Hands on History Museum

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The website describes this as covering the story of Hull and its people. I set off to find it with great expectations.

It is in the lovely brick built old grammar school where William Wilberforce was educated. There is a small entrance hall with shop off selling books, Egyptian items and some children’s games.

The large room off on the left is set up as a Victorian schoolroom with double decks with wooden bench seats. I remember similar when I was at primary school. Lifting the lid, there was a slate, an exercise book with beautiful copper plate writing and a small text book entitled "How to write properly". There was also a tray of sand. I don’t remember these and wondered what it had been used for. At the front was the teachers desk with high chair giving good views over all the classroom. There was also an abacus and a small cast iron stove, the only source of heat on warm days.

The room is very hands on and very popular with the kids as there are dressing up clothes, hop scotch game on the floor, rocking horse and other toys to play with. There was a maid’s box complete with contents, wash tub and a carpet beater. The zeotrope was a source of great amusement.

Upstairs is the Egyptian gallery with a mummy and coffin lid of a priest of Min dating from between 500-300BC. The mummy is in poor condition as it was removed to a warehouse for safe storage during the war and was forgotten. There is a display of replica furniture from the tomb of King Tutankhamun including the ox bed as well as a copy of his gold face mask. In display cabinets are artefacts collected by WMF Petrie from excavations in Egypt partially funded by Hull Museums. These include a lovely small model boat about 4000 years old which would have carried the mummified body of a pharaoh with priests and mourners across the Nile. There are examples of shabti figures which were placed in a tomb to represent slaves needed in the afterlife. There are small statues of cats and Anubis as well as perfume bottles.

Beyond is the Story of Hull through the Ages, although this just seems to be 20thC history. There is some information about childhood and a display of childrens clothes, toys and games. Further on there was a collection of prams and pushchairs. There was some information about courtship and marriage. There was a display case on tailoring and making men’s suits. Display cases contained school books and dolls wearing different school uniforms. Beneath in drawers were examples of samplers from the 18th and 19thC. The earlier examples were much more detailed and carefully worked. There were reconstruction of a 1950s living rooms and early 20thC kitchen with zinc bath in front of the fire. .

The ‘hands on’ doesn’t seem to extend up here. I was very disappointed and began to feel that this was a collection of bits and pieces from attics and garages which had been given to Hull Museums over the years and had been put here as there was space needing to be filled. The displays were disjointed and there didn’t seem to be any logic in the order in which they were presented. There was a lot of written material which often didn’t relate to the display panels next to it. There were few attempts to label exhibits or give information about them. There was a lovely old time clock surrounded by display panels on industry and earning a living. If you didn’t now what it was, there was nothing to explain it.

Even though the rooms were described as the Story of Hull, there was very little specifically about Hull. There was nothing about the history of Hull or the effect of the World Wars on Hull. The Hull and East Yorkshire Museum of Archaeology ends with the Normans. There is some information about the development of the docks in the Maritime Museum.

Wilberforce House does have a little information about the Civil War and Hull. But none of the museums gives a comprehensive picture of the way Hull has developed from the Normans to the town we see today.

The Egyptian Gallery seems to have been put here because it doesn’t fit into any of the other museums and they wanted somewhere to display the Mummy and the Petrie collection. The reconstructions from Tutankhamun’s tomb have no direct relevance to Hull and their main purpose seems to be to fill up the space.

There is an amateurish feel about the whole museum compared with other museums in Hull. It is free but to be honest there is little that you won’t have seen better done elsewhere.

For information about the museum click here.

For information about collections click here.

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