Tolson Memorial Museum, Huddersfield

Sometimes you just have to get back to basics. For museums this is the classic cabinet of curiosity and Tolson Museum is a pretty curious cabinet. Tolson is the local museum for Huddersfield and the surrounding area, so there’s a wide area to draw artefacts from. It’s also the base for Kirklees’ Museums so it may get some slight preferential treatment. It is located just off the main road out of Huddersfield in an otherwise quite plain park. It is a slightly unusual place for a museum to be located, if indeed there is a usual place, but that has something to do with the museum origins.   

The house, beautiful but nothing special, was donated after the First World War in memorial to those lost in the war to the people of Huddersfield. It is specifically dedicated to the two Tolson boys killed in action. Hence Tolson Memorial Museum. Recently a lovely memorial garden has opened and, between 2014-2019, there is an excellent WW1 exhibition downstairs.   

Upon arriving however I was draw straight through the door, note the beautiful entrance hall, and headed upstairs. The top floor is inaccessible to those who can’t climb a long staircase or anyone deemed too young by staff who isn’t accompanied. Here is housed the entirety of Huddersfield’s history, plus a few extras.  The galleries run as one long corridor, each room running into the next, much as it might have when the house was still a home. The first room houses a “museum” exhibit. A huge variety of objects, from sword to flat irons (pictured)  and Lego to Mammoth teeth, show the process of collections, preservation, storage and display. Quite neat really.

The next few galleries take you on a whistle stop tour from the early stone age, through the ubiquitous bronze socket axe, Iron age hill fort, Roman occupation and medieval churches. There’s a huge variety of objects and vast swathes of information. My favourite find this time round was a tiny Roman spoon (pictured). Moving on you fly from 1485 to 1799 in a few steps and the next century and a bit covers three galleries. There’s a big focus on the Luddite movement and the political unrest rife in Huddersfield in the 19th century. Particularly interesting is the story of William Horsfall. A mill owner shot dead by Luddites. His sword and one of “Enoch’s hammers”  are displayed next to a large portrait of the man. He also has a street named after him. You’ll have to visit for the rest of the story.       

As you go round you’ll notice that most of the interactive displays no longer work. This isn’t intentional, the museums just wants to be a Cafe more than a museum. Nowhere is the more apparent than the “Bird Room”(pictured). The taxidermy animals have revolted and no longer allow visitors into their independent kingdom of glass and dust.  Also the ceiling has collapsed. 

After a final room of taxidermy, supporting the environment or something, you can head down stairs. Further delights await. Especially for the classic transport enthusiast. There is a large annex on the back of the building. It is also slowly falling down, but it houses so exquisite vehicles. There are some beautiful Bicycles and my personal favourite; the LSD three wheeled car (pictured). These where manufactured in Huddersfield and are definitely the classic car I would have. They look like so much fun.    

Also down stairs is the aforementioned World War One exhibition, which leads through to a Victorian class room and exhibit.  There’s the all-important shop, filled with a miscellany of tat to match the eclectic nature of the museum collection and the famed Taxidermy cafe room. This room has seating for you to eat your packed lunch or enjoy some of crisps/biscuits from the shop while you sup an earl grey. It’s also full of dead animals some cut in half to reveal their skeletal structure. Oh and a charity book stall.  

Wait what? Well it’s not technically charity, it’s the friends of the muse… Oh I see. Yeah. Taxidermy plays a huge, if generally uncalled for, part at Tolsen Museum. The Mascot, Half Pig(pictured) {follow him on Twitter @TolsonHalf_Pig}, is part of a collection of bisected taxidermy donated by an undertaker. There have been many generous donations of this kind on top of the museum’s original collection and the merged collection from Dewsbury Museum.   

This collection has thus found itself filling up three galleries and stuffed animals have been displayed at every other opportunity throughout the museum. An exciting, if somewhat macabre trial to follow if you don’t fancy the official one or the newly launched iSpy app.  It’s the unquestioned use of corpses, be they human or animal, that raises questions about the ethics of museum displays. While the descendants of the Jays and Magpies In the environmental gallery might not have religious objections to their display; we can still question how much is been achieved by having their bodies posed in a dimly lit cabinet in Huddersfield.    

Over all Tolsen is well worth the occasional visit. There’s far too much information to take in and far too much to see in one visit. If you’re interested in taxidermy, local history, museums, old cars/bikes, Victorian bric-a-brac, the industrial revolution, castle hill or World War one; there’s something for you here. If none of that really takes your fancy, you probably came to the wrong blog.   

Taxidermy rating: 13/15

Toilet score: 3/5

Trail: Half a trail was up for the easter holidays

Dead people: No

Overall Score: 7/10

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