Wakefield Museum is a local museum for local people; as well as anyone else who happens to wander up from the train station. It was one of the first museums I ever visited, however that was back when it was in an old Victorian mansion. Now it sits neatly tucked in a purpose built corner of Wakefield one. This is the administrative centre of the district and also home to the central library. Few museums ever get the chance to be purpose built and the opportunity has not been wasted here.
The building itself, as with most modern architecture, is a contentious point. I like it. The old building, now the mechanics theatre, is beautiful. Unlike many museums however, It has been allowed to continue, to grow and adapt. Back to the point however; Wakefield One is a modern, neigh futuristic building of glass and beeping sliding doors (although the museum ones do need pushing and/or pulling).
Entering the museum you are struck with white art gallery-esk walls and an introduction to the town through a small selection of artefacts. My favourite here is the pictured “oldest post box in the UK”. Coming from Wakefield there is a personal connection to the objects on display here, but I’m sure anyone visiting would feel a deeper connection to the town after a visit as well.
There is now a choice. Enter the left hand doors and see the two exhibition rooms before traveling back through time; or go forward from Wakefield’s prehistory. I chose the galleries; I’d noticed a cricket bat. The first gallery hold temporary exhibitions, at the time a sporting history. In this room, as well as all the others, there is excellent facility and obvious effort for the engagement of young people. Interactive trails, games, quizzes and thing to put on and dress up in. It does not overbear the facility for older visitors, less inclined to wear hats and wigs. There is excellent disabled access, lots of chairs around and clear information board relating to the items on display.
The next gallery contains a mock Yorkshire living room, early twentieth century and an excellently furnished children’s play area, with costume, crafts and one of those little kitchens with pretend food. After pausing to do a little colouring in; it was into the main event: Wakefield through the ages.
Initially I was drawn to a toy train set. The Wakefield rhubarb festival was drawing near and the train set was representing the “rhubarb express” which was the train that sent rhubarb to those less fortunate than our rhubarb producing selves. This little display brimmed with local pride at this piece of fruit/vegetable heritage. It is a safe bet as delicious crumble has little impact on the political, religious or social stage.
Moving round this one large gallery there is a great deal to see. There is, as I mention, activity in the Wakefield area thousands of years. Before in fact there was even a notion of a Wakefield area. That said much of the displays focus on the more recent past. More than half is dedicated to the past three hundred years.
For me the most interesting display predating this period was the Battle of Wakefield. A small display augmented with objects from the now closed Sandal Castle visitor centre. A beautiful Long Sword, that just post-dates the battle and some exquisite spurs are well worth appreciating. This display puts Wakefield at the centre of national events for a day. A battle with knights, archers and shining armour; set amidst the Portabello estate on the 105 bus route.
Back at the museum however you can move just a quickly through time, jumping to the second world war in the next case or just round the corner to a separate little section.
In this room we find the real juicy stuff. Amidst mint green walls and a video of David Attenborough; are cases of weird and wonderful creatures. In a mint green room in the old museum, lights dimmed, a vast collection of taxidermy was shamelessly on display. and had been since the museum opened. Many had come to hate it, some even complained. When the museum moved however, everyone question what would happen to it all? Modern museums aren’t filled with taxidermy and the smaller space surely couldn’t house it. A small dimly lit room, with mint green walls was constructed however and filled with an exhibit to one of Wakefield’s more eccentric sons. The naturalist Charles Waterton. He was responsible for the large collection in the first place. By gearing the exhibit toward the man and away from the stuffed animals a pleasing solution has been reached.
Some of the creatures on display are wonderful and show and interesting part of Wakefield and indeed Great Britain’s past in an intriguing way. The monkey pictured is also made out of the bum of another monkey. I’m not so sure about his friend.
Over all Wakefield has a pleasant little museum, very local and displaying some of the finer tendencies of a modern museum. It’s great for the kids, fun for the grandparents and well worth a stop for any museophile needing to pass an hour or two.
Taxidermy rating: 10/15
Toilet score: 4/5, shared with library.
Trail: Yes, Multiple
Dead people: No
Overall Score: 8/10
Website : http://www.wakefield.gov.uk/residents/events-and-culture/museums/wakefield-museum