5 Independent Museums and Heritage Sites to Explore this Autumn

Hello everyone, and welcome to my newest blog post about museums for History Indoors! If you don’t know me already, I’m Amy, one of the History Indoors volunteers. I’m passionate about museums and heritage sites and people engaging with these places, and for this week’s post I’m going to suggest 5 independent museums that I hope you will love visiting! These independent sites may be on the small side, but they’re packed full of information, enthusiasm, and expertise, on a wide variety of subjects.

The British Schools’ Museum, Hitchin, Hertfordshire

The British Schools’ Museum in Hertfordshire is particularly close to my heart for two reasons; firstly, I used to volunteer there and secondly my Nan attended the school way back in 1920. When I used to work in the room that had once been her classroom, I felt a strange thrill of being connected to my own family history.  

The site is the home of the only remaining purpose-built Monitorial Classroom in the world, which you can see in the photo below! Monitorial classrooms were designed to be cheap ways of educating lots of people at once and you can learn about how this was done by taking a tour at the museum.  There’s also a rare gallery classroom where you can participate in Victorian school lessons!

The original headmaster’s house also remains and has been restored to its former 19th century glory. The museum offers a whole host of events and learning activities so why not head over to their website and take a look! Although you have to walk between buildings at the British Schools’ Museum site, most of the exhibits are inside, making it perfect for that rainy November afternoon!

Glastonbury Abbey, Glastonbury, Somerset

How about something a bit older, something shrouded in myth and legend? If that’s what you’re looking for this weekend or for your next holiday, why not head to Glastonbury? Surrounded by the misty Somerset Levels, the earliest historical evidence related to the site of Glastonbury Abbey dates from the 7th century AD. What you see today are the majestic medieval ruins torn down in the Reformation in the 16th century. To learn more about the history of the site head over to their website!

Legend has it – or some 12th century monks would have us believe – that Glastonbury Abbey was the burial place of King Arthur and his wife, Guinevere. The town of Glastonbury has thrived for centuries on this magical aura and now houses a host of magical shops and cafes for you to enjoy. The team at the Abbey put on a huge array of events for you to enjoy from musical festivals, to tours in historical dress, to Viking combat days and so much more! As the autumn days draw in what could be nicer than spending a crisp autumn day watching the leaves turn golden in Glastonbury Abbey’s beautiful surroundings!

The National Videogame Museum, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Did you fall in love with videogames in lockdown? If you did, then here’s the perfect place for you! The National Videogame Museum in Sheffield is half museum half arcade! From Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong to dance machines and racing games, the NVM is an educational but hugely enjoyable place to visit. 

I was one of the many who got obsessed with playing Animal Crossing during lockdown, and the NVM have curated an online exhibition about people’s experiences of the game during the pandemic which you can view online. The NVM also run loads of educational events, so if you want to learn more about the games industry, and the huge amount of work that goes into creating your favourite games, check out their website today!

Stow Maries, Maldon, Essex

Are you one of our fabulous fans who lives in Essex?! We know there’s a lot of you! If so, how about a trip to Stow Maries, near Maldon? At Stow Maries’ Great War Aerodrome, you can explore the early days of British military aviation. The only First World War aerodrome to survive largely intact whilst others have been redeveloped, Stow Maries is a unique day out! As well as a museum, the site also hosts educational and fun events from stargazing and wildlife watching, to beating the clock in their escape room; there’s loads to do at Stow Maries.

Stow Maries is one of the independent heritage sites beloved by History Indoors member James Jefferies. James’ PhD explores the British cultural memory of aerial warfare from the First World War to the present day. If you’re interested in aviation history then head over to our History Indoors YouTube channel to hear all about it from James!

Woodhorn Museum, Ashington, Northumberland

And last but not least, why not have a day out at Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland?! This unique museum brings together the history of mining, contemporary art, and a fantastic events programme!

Over 2,000 people used to work at the site mining 600,000 tonnes of coal every year, and now the site tells their story. Many of the colliery buildings are still standing and are open for visitors to explore. The ‘Pitman Painters’ art collection is also displayed at the Woodhorn Museum and depicts daily life of the miners in the 1930s.

Less than 30 minutes outside of Newcastle upon Tyne and less than an hour from Sunderland, Woodhorn Museum is a fun day out for the whole family.

Thanks, and enjoy!

Independent museums and heritage sites sometimes are big and have huge events programmes and additional funding to support them, but more often than not independent museums are smaller and after the last 18 months they really need your support.

I’ve only picked 5 in my list above, but I really hope that you’ll do some research about the independent museums in your own local area and go support the resilient, beautiful, and fascinating independent museums and heritage sites near you.

As autumn draws in, look out for my next blog on spooktacular sites to visit this Halloween!

By Amy Saunders

Amy did her Undergraduate history degree at the University of Winchester, and after a few years out to complete an MA in London and work in the heritage sector, came back for a PhD in Stuart history, gender, sexuality and heritage. Aside from early modern gender, sexuality and queenship, Amy is also interested in the classical world, and has taught practical mummification (with carrots not bodies!) and directed ancient Greek plays (in translation. They weren’t THAT fancy!). Amy is a distance student living in Yorkshire so hopes to introduce you all to the wonderful heritage sites of the North through history indoors. Interests: Queenship, Sexuality, Heritage, Representation.