Top 10 quirky museums
From pencils to witchcraft paraphernalia, Britain is filled with quirky museums of all manner and variety. Natalie Littlewood offers this guide to some of the more unconventional cabinets of curiosity
The Sheelin Irish Lace Museum, Co Fermenagh, Northern Ireland
The Sheelin Irish Lace Museum is a private collection of antique Irish lace in Bellanaleck. It consists of around 700 examples that illustrate each of the five main types of lace that were produced in Ireland. Owner Rosemary Cathcart started the collection around twenty years ago, before opening it up to the public eight years later. Featuring everything from wedding dresses to baby bonnets, the pieces attract approximately 4,000 visitors a year and are an intimate and personal collection.
Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Cornwall
Now 60 years old, The Museum of Witchcraft is one of Cornwall’s most popular museums. Featuring displays of mainly Cornish and British witchcraft and folklore, exhibits include a bellarmine jar that was found secreted in a house near Plymouth – complete with hair, nail clippings and pins. Learn about occult practices and beliefs from around the world, and investigate examples of curses, spells and charms.
Yesterday’s World, Battle, Sussex
This attraction experience is set in a 15th century medieval town house in the historic market town of Battle. The museum boasts over 150,000 pieces of memorabilia and artefacts that date from the 18th Century to the 1970s. There are five floors for visitors to explore and gain an insight into life during the last 300 years. A 1920s style tearoom and terrace overlooks a secure garden with a children’s play area, making it an ideal destination for the whole family.
Ulster American Folk Park, Castletown, Northern Ireland
Dedicated to telling the story of Irish emigration from Ulster to America, the park houses around thirty restored or recreated buildings, many of which were dismantled in America and shipped to Ireland. It is divided in to two sections – the Old World that includes original thatched houses from around Ireland and the New World, which features a mock-up of an old American street. The park is scattered with volunteers in period costume, and they often demonstrate skills and crafts of the eras.
West Wales Museum of Childhood, Pen-ffynnon Farmstead, Wales
The West Wales Museum of Childhood opened its doors to the public almost seven years ago and welcomes up to 6,500 visitors per year. The museum was a labour of love from the start for founding couple Paul and Hilary Kennelly who have collected toys and childhood memorabilia for most of their lives. The museum consists of several themed sections that include the Film & TV Gallery, the Old School Room, Transports of Delight and the most popular attraction, the Timeline.
Bakelite Museum, Wiliton, Somerset
At the entrance to the Bakelite museum is a small sign that reads ‘The material of a thousand uses’ – and that sentiment is exactly what this museum sets out to prove.
Featuring thousands of Bakelite products in a variety of colours and sizes, items range from the quirky to the rare and include a Bakelite coffin and even a spy camera. An unusual collection needs an unusual location, and the 17th century watermill that houses the exhibits certainly ticks that box.
Huntley & Palmers Collection, Reading Museum & Town Hall, Berkshire
This collection of 7,000 items is dedicated to a company that was once the world’s largest biscuit manufacturer. The collection spans from 1822 – 1980s and includes over 300 of the decorative biscuit tins for which Huntley & Palmers became known. There are also advertising campaigns and historical artefacts, including a biscuit that was sent on Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition. Learn about life in the biscuit factory and afterwards sample some of the goodness in the museum café, which serves Huntley & Palmers products.
Chiddingstone Castle, Kent
A multicultural collection of Buddhist, Japanese and Egyptian artefacts is housed at Chiddingstone castle. Collected by Denys Eyre Bower during his lifetime, the pieces include art, armour and even a mummified cat. There are also Stuart and Jacobite collections that feature, amongst other things, the heart, hair, blood and garter ribbon of James II. Bower’s study has also been reconstructed to give visitors an insight into the man who amassed the collection.
Organ Museum, St Albans, Hertfordshire
What started as one man’s personal collection grew into the Organ Museum in St Albans, which now features an array of mechanical musical instruments, theatre organs and music boxes. The mechanical organs date back to 1923, stretch up to seven metres wide and were collected from places such as Belgium and the Granada Cinema in London. The museum continues its long-standing tradition of demonstrating the instruments, with performances taking place every second Sunday of the month.
Fossil Museum, Worth Matravers, Devon
Just next door to the Square and Compass pub in Devon is a collection of fossils that represent 60 years of a father and son’s passion for collecting. Found primarily around the Dorset coast but also from places such as Somerset and Whitby, the collection is ever growing and includes clay pipes, Neolithic flint tools, remnants of shipwrecks and even marine reptiles.