Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery

It’s half term. Summer half term – ALREADY. As the Easter holidays were only 4 weeks ago and there’ve been a couple of Bank Holiday Mondays liberally scattered over the past few weeks, it feels a bit like the kids rarely bother with school these days.

Still, today was the first day solo with the kids, mano a mano, and I was wondering what to do with all of this lovely (lovely) time. Luckily they’re still at the age where the promise of a bus trip is one of such unparalleled excitement that I can bribe them to bed with it.

Even luckier still, the bus picks up and drops off right outside our house (occasionally in the past few weeks, I’ve opened the downstairs curtains on the passengers of the 6:45am bus – apologies, travellers, for the hair and the ancient dressing gown).

We went straight for the museum when we got to Shrewsbury Bus Station (via some escalators which thrilled the heck out of the girls, country bumpkins that we are). It’s a relatively short walk and, as the main road through town is closed to cars for some kind of building work, quite stress-free. A Jamaican busker was singing ‘A Message to You, Rudy’ when we got onto Pride Hill as well which is one of my faves and instantly put me in a good mood.

We had a quick lunch in the museum café before we went into the museum itself. The girls chose a sausage roll each which, even if it was artisanal and the ketchup came in a little glass pot, should have been priced slightly less than £3.80. Especially as that was literally it. I bolstered it with crisps as the only other alternative (which they were most chuffed about) and they wolfed it down). Still, the coffee was good and the staff were nice and friendly which made up for the scalping.

This is the outdoor seating area of the café which is lovely – sorry about the atrocious aerial photography.

Shrewsbury Museum is based in the old Music Hall and part of it is attached to an ancient town house called Vaughan’s Mansion so walking through these rooms whilst thinking/learning about Medieval Shrewsbury feels particularly appropriate. Apparently there has been a museum of some sort in the town since 1834 so it’s collection is accordingly wide and eclectic.

One of the things that is patently clear from the off is that they are doing their damnedest to attract and entertain kids. And for this, I love them.

This is ‘Old London Town’ according to the youngest (who has clearly been listening to the eldest’s latest homework assignment about the Great Fire of London).

There’s a mouse picnic trail in the main body of the museum, opportunities to try period clothing on, colouring in stations, cuddly toys, interactive exhibits and learning materials alongside.

I also spotted several spots to sit down with little prop bags for stories. These are for story-tellers who work with small groups of kids on weekdays.

There was plenty to show the girls and to discuss as we walked around (though the youngest kept shouting “BORING!” really quite loudly as the eldest and I watched a video of the evolution of time in Shropshire which was a bit embarrassing). They loved the woolly mammoths, the taxidermy animals (sorry folks) and, strangely enough, the small audio of Monty Don discussing an 18thC garden painting. You’ve got new fans, Monty…

Monty, I told you not to ring me whilst I’m busy…

It’s always useful to have visuals to explain difficult concepts like Evolution (I tried, I really did) and to be able to explain that the ‘discoverer’ of the concept came from just around the corner was pretty fantastic. And I think that this is where SMAG in particular edges out most provincial museums. The proximity to the birthplace of Darwin and his formative years, including some great archival material referencing Shropshire and Shrewsbury, gives solid gold interpretation to visitors and, by extension, kids. More could always be done, of course, but having it there as a reference tool is great.

Local/international history, innit?

There are also exhibits on the history of the Industrial Revolution which is very much Shropshire’s history in the 18-20th centuries.

However, one particular exhibit which caught my eye was The Lost Country Houses of Shropshire. I don’t know of another county museum that has done this, so apologies if you do, but to me it seemed a bit of a rare beast. The destruction of the country house in the early to mid 20thC has always fascinated and horrified me in equal parts. Whatever your political persuasion – and don’t get me wrong, the fruits of peoples’ labour should have been shared a lot fairer and a lot sooner – I still can’t fail to be moved by the old photographs and drawings of so many lost buildings. Some of them were truly ancient, some were less lovely Victorian behemoths, but all of them were built by sublime craftsmen and in losing them, we also lost what little memory we had of those working men and women.

When we left, an hour and a half or so later, we pottered over to the Market Hall and spent another half an hour looking at unusual vegetables (I know, I know, a museum and vegetable stall all in one day – lucky kids), bric-a-brac and sausages being made. The last and final treat before our punnet of cherries on the bus home was to travel in Pride Hill’s glass elevators – a marvel to the girls.

Thank you, Dawn, for being so entertaining and generous with the kids

So, in summation, the SMAG is a great place to go with kids (or on your own if you want to have more of a browse in some interesting local/national/international history) and well worth the entry fee. Give it a go! Our local museums would appreciate your support.

Opening Hours:

Monday to Saturday, 10am – 5pm (last admissions 4pm)

Sunday, 11am – 4pm (last admissions 3pm)

Open Mondays during Shropshire school holidays

Price:

  • Adult: £4.50
  • OAP: £4.00
  • Student: £3.60
  • Child (5-17): £2.00
  • Child (0-4): Free
  • Family (2 adults, up to 3 children) £10
  • Family with 1 adult, up to 3 children £7

4.5 plums