It’s a rainy day, with a sharp wind whistling round every corner. A wet walk on the hills does not appeal and in every town and village the tea shops are so packed with folk lingering over their earl grey and crumpets there’s no room for you to squeeze in to shelter from the storm.
What do you do?
You head for the local museum.
And here’s where life gets…err… interesting.
If you’re in an ancient city or well-established market town the chances are it’ll be packed with everything from Roman remains through Tudor artefacts to retro sixties, with a few local heroes thrown in.
But if you’re somewhere a little more out-of-the-way you may be lucky enough to stumble upon a museum of quirkiness, personal passion or downright weirdery.
Here are 11 of Britain’s most eccentric museums.
British Lawnmower Museum, Southport, Merseyside
Not just lawnmowers but antique garden machinery from all over the world. The Museum is now one of the world’s leading authorities on vintage lawnmowers, supplying parts, archive materials and a valuing service.
Visit and learn how Edwin Beard Budding worked at night to perfect his machine, because his friends and neighbours thought he was crazy to invent such a contraption.
Lovers of Coronation Street can see Hilda Ogden’s Qualcast Panther on display – the height of excitement!
British Lawnmower Museum
9.00am to 5.30pm Monday – Saturday
Dog Collar Museum – Leeds Castle, Maidstone
The exhibition is part of the larger attraction at this historic property, and the collection of canine neck-wear, spanning five centuries, is extraordinary. Ranging from sturdy studded straps used to protect working dogs from wild animals to the delicately ornate gilt affairs for pampered pooches in the Baroque period.
Ticket Office – 10am
Check for special events & early closure dates
Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick, Cumbria
Did you know Keswick was the home of the very first pencil? That’s a dinner party conversation starter if ever I heard one. The museum traces the beginnings of the graphite mining industry and celebrates delights like secret WW2 pencils with hidden maps, one of the largest colouring pencils in the world and the Queen’s diamond jubilee pencil.
Derwent Pencil Museum
Mon-Sun (9.30am – 5pm). Last admissions at 4pm
Teapot Island, Yalding, Kent
A family run affair housing the biggest collection of teapots in England with over 8,0000 of ’em on display.
Daleks and Darth Vader, pots shaped like jammie dodgers and Wallace and Grommit’s van, it’s a collection that borders on tea-mania!
Monday to Friday – 10am – 3pm
Saturday & Sunday – 9am – 4pm
From March to October
Monday to Friday – 10am – 4pm
Saturday & Sunday, Bank holidays – 9am – 5pm
November and December
Monday to Friday – 10am – 3pm
Saturday & Sunday – 9am – 4pm
Closed for Christmas & New Year
Cuckooland, Knutsford, Cheshire
This collection of over 600 cuckoo clocks is the work of brothers Roman and Maz Piekarski who were trained as clockmakers in Manchester at the age of 15. Their fascination with all things horological led to them amassing this world class collection, all made in the Blackforest Region of Central Europe.
Can you imagine what it’s like to hear them all strike the hour?
Please telephone or e-mail cuckooland to book your visit or for admission details
Hat Works Museum, Stockport, Greater Manchester
Housed in a restored Grade II Victorian mill, the museum covers two floors of interactive exhibits, taking you through the history of Stockport’s once thriving hatting industry.
It boasts 20 fully restored working Victorian-style machines and a collection of over 400 hats from around the world. Couture, creativity and craft for anyone interested in fashion and cutting edge textile design.
Hat Works Museum
Monday – Closed
Tuesday to Saturday – 10am – 5pm
Sunday – 11am – 5pm
Bank holidays – 11am – 5pm
The Fan Museum, Greenwich, London
This one is actually rather lush, an extraordinary collection of fans from around the world, tracing their history over 3,000 years. From simple cooling devices through the lavish designs of the 19th century to modern day commemorative or advertising fans.
Fans-cinating! And they serve a beautiful afternoon tea in The Orangery.
The Fan Museum
Tuesday to Saturday – 11am – 5pm
Sunday – 12pm – 5pm
Check for Planned Closure Days
Chair Museum, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Recently changed to a community interest company, this museum is non-profitmaking and run by enthusiasts who love the work of bodgers, benchmen and framers.
The town’s chair history mainly revolves around the classic Windsor chair, but the museum does branch out to show miniature chairs, a working treadle lathe and a selection of bobbins.
Monday to Saturday – 9am – 5pm
Sunday – 12 – 5pm
Closed all day Thursday
Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, Notting Hill London
This is a real up-to-date museum, exploring the wonders of modern advertising.
The Time Tunnel takes you on a journey of evolving creativity and crazy packaging ideas with the ads, fads and fashions of iconic brands from the Victorian era until today.
Museum of Brands
Monday to Saturday – 10am – 6pm
Sunday & Bank Holiday – 11am – 5pm
National Gas Museum, Leicester
We’ve said before that Leicester is not exactly a hub of tourist attractions, although the Richard III centre is awesome, but a museum dedicated to the history of the gas industry? Really?
But there’s plenty of drama here from dangerous Victorian gasworks via the ultra-modern gas-powered kitchen of the 1920s to today’s mega-buck industry, it’s a sweeping, gas-filled saga.
National Gas Museum
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – 10am – 3pm
First Sunday of every month – 10am – 3pm
Lavatory Museum, Stoke-on-Trent
Well given we spend approximately three hours and nine minutes squatting on the pot every week it’s no surprise this place attracts a good few visitors. It’s part of the wider Gladstone Pottery museum so it’s not all about loos, but fascinating nonetheless and one kids will definitely gravitate towards.
Other attractions include an enormous pile of rubbish in the cobbled yard which is actually a very special and precious pile of rubble called a saggar and no self-respecting potter would be without one.
Tuesdays – Saturdays and Bank Holidays
April – September: 10am – 5pm
Tea room: 11am – 4pm
October – March: 10am – 4pm
Tea room: 11am – 3:30pm
And finally hats off to Basildon in Essex where nothing much remarkable has ever happened over the centuries. Undeterred they have laid on the Basildon Heritage Trail which takes in such delights as the patch of earth where the Barstable Hundred Moot Hall once stood, though it’s not there now. To be fair, the town does have a few listed buildings and some fine public parks, art and sculptures.
So, where have you found on your travels that whiled away an hour or so and where against all expectation, you learned something new?