Up and down the British Isles there are numerous local heritage museums; in towns, even villages, whether managed by the local council or privately funded, they represent the treasures and artefacts that belong to communities and not the nation.
Kirkleatham museum in Redcar, Yorkshire, is one such museum. Housed in the 18th century Old Hall, which was built by Cholmeley Turner in 1709, the origins of the museum lie in philanthropy. His great uncle, Sir William Turner (the Lord Mayor of London in 1669), endowed a hospital and alms houses, and a free school for boys, which now houses the museum. Like many local heritage museums, it contains an eclectic collection that represents the history of the region.
There are artefacts from the North East of England’s only royal Anglo-Saxon burial site including gold jewellery, glass beads and belt buckles. The industrial heritage is represented in the Steel Stories exhibition, an industry spanning 160 years in the area. World War I has a dedicated exhibition, again not uncommon in museums, as commemorations continue on and rightly so.
What of local heroes? Gertrude Bell lived in Redcar. Who you might ask? She was a traveller, explorer, writer, friend of Lawrence of Arabia, and influential policy maker at the time British Imperialism was still carving up the Middle East and North Africa. She is part of the museum too. The museum brings together maritime collections iron making, and … owls. (The grounds of the museum host an owl species centre.)
Whether it’s stuffed animals collected by Colonials, audio-visual commentaries by local celebrities, memorabilia, Roman tombstones, Medieval pottery, or old coins, local museums diligently reflect the history of a region, and if you’re new to somewhere, its a good place to learn about where you are living. Some of the best, most innovative museums are not the national ones, but the lesser known. If you find yourself with some free time, why not visit your local museum, especially as many are free.