Shiny and new!
My first impression of the museum is one of space, brightness and colour. The colour is used to code galleries and even carries through to the labels – reading white on a red background was not that easy! I went on a Saturday and the museum was very busy. This meant on some cases you read a caption for an object and then had to manoeuvre around another visitor to look at the object.
There are some nice touches throughout the museum. Being able to walk over a plesiosaur set in the floor with a glass cover was fun for children of all ages! Throughout the museum there are colour illustrations on backlit acrylic which help bridge the gap between the objects and their former users.
The room dedicated to the Monmouth Rebellion was good. It combines the history, objects and human stories. Including a small tableau of rebels in prison gives a reminder of the human cost of the trials after the rebellion.
Any favourite objects?
There are plenty to choose from! I went with friends from work and we all had different favourites. For me a fine collection of ancient British gold and a bronze scabbard in the antiquities section, and a section of Roman scale armour which I had not seen before. Elsewhere the cauldrons stood out and the geology is well displayed.
My favourite though is the Late Roman mosaic depicting the tale of Dido and Aeneas. This is on the ground floor with a wall behind it. A film of a Roman matron is projected on the wall and it brings a sense of life to the mosaic. When you go upstairs there is a void allowing you to look down on the mosaic in its entirety.
About the building
The museum building has had a chequered life from Norman castle to courts where Judge Jeffries presided. The museum has a contemporary feel to it and a welcoming atmosphere. Happily there are still plenty of original features to enjoy from stonework to the Adam plasterwork installed to encourage judges to keep using the dining room.
And what else?
There is a cafe which includes an outside seating area and a pot of tea is good value. I didn’t try the coffee as the coffee machine was in need of a good clean. We still had cakes left from our earlier picnic so were very bad people and ate those. The ones in the cafe did look good though!
There were plenty of activities going on. Archaeology and coin making for children in the castle yard. A group of English Civil War re-ennactors were demonstrating a camp, drill and musketry. Some of the members of this group had posed for the vignette of the prisoners referred to above.