Local History Museums
Appearing in this section are those museums and attractions that seek to convey some of the history of the part of Norfolk in which they are located.
Norwich Castle Museum
The jewel in the crown must surely be Norwich Castle Museum, set principally in the keep of the superbly preserved Norman castle, which has also served as a gaol in its more recent history of over almost a millennium, a rôle which some of the exhibits depict. The museum, which opened in 1894 and was extensively refurbished in 2000, includes a teapot gallery, decorative arts galleries, art collections, a Boudica gallery, an Anglo Saxon and Viking Gallery, an Egyptian gallery and the natural history galleries, where the dioramas have recently been refurbished
The museum is very child-friendly, with many hands-on aspects, particularly in the Castle Keep, and the dungeons and battlements can be toured daily.
Nowhere can you see the range and variety of British teapots better than in the museum’s Twining Teapot Gallery. The museum is home to Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service’s collection of over 3,000 teapots. They range from the elegant to the quirky and date from the 1730s right through to the 1980s.
There are two permanent art galleries and two exhibition galleries. The permanent collections include works spanning the 17th to 20th century. Norwich Castle possesses the largest collection of paintings in existence by artists of the Norwich School, most of which were bequeathed by Jeremiah James Colman, founder of Colman’s Mustard, and his son Russell James Colman.
This group of artists lived and worked in Norwich in the first half of the nineteenth century and found inspiration in Norfolk’s broad skies, flat countryside and varied coastline - John Crome and John Sell Cotman were its most distinguished members.
Other works on permanent display provide an historic context for the celebrated Norwich School, they consist of works by artists such as Sir Alfred Munnings, Thomas Gainsborough and the Dutch School. All the paintings have connections to East Anglia, some more obvious than others.
Stranger’s Hall, Norwich
Also in Norwich is the Stranger’s Hall, one of Norwich's oldest and most fascinating buildings.
This sizeable merchant’s house, dating from 1320 with many later additions, looks to bring the days of the Tudors and Stuarts vividly to life through a trip around a maze of interlinked rooms enriched with textiles and period objects including clothing, furniture, toys and games and meal settings. There are many activity days, with the very friendly and knowledgeable staff dressed in period costume and there’s also a 17th century knot garden.
he Bridewell, Norwich
The Bridewell started life as a rich merchant's house in 1325. It became a prison for women and beggars (a ‘Bridewell’) in 1585 and in the mid 18th century became a conventional prison. From 1828 it earned its keep as a factory and warehouse for tobacco, leather, boots and shoes. It became a museum in 1925 and now houses a wonderful collection of historic objects and machinery revealing how Norwich people earned their living and spent their leisure time.
The Bridewell is currently undergoing a £1.5 million redevelopment project and is scheduled to re-open in the summer of 2012.
Following a major £1.2 million redevelopment, the charming Lynn Museum tells the history of West Norfolk and is home to Seahenge, Norfolk’s recently discovered Bronze Age timber circle. A whole gallery is devoted to telling the story of these unique 4,000 year old timbers which includes a life size replica of the Bronze Age circle. Around half of the original timbers are housed in a display which echoes their beach findspot. The gallery reveals information about the people who created the monument and the details revealed by a study of the timbers.
Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life
The Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life has recently benefited from a £1.6 million renovation, which has gone towards conserving the Grade I listed Tudor merchant’s house and creating up-to-date displays.
The atmospheric crooked house tells the remarkable story of Thetford and the Brecks. Discover rich collections alongside audio guides, films and animations.
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.
Time and Tide, Great Yarmouth
Set in one of the UK’s best preserved Victorian herring curing works, the multi-award winning Time and Tide tells the story of its home, Great Yarmouth from its Ice Age origins to the present day. Visitors can wander through a Victorian ‘Row’ and see inside a fisherman’s home, experience the heady atmosphere of a 1950s quayside, take the wheel of a coastal Drifter and hear tales of wreck and rescue on the high seas.
The museum follows Great Yarmouth’s transformation from a sandbank to the present day, through times of boom and bust and war and peace.
The Tollhouse, Great Yarmouth
Also in Great Yarmouth is the Toll House, one of the UK’s oldest gaols, dating back to the 12th century, where visitors can see the original cells and discover the fate of thieves, smugglers, witches, pirates and murderers and, using the free audio guide, hear the gaoler and his prisoners describe their experiences.
Elizabethan House Museum, Great Yarmouth
Visitors to the Elizabethan House Museum in Great Yarmouth can experience the lives of families who lived in this splendid Quayside house from Tudor to Victorian times. Discover Victorian life ‘upstairs and downstairs’ and find out what is was really like to work in the kitchen and scullery. Decide for yourself if the death of Charles I was plotted in the Conspiracy Room. Dress the family in Tudor costumes. Let children play in the activity packed toy room, and relax in the small, but delightful, walled garden.
Nelson Museum, Great Yarmouth
The Nelson Museum is a Grade II listed Georgian merchant's house in Great Yarmouth where you can discover more about Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and the times in which he lived. Visitors explore Nelson’s career, from his Norfolk childhood through his famous battles to his tragic, heroic death. Find out about his mesmerising personality, his terrible wounds and his many illnesses - not to mention his scandalous love life. Avoid the rats and beware the cannonfire in Below Decks! Try the hammock, play ship’s games, examine cannons from Nelson’s time or relax in the picnic area of the Maritime Courtyard.
Wymondham Heritage Museum
The building providing the setting for Wymondham Heritage Museum has a fascinating history. From 1619 the basement of an old medieval house, on the site of the existing Bridewell and museum, was used as a dungeon. In 1810, the Bridewell was extended to provide a home for the prison governor and additional facilities. It closed in 1825 but reopened as the Norfolk Women’s Penitentiary. In 1879 the south wing of the Bridewell, now the main gallery of the museum, was converted to a courtroom.
The museum’s displays and collections tell the story of Wymondham and introduce characters from the town’s past. Highlights include:
The Swaffham Museum is a social history museum set in a handsome 18th century townhouse on Swaffham’s Georgian Market Place. There are elegant rooms, rich collections and 21st century displays with lots for all the family to enjoy.
The permanent galleries focus on a Swaffham man, Howard Carter and his discovery of the magnificent tomb of Tutankhamun and on wonderful collections of archaeological finds, all from the local area. Upstairs in the Local History Room, settle in and enjoy browsing books, photo albums, periodicals and more. A great way to find out more about Swaffham and life in a Norfolk Market Town through the ages. The museum has a fantastic collection of artifacts which span from prehistoric times to the present day and presents the history of the town of Swaffham and the surrounding villages.
Museum of the Broads
The Museum of the Broads exists to bring to life the heritage of the Broadland waterways with imaginative interactive display areas focusing on regional history. It is concerned with the preservation and interpretation of the history of the Broads - a singular area of our country with its unique history of discovery, development and exploitation of the natural environment.
The displays represent life in the area from today's conservation industry, back through the tourist industry of the twentieth century with its rapid development of the region, through the period when the need for fuel and food drastically shaped the landscape, remembering early settlements when East Anglia was an important capital region.
The museum's collection includes objects which graphically represent the struggle to exploit the wealth of the land, and the use of the waterways for food, transport and leisure. There are collections of boats, brochures, sailing diaries, and boatbuilding plans. Many of the museum’s Broads boats, tools, and associated artifacts are unique.
Fakenham Museum of Gas and Local History
The Fakenham Museum of Gas and Local History is the only surviving town gasworks in England and Wales, complete with all equipment used for the manufacture of gas from coal: retorts, condenser, purifiers, meter and gasholder.
The museum, run entirely by volunteers, is housed in the town’s former gasworks, which ceased production of gas from the heating of coal in 1965 following the discovery of Natural Gas in the North Sea. The gas works is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a prestigious and rare distinction for an industrial site and, as such, is a National Treasure, providing an insight into our cultural, social and industrial heritage with displays of lighting, heating, cooking and domestic equipment.
The gas works buildings and the museum collection held within them allow a glimpse into the past where one man, William Murdoch changed everyday living, bringing light to the darkest corners of our country.
After a bracing seaside walk, why not step inside Cromer Museum. Have a look around the cosy Victorian fisherman’s cottage and imagine what it was like to live in Cromer at the end of the 19th Century.
Delve into the ‘Old Cromer’ Gallery with its displays of historic photographs and illustrations of the town. Discover Cromer’s history as a Victorian seaside resort with its fine hotels and scandal of mixed bathing. Learn about the daring rescues of Henry Blogg and the Cromer lifeboatmen.
Cromer Museum recently secured over £42,000 in funding to purchase and put on display a nationally important collection of photographs by pioneering North Norfolk photographer Olive Edis. The photographs were taken by Edis between 1905 and 1955. They include stunning sepia images of Cromer and Sheringham fishermen and a rare series of autochromes, the first true colour photographs. Edis was renowned in society for her portraiture and the collection also contains photographs of famous people including King George VI, David Lloyd George, Thomas Hardy and Cromer lifeboat hero Henry Blogg.
Sheringham Museum (“The Mo”)
Sheringham Museum is located in converted fishermen's cottages and washhouses in the heart of this attractive and popular North Norfolk seaside town.
The museum tells the story of the impact of the railway coming to Sheringham and its popularity with holidaymakers as well as its sea-faring connections, with the collection including an historic fleet of lifeboats and fishing boats.
The RNLI Henry Blogg Museum, Cromer
Coxswain Henry Blogg (1876-1954) was the RNLI’s most decorated lifeboatman. During his 53 years of service Blogg was awarded three Gold and four Silver RNLI medals for gallantry, as well as the George Cross and British Empire Medal. With the assistance of his dedicated crew, he launched some 387 times and helped to save 873 lives around the Cromer coast.
The RNLI Henry Blogg Museum illustrates the history of Cromer lifeboats and Blogg’s most famous rescues. The Watson class lifeboat HF Bailey, that served heroically under Blogg in World War II, is the centrepiece of the museum, alongside historic photographs, paintings, models and memorabilia.
The exhibition, with family friendly interactive displays, brings the story of the RNLI to life and up to the present day and the museum is also home to the digital archive of ‘The Lifeboat’ journal - more than 150 years of lifeboating history in Cromer, the UK and Republic of Ireland.
Norfolk Virtual Museum
And last, but not least, is this rather quirky online museum - the Norfolk Virtual Museum (and there's no need to check for the opening hours!).