IF you are up for the challenge of helping us to find the county’s next Museum of the Year, this could be the perfect time to venture from the beaten track and discover one you haven’t visited before!
Some of the volunteer-run museums which can only manage limited visiting hours often pull out the stops to provide an extra day’s opening on the Bank Holiday. Bentwaters Cold War Museum, near Rendlesham and HMS Ganges museum at Shotley both have a story that is uniquely local, yet part of a much wider history.
Many visitors to HMS Ganges have a personal connection with the old Royal Navy shore establishment and come in search of family links to the place where lads bound for a career at sea famously learned the manning of the mast. In addition to all the Ganges Boys memorabilia, there is a look at the role of the Jenny Wrens, who arrived at HMS Ganges in 1940.
Similarly, those who come to see the operations room, special telephone exchange, airlock and decontamination showers (there because of fears of a chemical attack) on what was once USAF hardened command post on the old Bentwaters airfield have a personal connection with the military (or civilian) life of RAF Bentwaters from the Second World War until its closure in 1993. Others continue to be intrigued by the enduring tales of UFOs!
Felixstowe Museum, which occupies an unusual building attached to Landguard Fort on the edge of the town, is also among those that will be open on the Bank Holiday, as is Ipswich Transport Museum, which is offering free rides on its fire engines on Monday. West Stow Anglo Saxon Village and Country Park will be celebrating the launch of its new Beowulf & Grendel adventure trail across the weekend with various appropriately themed activities, including Saxon story-telling and puppet performances.
Then there is Little Hall, in lovely, chocolate box Lavenham. Outwardly this preserves a glorious example of domestic architecture dating right the way back to the late 1300s. The surprises start when you get inside and get a glimpse of all the many changes of use that have gone on here down the centuries. They continue with the contents, art and artefacts that are a legacy of the extraordinary twin brothers who restored this house as their home in the earlier part of last century. Their military careers took them around the world to exotic places like Egypt and India and their name is immortalised by, among other things, by the famous antiquity known as the Gayer-Anderson cat.
In nearby Sudbury, Gainsborough’s House enjoys another lovely setting. The childhood home of one of Suffolk’s celebrated 18th Century landscape and portrait painter, it has big ambitions for future development which, once funding is secured, will bring it more exhibition space and a chance to re-interpret the historic house. As well as admiring the famous artworks by Thomas Gainsborough (and others) you can enjoy the garden and, currently, see a special exhibition “From Spitalfields to Sudbury” all about the town’s silk weaving heritage (which continues until October 8th).
The Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket has been having a very busy summer on account of its 50th birthday celebrations. If you are there today (Friday 25th) you could join in with the latest in a series of workshops that will contribute to a record-breaking attempt to make the longest “Suffolk Puff” caterpillar. (That’s not a real insect by the way – it’s something you sew). Looking ahead to weekend (September 2nd) it will be full of step-dancers, singers, stories, traditional musicians and their instruments for the annual Music Day, run by the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust.
Don’t forget to register your support for whichever museum turns out to be your favourite! You can do it by completing a voting form at any of the participating museums. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are especially keen to hear who you think deserves this year’s Family Friendly Award!