Bagshaw Museum, Batley

Not all museums are Victorian gothic mansions with rooms full of stuff. This one however, is. They say save the best until last, but they are an unreliable source of advice. Bagshaw Museum is one of my all-time favourite museums. It’s a museum’s museum; a museum of a museum. Set amidst the woodland of Wilton park (or a housing estate if you come by road) This beautiful building is a treat in itself. I visited on a crisp and clear winter’s afternoon, though not for the first time.

Bagshaw museum is, in fact, one of the museums I’ve had the pleasure of working at. A dream job in many respects. I was taken by the museum when I first visited it whilst at home from university. There’s something enchanting about the tower, the red door and the pine panelling within.

The museum was set up, as is so often that case when the house was sold off to the local council. A Mr. W. Bagshaw (see his portrait above the fireplace) set up a traditional cabinet of curiosity style museum in one of the rooms. Enthusiasm soon grew and the museum took off. Now it spans the whole building with eight galleries and, of course,  a shop.

The house retains many original features which will be a treat to anyone with the slightest interest in old buildings and Victorian art. The Long gallery, formerly the billiards room, is a prime example of this and also features some lovely period paintings.

In true style with the tradition of traditional museums the displays showcase artefacts that would not have found their ways together in any other context. There are objects from Egypt, Spain, India, Nigeria, Hawaii and Peru as well as object from the Foxes biscuit factory and Batley variety club.

The museum professes to let the visitor “see the world in a day” and it is certainly true  that the collections have come from all over the globe. The displays themselves are as you might expect. an effort has been made to have some interactive displays, but this is primarily intended as a look but DO NOT TOUCH museum.

There is alot of effort to engage children, but it is needed. Nothing jumps out or catches the attention of the visitor without first jumping in. As is always the case with this sort of museum you need and aim. Something to go and do there.

On this visit I had three aims. I wanted to bask in the warm glow of this exquisite place; easily achieved by walking into the building. I wanted to look at the swords, something I can’t help being fascinated by. I also wanted to spot the politics of Bagshaw museum.

This last point was  a little harder. Bagshaw is owned and run by the purposefully apolitical Kirklees council. Every effort is made to be unbiased and politically objective. To find this then, you have to look beyond the labels and the artefacts, see how things are presented and what that implies.

I looked to the local history galleries, to see who and what was remembered there and how past conflicts where presented. I looked to the human remains on display, and the ones that might be conspicuous by their absence. After all everyone wants to see the mummy, but no one wants to see the body of a former local business owner.

This done I enjoyed a cup of tea, a quick self-lead puppet show and paused to wonder why the “spanish money boxes” looked so much like the tops of the bishops in chess.

Now I mentioned the setting of the museum and, weather permitting, the outside of the museum is well worth a visit. The Museum sits at the top of Wilton park; an equally traditional park to match the museum. Woodland, swings, ducks and a lake to sail toy boats. In the summer there’s even an icecream van.

Another quaint feature is the observatory. Built and run by local enthusiasts; this working observatory may seem a little anomalous. Currently it is open most Sunday afternoons and the first Friday evening of every month. See the world at Bagshaw and the stars just down the garden. The volunteers who run it are lovely and nothing if not enthusiastic. For those of an astronomical inclination this is definitely well worth trying to coincide with your visit. For more information visit http://www.astronomyclubs.co.uk/Clubs/Details.aspx?ClubId=174

Bagshaw is well worth a visit and requires very little preparation, depending on your objectives. If you want a house tour, pre booking is advised and do check the slightly variable opening hours. Other than that, bring a book if you want to find a quiet corner to read or a sketch pad to draw. Bring the kids, bring the grandparents, bring your partner or wonder in for some time alone. The Long gallery is usually open enough to enjoy some activities that might need space like yoga or dancing, but do remember to be considerate of the overall tone. This is an old fashioned “proper” museum and might struggle with sudden unexpected outbursts of artistic creativity. That said don’t feel bound by that tradition. you don’t have to stand solemnly observing objects you don’t understand the importance of. Engage with the collections, talk to the staff and have fun. You’re not obliged to visit a museum; don’t make it a chore.

Taxidermy rating: 7/15

Toilet score: 4/5

Trail: Yes, not done

Dead people: Yes, some bits anyway.

Overall Score: 9/10

Website : http://www.kirklees.gov.uk/beta/museums-galleries-history/bagshaw-museum.aspx

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