Since having N, I’ve revisited so many of the places we went to as children. My mums used to take us all over the UK visiting different attractions and counties, and I’ve wanted to continue that with N. Not only does it get him away from the farm, learning that there are other options out there. But also for educational reasons. Visiting a historic location will bring history to life much better than reading about it in school. The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley is a great example of this.
N wasn’t keen to visit initially, but once he’s out he’s happy. Ok, there are some gripes, but give him a snack, the promise of lunch, and a good chat on the journey and he’s in visit mode. Black Country Living Museum is more than just a museum. You get to speak to people ‘living’ and ‘working’ in the houses and workshops. It paints a picture of what it was really like living in different times.
With Horrible Histories enjoyed in our house, N can also tie in what he watches with speaking to people and what he sees.
Of course, we were there early, just after opening, and being out of season and a cold day, not many people were already there. The Black Country Living Museum is one of those tourist attractions where you buy a day ticket but get it upgraded to an annual pass. We rarely re-visit places, but it’s good to know we have it if we want to return.
The map wasn’t that clear, so we just ambled around in the direction we fancied going in. You can catch the vintage bus around, but we didn’t realise this until we spotted bus stops after we’d already walked a bit. It did mean we covered everything. It’s easy for buggies and wheelchairs to get around the site – it’s normal roads and paving, although getting inside some of the houses is harder for wheelchairs due to turning space inside, and the width of the doors. They do have ramps outside many of the houses though to help get up steps if needed.
One of the best bits is being able to go into the mine, but N refused. We did go in to look at the equipment and clothes on display, but it was a shame he didn’t want to go further. There are tours through the day.
The houses are set up as they would have been in different periods in the area. Some were lived in until even as late as 1984 – without running water or electricity. The staff were dressed up, and often doing cooking on the ranges. N was able to help put some coal on one of them to help which he loved doing.
Each staff member could tell us about the house, the previous occupants, and what jobs they might have done. N was intrigued to see the outdoor toilets, and the workshops at the end of the gardens. Oh, and he asked a lot of questions about what was behind various doors in the houses. Nosy child.
The old school was the most interesting. N was quite happy to try out the benches and do some drawing on the slates. I don’t think he could grasp that all ages of children learn together. He knew what the cane was though.
As well as the houses there was the dockyard and canal boats to look at. And a pub and a variety of shops, some that were open, others just for show. Of course N wanted to go into the sweet shop, but decided on a cake at the bakery instead. The grocers was interesting – it sold pretty much everything, and you could even see through to where they lived behind. All very different to children who’re used to massive supermarkets and the occasional convenience store.
We were a bit early to eat in the Workers Institute café or Hobbs Fish and Chip shop. Instead we decided to finish off our walk around before getting something in the café at the visitors centre.
There’s an old fairground on the other walk round, just past the main bus stop. It’s all token based if you want a go, but we couldn’t work out whether it was open or not. One stall was but the rest seemed a bit empty. So I don’t know if that’s a school holiday only activity or all year. It certainly looked good against the blue sky (I do love a helter skelter standing proud for photos).
Our only disappointment with the visit was the offering at the café at the visitors centre. While I’m sure most people want to eat once they’re in the heart of the museum, some would want to do the café first, or last like we did, especially if the other places are busy. The fish and chip shop had a sign outside saying from that point the queue would be 30 minutes, so it obviously gets very busy. The café had drinks, some breakfast type options, crisps, biscuits, and said they could do some toasties or a sandwich for us. But there was nothing out to choose from so it felt a bit like we were asking for something that wasn’t really available. We just had a drink each, shared a pack of crisps then left to find somewhere else to eat on the way home.
Otherwise we had a lovely visit. We learnt lots, enjoyed exploring, and got a bit windswept in the brisk autumn chill. It’s definitely somewhere we could see us coming back to, especially once N starts learning more about history in the different ages at school.
Do you visit living museums like this? How do your children enjoy them?