With no two museums the same, in size, scope or situation, there’s really no such thing as a level playing field in the search for Suffolk’s Museum of the Year. Large or small, they are all in with a chance of winning an Award in this year’s family-friendly category. With plenty of time left to pay any of them a summer visit, we turn the spotlight on a few more contenders, including the newest kid on the block.
Few people probably realise that we even have a NATIONAL museum in Suffolk. Yet Newmarket has the nation’s National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in much the same way that Wimbledon has its Lawn Tennis museum and St Andrew’s in Scotland has the British Golf Museum.
Only opened towards the end of last year, everything here is new, and nice and shiny – including, presumably, the pony which has been providing summer visitors with the opportunity to “have a go” at grooming it! It is built in what remains of King Charles II’s sporting palace and racing stables. There are real, live, retrained racehorses on site and the extensive art collection in Palace House is fascinating. The museum has space for temporary, changing exhibitions which it hopes will keep bringing people back. (It offers a deal to families who want to convert their one-time tickets to a year-long pass).
From its royal connections to its scandals, the history of horse-racing holds much of interest even for those who don’t necessarily regularly hang out at racecourses. Few visitors can fail to be impressed by the racehorse’s supreme athleticism (so vividly illustrated and explained) and where else would you get to compare the size of horse’s heart (enormous) to a human one?
Anyone who remember the previous museum will still find old favourites among the hands-on and higher-tech displays, among them the head of Persimmon, mounted as if looking out from his stable – which sounds creepy, but somehow isn’t. There are entire skeletons of other famed horses, embroidered waistcoats, gold trophies and silver knick-knacks (if this is what you call a hoof turned into an ink-well?) The popular simulator is accommodated in one of the cleverly utilised former stalls of the old King’s Yard, giving would-be jockeys the opportunity to test their skills. In others you will find veterinary equipment and jockeys’ silks. The very pleasant on-site cafe/restaurant (called the Tack Room) provides the chance to sit outside in good weather. Over the road in Palace House, while images of horses (and dogs) predominate, you also get people, and some golf, boxing and football. An audio tour helps to introduce the pick of these.
A museum visit like this can occupy a good part of the day, but even when the destination is smaller, the outing can often be easily extended, to embrace a walk or some running around in the fresh air.
In Lowestoft, the Sparrow’s Nest Gardens surround the Maritime Museum and offer a couple more specialised museums to visit while the slightly confusingly named Lowestoft Museum, which is in fact in nearby Oulton Broad, has a similarly lovely green setting in Nicholas Everitt Park , overlooking the water. Next weekend (Sunday, 27th August) Lowestoft Museum is holding a Family Open Day which is a great way to have fun and see what they have, including some remarkable local archaeological and natural history finds as well as a proud collection of Lowestoft Porcelain.
Christchurch Mansion sits in Ipswich’s most central park (and is only a short walk from the Museum) West Stow Anglo Saxon Village is surrounded by one Country Park and Clare’s tiny Ancient House Museum is close to another one. Orford Museum occupies an upper floor of Orford Castle (run by English Heritage) and is able to suggest some walks and trails that can turn your visit into an extended exploration of the surrounding area. These include its free “An Eccentric Trail for the Family”, which can be downloaded from its website.
You can check opening times, admission costs and other details of these and all the other museums taking part via the suffolkmuseums.org website where you will also find a programme of all the family activities offered as part of this year’s “Summer in Suffolk Museums”.
REMEMBER we need YOU to help decide which museums make it on to this year’s Suffolk Museum of the Year shortlist, so fill out a voting form during your visit. Or send an email telling us about YOUR favourite Suffolk museum to firstname.lastname@example.org