The school holidays are when many of the county’s museums make a special effort to welcome summer visitors with a variety of things that will appeal to different age-groups and keep them entertained!
Discovery trails, story-telling, drop-in activities, family days and mini-workshops abound. During the coming “Summer in Suffolk Museums” visitors could find themselves grooming a pony, riding on a fire engine, making a bug hotel, performing their own percussion music, designing a printed fabric bag or learning some techniques for surviving in the wild.
There are lots of local museums in Suffolk (more than 50 at the last count), each with its own perspective on the county’s rich heritage. You will find them in moot halls, military establishments, Tudor mansion, tall castles and tiny cottages. There’s a museum in a working tide mill, a lifeboat shed, a reconstructed railway, a Victorian factory and even a Palace. Newmarket’s newly-opened National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art showcases its unique collections next door to a stable yard with its own living, breathing horses. Ipswich’s Museum is actually in the minority, being housed in galleries that were built for purpose in the second half of the 19th Century.
Anyone who thinks all you get to do in a museum is look at stuff in glass cabinets probably hasn’t visited one lately! Choose carefully this summer and you can help to create an unusual caterpillar, find out how a steam engine works, look for pirate treasure or search for creatures from outer space.
Traditionalists need not worry, they will find archaeology as well as aliens on the agenda and there are always plenty of conventional displays and collections to marvel at. This is, after all, a county where a trip between Ipswich and Sudbury will not only reveal more works by Gainsborough and Constable than you are ever likely to encounter elsewhere, but will also give you a glimpse of the landscape that inspired them.
Caring for all of this is a major undertaking and this applies whether museums operate independently, as a Trust or a charity, or are run by a local authority. The vast majority of museums in Suffolk are small organisations run by volunteers, which makes their contribution to local life and tourism even more remarkable. Large or small, all museums must meet the appropriate set of national standards to achieve official accreditation status.
It is to acknowledge and highlight all of this that the annual Suffolk Museum of the Year Awards are held, and as the build-up to finding this year’s winners begins we will be turning the spotlight on some of the contenders. You will be able to take part by letting Suffolk Museums know your favourites.
Test your knowledge of Suffolk Museums with the following quiz (before looking at the answers!)
1. Who is inviting people to buy a duck or a sheep for its Heritage Farm?
2. Which venerable Suffolk lifeboat has its own museum?
3. Where can you pick up the Historic Trail of a lost Suffolk city?
4. Which “Living Museum” produces its own flour using tide power?
5. Which of the following has been the Suffolk Museum of the Year: Lowestoft Maritime Museum, Ickworth House, Mid-Suffolk Light Railway, Museum of East Anglian Life, Southwold Museum?
6. Which museum won last year’s Award for family friendliness?
7. Which museum has a kids club with its own bus?
Answers: 1) Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket; 2)the Alfred Corry in Southwold; 3)Dunwich Museum; 4)Woodbridge Tide Mill; 5)They all have – in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively; 6)Leiston’s Long Shop; 7) East Anglia Transport Museum, Carlton Colville.