Lap up our living history

Angi Kennedy Norfolk has a wonderfully rich history, and today - as part of Our Big Month - ANGI KENNEDY takes us on a tour of the county's 12 main museums. Have you seen them all?

Angi Kennedy

Norfolk has a wonderfully rich history, and today - as part of Our Big Month - ANGI KENNEDY takes us on a tour of the county's 12 main museums. Have you seen them all?


The Lynn Museum at King's Lynn is now re-open to the public, following a £1.2 million Heritage Lottery funded redevelopment. Historic objects and wonderfully illustrated panels tell the story of the town's development from a major medieval trading port to a significant whaling and maritime centre and latterly a thriving market town renowned for engineering and food processing. Among the treasures on show are gold coins minted by Queen Boudicca's Iceni tribe 2000 years ago; a superb collection of pilgrims' badges and magnificent Victorian fairground gallopers manufactured by Savages of Lynn.

t You must see... The Bronze Age timber circle, popularly known as Seahenge, forms a stunning centrepiece. Visitors enter and explore a full-size replica of the circle echoing how it would have appeared when built 4,000 years ago, including the marks left by the 50 bronze axes used in its construction. Around half the Seahenge timbers are in a display that shows how they were found on the beach.


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The Town House displays the history and domestic life of Kings Lynn's merchants, traders and families from medieval times to the 1950s. Children will enjoy trying out the replica toys and games from a Victorian child's nursery, as well as finding out what it was like below stairs in the Victorian Kitchen. And outside is the beautiful Victorian town garden - complete with privy! The 17th century room houses a reconstructed fireplace and objects showing what life was like for those living through the siege of Lynn during the English Civil War. And there is a reminder of the difficult times endured through the World Wars in the twentieth century as the people of Lynn were among the first to suffer a Zeppelin air raid.

t You must see... The recreation of a typical 1950's living room will have many visitors indulging in a real nostalgia trip. Relax into the armchair and watch period films of Lynn on a Bakelite television.


The atmospheric crooked house tells the remarkable story of Thetford and the Brecks. In this Grade One listed Tudor merchant's home, you can meet local people from Thetford's past, from the revolutionary philosopher Thomas Paine to the Sikh hero Maharajah Duleep Singh and from rabbit warreners to railway workers. There are rich collections brought to life with audio guides, films and animations.

t You must see... The magnificent Thetford Treasure, on loan from the British Museum is being displayed in Thetford's Ancient House throughout June. The treasure is one of the most wonderful sets of Roman objects ever found in Norfolk.

There are gold rings, bracelets and stunning silver spoons decorated with animals, birds and pagan figures. Other Roman objects discovered in the area are also included in the exhibition. Rare leather sandals along with brooches and coins are evidence that the village of Brampton was once a thriving Roman town and that there was once a Roman temple at Hockwold-cum-Wilton.


The 50-acre site of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse includes an historic workhouse, a traditional farm, rare breed animals, a museum of life on the land and a terrific woodland playground, all set in beautiful, unspoilt landscape. The farm is everyone's idea of a traditional Norfolk farm, with hens and Norfolk Black turkeys running around the farmyard; Norfolk Red Poll Cattle, Large Black piglets, Norfolk Horn Sheep and the magnificent Suffolk Punch working horses.

The museum's Collections Gallery houses a vast array of objects including beehives, cricket shoes, fishing rods, shop signs, and even a Turkish bath! You'll spend hours reminiscing about the things you remember from your childhood.

t You must see... The Victorian Workhouse gives visitors an extraordinary insight. Discover how families were split up and contemplate the drudgery and strict routine of their daily lives. And stop to spend a moment in the punishment cell and hear its haunting story. Look out for the Museums re-enactors - you may be able to help them recreate scenes from the workhouse's history.


After a bracing seaside walk, step inside Cromer Museum and visit Valentine in his cosy Victorian fisherman's cottage. Imagine what it was like to live in Cromer at the end of the 19th Century. See the 'Little Swallow' - one of the few surviving examples of the double-ended type of Norfolk crab boat (boats of this sort were used by Cromer fishermen for centuries).

The 'Old Cromer' Gallery displays historic photographs and illustrations of the town, showing Cromer's history as a Victorian seaside resort with its fine hotels and scandal of mixed bathing. Visitors can learn about the daring rescues of Henry Blogg and the Cromer lifeboatmen.

t You must see... The new Geology Gallery houses an amazing collection of fossils - all found in Norfolk. Fascinating displays reveal why Cromer is renowned as a geological area of international importance. Displays include the famous West Runton elephant, Britain's oldest and most complete elephant fossil along with some of its actual bones. There's also a cast of the skull of a Mosasaur - a huge marine reptile common off the North Norfolk coast over 80 million years ago.


This superb merchant's residence has evolved over 600 years and was one of the first social history museums in the whole country. From the Tudor great hall where the high table is set for a feast to the 17th century bedroom and the beautifully panelled walnut room, this is a fascinating building. Guided tours and costumed characters really help to make this museum come alive and tell the story of the Strangers.

t You must see... The exquisite 17th century beadwork christening basket made in Venice and decorated with extraordinary animals around the initials E W 1661 is a highlight of this museum that has so much to see.


The Royal Norfolk Regiment was formed in 1685 and served around the world - so its soldiers and their families helped shape three centuries of global history.

The troops brought back some fascinating items from their campaigns, some with obvious military use, but some more unusual like a collection of material from the 1904 Political Mission to Tibet.

There's an important photographic collection which informs both the displays and a video about the Regiment in India.

t You must see... The extensive medal collection contains examples of every campaign medal and gallantry medal awarded to a Norfolk Regiment officer, including two Victoria Crosses.


t You must see... In the Bridewell, visitors are mesmerised by the remarkable recreated chemist's shop. And they are even more impressed when told that all of the shop and its thousands of items are the work of one man, John Newstead.

John was born in Norfolk and qualified as a pharmacist in 1955, moving back to Norwich in 1960 to open his first shop. He was designated as a Fellow of The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in 1978 for his contribution to the history of pharmacy. Now retired he lives with his wife Janie in Taverham.

His collection - started in the 'Sixties - includes shop counters, hundreds of medicine bottles and carboys (the giant glass bottles seen in most traditional pharmacies), and is now one of the finest in the country.


Built by the Normans as a royal palace 900 years ago, Norwich Castle is now the county's principal museum, packed with treasures. Its outstanding collections of fine art, archaeology and natural history are of national importance. Touch screens and computer animation, a giant model, videos and sound all help bring the past to life and explain how the castle evolved from palatial home to a squalid stinking prison.

t You must see... Throughout June the museum visitors can see The People's Choice - an exhibition showcasing 60 paintings from Norwich Castle's extensive collections, all chosen by people living in Norfolk. Local people and community groups were invited to select a painting for the exhibition from Norwich Castle's reserve collections, so this is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to enjoy works that may not have been on public view for some time.


Time and Tide won the 2006 EDP Design & Development Award for its brilliant conversion of a Victorian herring curing works into a fascinating museum about Yarmouth's history. The museum recreates the heady atmosphere of a 1950s' quayside, and you are invited to take the wheel of a coastal drifter and hear gripping tales of wreck and rescue on the high seas. Displays explain Yarmouth's transformation from a sandbank to the present day, through times of boom and bust and war and peace. Lively hands-on displays, games, puzzles, free audio guides, film shows and children's activities bring the great story of Yarmouth vividly to life.

t You must see... Visitors can wander through a Victorian Row and, in the cramped cottages, meet some of the colourful characters who made their living from the sea.


Around the corner from Time and Tide is Yarmouth's ancient Tolhouse Museum. This extraordinary building is one of the oldest prisons in the country, where today one can uncover the story of crime and punishment throughout Yarmouth's history.

Audio guides help tell the tales of the gaoler and his prisoners and visitors can hear the fate of thieves, smugglers, witches, pirates and murderers in the days when punishment included transportation and execution.

t You must see... The prison which served as the town's jail from the 16th to the 19th centuries. See the condemned cell and where people would have been tried for witchcraft.


This splendid quayside house has overlooked Yarmouth's historic South Quay from Tudor times.

The house contains a new display describing life in Yarmouth during the English Civil War (1642-49). Oliver Cromwell is said to have frequently visited the house and the premises became a regular meeting place for Parliamentarians during the war.

t You must see... The Haddiscoe Hoard, a collection of over 300 silver coins ranging from the period of Edward VI to Charles I.The Civil War was, of course, a period of upheaval and unrest for the whole country and it is likely that the coins were buried for safety. The Haddiscoe Hoard is displayed within the 'Conspiracy Room' at the Elizabethan House Museum, which is particularly appropriate. It was here, allegedly, within the so-called Conspiracy Room in early December 1648 that the officers of the army are believed to have decided on the fate of King Charles I.