is located in the in the attic space of a 300 year old church and entrance is via a narrow spiral staircase. St Thomas’ Hospital was nearby and the church attic was selected as a secluded location for performing surgical procedures. The centrepiece of the museum is the operating theatre itself, surrounded by standing areas for interested onlookers and medical students. There are also lots of display cabinets, crammed into the tiny space, which contain medical implements and specimens.
8. Beaumaris Gaol, Anglesey, Wales
The gaol in the pretty seaside town of Beaumaris was built in 1829 and was seen as a humane and enlightened alternative to the brutal prisons of the day. However as you explore the forbidding corridors, the stone-breaking yard, the punishment room and the condemned cell you’ll wonder how this was seen as humane! The prisoners were kept in solitary conditions, not allowed to talk to each other and with a short period of exercise the only break from punishing hard labour. The highlight of the gaol is one of the last remaining treadmills in the UK. This was a paddle-wheel device where prisoners walked for hours each day, turning a wheel to grind corn or raise water…at least they would have left prison with impressive calf muscles! Combine your trip to the gaol with a visit to Beaumaris Castle or a boat trip from the harbour to Puffin Island.
9. Stockport Hat Works, Greater Manchester
Did you know that Stockport was once the leading national centre for hat making? Explore the history of the millinery industry at the Hat Works which offers two floors of interactive exhibits including a recreation of a hat factory with working machines. There is also a great collection of all kinds of hats dating from the 1930s to the 1970s including military headgear and high-fashion items. Combine your trip with a visit to another quirky museum in the area, Stockport Air Raid Shelters, which is a network of underground tunnels giving an unusual insight into life in 1940s Stockport!
10. The Gnome Reserve, Devon
Hidden away in the Devon countryside, the Gnome Reserve is set in four acres of woodland and features a collection of over a thousand gnomes and pixies. Don your gnome hat, take up your fishing rod and enjoy a walk through the woods, spotting the magical creatures as you go! After wandering through the woods and meadows and following the wildflower trail, relax at The Gnome Kitchen and treat yourself to a traditional Devon cream tea (cream first, jam on top remember!).
Have you enjoyed a visit to any of these museums? Any others that you think should make the list? Let us know in the comments section below…