Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Radstock Museum

After looking at the Stitches In Time exhibition, I decided to have a look around the permanent exhibits at Radstock Museum. It is a fairly small museum, housed in the former Radstock Market Hall, and run almost entirely by volunteers. It focuses on local history, especially that of the local mining community.

One of the main attractions is the Victorian style schoolroom, which is very popular with visiting school groups.

I love the desks, but I feel very sorry for those made to wear the dunce cap.

The cafe had these beautiful stoneware and copper items decorating the windowsill. The (very tiny) cafe was wonderfully in-keeping with the rest of the museum, with an old fashioned dresser to store the cups and plates, dark wooden chairs and tables, old fashioned glass lamps hanging from the ceiling, and tea served in gilt edged cups.

I found this recreation of a printer's workshop fascinating. It made me want to play with all the printing blocks! So many different images and typefaces!

About half of the museum is recreations of period rooms or workplaces, as they would have been found in the local area. There is even a Victorian Co-op! Radstock has it's own Co-operative Society, established in 1868, which is a corporate member of the national Co-operative Group, so there are several references to this throughout the museum.

I loved the ancient till.  It still operates in pre-decimal system money-pounds, shillings and pence.

The shelves were certainly well stocked!

There was an entire shelf of "Virol", a product made from bone marrow. Appetising.

Apart from the packaging, some items don't seem to have changed much. This was a pot of chicken and ham sandwich paste.

Gorgeous old scales.

This was real soap, which my grandmother (who I was visiting the museum with) made me smell. It had a very clinical, almost disinfectant-like smell. Not at all like the flowery scented soaps favoured nowadays. This soap would have been used for household cleaning such as laundry, as well as for personal hygiene.

This was a recreation of a cottage in the late Victorian period. Rag rugs on the floor, a coal or wood fired range to cook on and provide warmth, a sleeping cat in a rocking chair. It all looked rather cosy and picturesque, but cooking on a range would have been very labour intensive, and a house without central heating would have been very cold once the fire went out.

I realised that I may be a little obsessed with old lamps...

This was the laundry room, clothes would be washed in the sink above...

then put through the mangle to squeeze the water out. So much work!

Of course, without the Great Western Railway, coal would not have been able to be transported to other towns and cities. There used to be railway stations in Radstock and many of the surrounding towns and villages, including Midsomer Norton, Paulton, Hallatrow, and Camerton. These have all been closed for many years, which I think is sad.

Coal mining was the main industry in the Radstock area during the Victorian era, but started to tail off in the first few decades of the 20th century. The last mines closed in 1973. However the area is still very much shaped by this history. A whole section of the museum explores both the geological aspects of the area and the more scientific aspects of mining, with examples of beautiful fossils in coal, and the more anthropological aspects.

This recreation of the mines horrified me. It was so cramped and dark. I can't even imagine the back breaking work the miners undertook. It's especially horrible to think that some of them were only children. 

This helmet was spattered with wax from the candle the miner had used to light his way. 

A canary would be taken into the mines to check for gas leaks. If there was a poisonous gas released, the canary would be first to go, giving the miners warning that they needed to get out, and fast.

This was a very clever and beautifully made model, showing how the coal and the miners would be transported from underground to the surface and vice versa.

I saw another beautiful lamp. I think I need to get something like this in my home, it has become an obsession. 

Overall I thought Radstock Museum was very good. It is informative, gives an excellent summary of local history, and doesn't shy away from some of the nastier aspects. The scientific and geological explanations are also interesting, and help explain why mining was so widespread in this area. The recreations really give you a feel for the time period the museum focuses on, and are brilliant for children, especially the shop. My grandmother also enjoyed them as they reminded her of her childhood. I left with a great appreciation for Victorian design and industry, but feeling very, very glad I didn't have to live through those times as a  working class person! I also really liked that the cafe was so in-keeping with the rest of the building. For such a small, volunteer run museum, I think it's doing very well.


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