David Whitley finds the York Castle Museum to be an unexpected treat.
Sometimes it’s the unexpected surprises that charm the most. With all due respect to the York Castle Museum, it comes pretty low down the list of priorities when it comes to visiting York. Basically, there’s too much other stuff to do – walk the walls, visit the Minster, go on a ghost tour, tackle the Jorvik Viking Centre… and that’s before you get on to the shopping, the eating and the hokier attractions like the York Dungeon.
Basically, it’s an afterthought. And one I only went into on my fifth visit to the city.
It doesn’t help that it’s not about anything in particular. Try and describe it, and chances are the description will start with “um, well…” It’s essentially a collection of exhibitions without a running theme. But those exhibitions are surprisingly fascinating.
Of those surprises, ‘Spotless’ pulls off the greatest feat of making a tedious subject really interesting. It’s about cleaning throughout the ages, which should be unremittingly dull. But I found myself repeatedly saying: “Ooh, I didn’t know that” whilst going through it.
For example, I never thought about how people cleaned things before the vacuum cleaner (patented in 1901). Essentially, it was an exercise in shunting dust around. You can also imagine what York smelt like before a proper sewer system was introduced in the 1890s and discover that Queen Elizabeth I had a toilet over 100 years before pretty much anyone else did.
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BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
FLIGHTS: Skyscanner (£) Kayak or Roundtheworldflights.com
CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
Other exhibitions provide similar wonderful snippets amongst a well laid-out display of relevant paraphernalia. Near some hideous-looking midwife’s forceps comes the stat that, in 1900, about of all working class wives gave birth to between seven and 15 children by the age of 40. Ouch.
Other exhibitions go through subjects such as the English Civil War, the Sixties and Toys, while it all finishes off in the old prison cells beneath the castle. Here projected films have characters telling their stories – or at least their stories prior to either execution or transportation to.
The star is the recreated version of a 19th century Kirkgate. Shops are remade (some selling chocolates and other goodies) it’s cobbled underfoot and it’s fabulously atmospheric. As with just about everything in the museum, it’s a fairly random idea pulled off exceedingly well.
If there’s a flaw, it’s that it’s too big for one visit and you have to go through in a one way system. It’s possible to spend hours in there, but it’s somewhere better suited to tackling the meat of three or four exhibitions in one go, then coming back for the rest. That, however, is a good flaw to have.
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