Discover a wealth of fascinating collections from the huge to the small and quirky at a selection of our nation’s wonderful museums.
More than 300 museums, galleries and cultural institutions from across the UK will come together for the first Museum Week, from March 28 to April 3. To celebrate, we’ve picked some of our favourite collections from around the UK.
1 British Museum, London
Located in the heart of Bloomsbury, the British Museum was the first national public museum in the world and is the UK’s most visited attraction. The museum was originally established after the death of Sir Hans Sloane in 1753. He bequeathed his collection to King George II who, with a subsequent Act of Parliament, established the British Museum.
Sloane’s collection became the founding collection. The museum is now home to over eight million different objects from different cultures throughout the world. Two of our highlights include the world-renowned Rosetta Stone, which was acquired in 1802, and the Elgin Marbles, which became part of the collection in 1816.
The former home of Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne and his family, this Victorian townhouse is a rare example of an ‘Aesthetic interior’ and is a real hidden gem in London.
Highlights of the house, which is like a time capsule of Victorian England, include the studio where Sambourne worked for the last decade of his life, which was turned into a bedroom in the 1960s but where you can still see a section of Sambourne’s embossed and gilded studio paper.
Throughout the house the walls are adorned with over 1,000 cartoons, drawings and sketches from Sambourne’s collection as well as many photos taken by the keen photographer.
3 Holburne Museum, Bath
Located in the World Heritage city of Bath, this museum’s collection began with over 4,000 objects bequeathed to the city by the sister of 19th-century collector William Holburne. Over the years the cache in the Grade I listed Georgian building – which this year celebrates 100 years as the museum’s permanent home – has been extensively added to, including a major collection of theatrical paintings from the estate of playwright and author Somerset Maugham ahead of the museum’s reopening in 2011 following major redevelopment.
4 National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
The National Museum of Scotland fuses a grand Victorian building with an extension built in the 1990s. The traditional grand city museum covers natural history, indigenous cultures, science and crafts from around the world. The modern section offer a fresh perspective on Scottish history from earliest man to the present day, laid out in broadly chronological order over seven levels.
5 British Motor Museum, Warwickshire
Following a £1.1m refurbishment, the Heritage Motor Centre in Warwickshire has reopened under its new guise of the British Motor Museum where you can browse the world’s largest collection of historic British cars, including an impressive display of Jaguars.
The new interactive experience includes themed zones such as the Time Road, which charts 100 years of motoring history, from 1896 to 1996, against a backdrop of the ever-changing social scene in Britain.
6 St Fagans National History Museum, Cardiff
St Fagans, home to the extraordinary open-air National History Museum where you can wander through Wales’ history from Celtic times to the present day – a real adventure through space and time.
Open since 1948, the museum stands in the grounds of St Fagans, a late 16th-century manor house, and chronicles the lifestyle, culture and architecture of Wales with more than 40 original buildings from different historic periods which have been loving rebuilt on the site, from houses, schools and chapels to a Workmen’s Institute.
7 Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
This independent museum, which dates back to the mid-19th century, is managed by the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, with the aim of building up a unique resource of Dorset places and people for future posterity.
The collection includes everything from fine art to geological and paleontological evidence that helps paint a picture of Dorset’s ancient past, to around 1.3 million archeological finds, which are constantly being added to.
8 Manchester Museum, Manchester
Manchester Museum displays works of archaeology, anthropology and natural history and is owned by the University of Manchester and is at the heart of the university”s group of neo-Gothic buildings. The museum provides access to about 4.5 million items from every continent, with permanent collection covering everything from Ancient Egypt to money and Archery to Zoology. It is the UK’s largest university museum and serves both as a major visitor attraction with around 360,000 visitors each year.
9 Beamish – The Living Museum of the North, County Durham
Beamish was the vision of Dr Frank Atkinson, the museum’s founder and first director. He had visited Scandinavian folk museums in the early 1950s and was inspired to create an open air museum for the North East to “illustrate vividly” the way of life of “ordinary people” and bring the region’s history alive.
Beamish remains true to his principles today and brings history to life for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. This is the biggest and best open-air museum in the country. Beamish preserves ordinary life as it was in 1913, complete with trams, trains and horse-drawn buses, a working farm, a mine, a school and – for those with a strong constitution – a dentist’s surgery in the reconstructed high street.
10 V&A, London
The Victoria and Albert Museum, more commonly known now as the V&A, was originally established in 1852 and was first called the South Kensington Museum. It was set up following the resounding success of the Great Exhibition in the previous year.
It was not until 1899 when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the new building that it was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum in memory of Prince Albert who had been an avid supporter of the museum and its founding principles. The museum houses a collection of ceramics, glass, textiles, dress, silver, ironwork, jewellery, furniture, sculpture, paintings, prints and photographs from around the world. Henry Cole, the V&A’s first director, called the museum a ‘schoolroom for everyone’.
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