Green Works, Dundee
Nicknamed Juteopolis due to its dominant role in the jute trade in the 19th century, Dundee was home to 130 jute mills. Working conditions were so harsh that in the run up to the First World War, half of the Dundee men who volunteered for the army were turned away on the grounds that they were “undersized, malnourished and overstretched” . At Verdant Works, a former jute mill turned textile heritage attraction, the social history is tangible, especially if you visit one of the two days a week when volunteer Lily Thomson is on duty. Lily started working in one of the jute factories when she was 15 years old and has been a volunteer at Verdant Works for 25 years. As an expert demonstrator of ingenuity machinery (some over 100 years old), she has many anecdotes to share.
Glasgow Police Museum, Scotland
Tucked away on the first floor of an elegant sandstone block on Glasgow’s Bell Street, the Police Museum is run and staffed by volunteers from the Glasgow Police Heritage Society. Some, including curator Alastair Dinsmor, are former officers. Popular with family genealogists and local and social historians, it tells the story of Britain’s first officially recognized police force, the Glasgow City Police, which was established in 1800, 29 years before Robert Peel’s Met. Uniforms, helmets and insignia from different forces and eras are on display, but it’s the details that stand out: note the difference between the elaborately carved and painted batons carried by early Glasgow, Govan and Partick forces.
Admission by donation, policemuseum.org.uk
Norwich Printing Museum, Norfolk
No longer based in Norwich, but at the National Trust’s Blickling Hall estate near Aylsham, this prized collection of printing presses, binding equipment and lead and wood type owes its existence to the historic East Anglian printer and publisher Jarrold & Son Ltd. The museum was established in Norwich in 1982 to display some of the company’s original equipment from the 19th century, but the number of exhibits grew as other traditional printers closed. Now, a charity dedicated to the preservation of historic printing machinery, opens from March to November at Blickling’s historic printing works, where volunteers and skilled craftsmen demonstrate machinery and run workshops.
Admission is free but National Trust parking fees apply to non-members, norwichprintingmuseum.co.uk
Big Pit National Coal Museum, Gwent
Part of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site, recognized by UNESCO for its defining role in the iron and coal industries in the 19th century, the Big Pit belongs to a landscape of attractions that tell the story of those industries and the communities that grew around him. Visitors can explore the underground tunnels and pony stables in the capable hands of former miners. High above the town, which lies a few miles southwest of Abergavenny, the former colliery buildings include a canteen, medical center and elegantly tiled Pithead Baths. There are also workers’ cabins, chapels, and a workers’ hall (now housing a volunteer-run cinema). Looming above it is the winding equipment that took the miners 300 feet underground.
General admission and underground tours (free of charge) must be booked in advance, museum.wales
Shepton Mallet Prison, Somerset
It’s not every day you meet someone who once shared a sandwich with Reggie Kray. Get the timing right, though, and your tour of the 397-year-old Shepton Mallet Prison, the UK’s oldest working prison when it closed in 2013, will be led by former prison officer Maurice Gee. Once, Gee gave the gangster her lunch when he was escorting Kray between jails, and the van they were traveling in broke down. From gruesome details about the original treadmills (you’ll never look at a running machine the same way again), to visiting the cell in which David Tennant’s Des was filmed and hearing about the American soldiers whose spirits echoed in the halls of prison, there is much to learn on one of Maurice’s tours.
From £10 self-guided or £18 for a guided tour, sheptonmalletprison.com
Middleport Pottery, Staffordshire
The Potteries, the six towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, formed the fiery core of the British pottery industry in the 18th century. In its heyday nearly 300 companies produced pottery in the area, with Wedgwood and Spode among its iconic ranks. Of the handful that remain, Burleigh has been brewing continuously at its Middleport Pottery site, in Burslem, since 1888. In 2011, Re-Form Heritage stepped in to prevent the closure of the Victorian potbank and it now operates as both a working pottery and an attraction. of visitors. The factory tour is likely to be led by a volunteer who has worked in the industry. You can also tour the historic bottle furnace and former company offices independently.
Self-guided tours from £6; guided tours from £10, burleigh.co.uk
National Wool Museum, Carmarthenshire
The National Wool Museum of Wales is housed in a listed former wool mill at Dre-fach Felindre, in the beautiful Teifi Valley, not far from Cardigan City. Telling the story of the woolen industry, once more dominant in Wales than coal, it covers the process from fleece to weaving with the help of some gleaming historic machines. Keeping these crafts alive, and on hand to demonstrate each restored machine, are four artisans who are specialists in traditional carding, spinning and weaving techniques. On the museum grounds, volunteers also care for the Natural Dyes Garden, a sustainable garden filled with plants traditionally used for natural dyes.
Free entry, prior reservation required, museum.gales
The Tank Museum, Dorset
Like many of the country’s military museums, the Tank Museum near Wareham is supported by a large team of ex-military and off-duty volunteers; If you want to know what it’s like to drive an 11-ton armored vehicle into battle (or see one take part in a live-action demo during one of their many annual events), this is your place. Established, in part, at the behest of Rudyard Kipling, who suggested that the army’s tank testing center at Bovington could make use of discarded machines in a museum, the attraction now houses probably the world’s largest collection of tanks. The approximately 300 exhibits include the world’s first working tank and Little Willie designed for World War I, as well as unexpected lots including an armored 1920 Rolls-Royce.
From £14.50 (full-price tickets include an annual pass), tankmuseum.org
National Railway Museum, York
From the elegant Mallard, the world’s fastest steam engine, to Laddie, an Airedale terrier who once trotted around Wimbledon Station with a collection box on his back to raise money for the orphanage of the servants of the London and South Western Railway, you’ll find many of interest among the 6,000 pieces on display at the National Railway Museum. As with so many attractions, some of the most illuminating stories come from the museum’s 250 volunteers, a significant proportion of whom come from railway or engineering backgrounds and help as conductors, guards, guides, and signalmen.
Free entry; advance booking required, railwaymuseum.org.uk
Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre, Lincolnshire
Many visit this anonymous museum with low expectations but leave deeply moved. In the mid-20th century, Grimsby was the world’s largest fishing port and this site introduces visitors to trawler life. From the excitement of a young fisherman leaving home for the first time (and a mother’s bittersweet knowledge of what lies ahead) to a look at the challenges of life at sea, this is a journey without limits. If you can, take the extra tour of the Ross Tiger, a retired fishing boat. Most tours are led by former trawlers who bring the ship and the stories of its crews to life.
Adult £8.50, child £4, plus £3 (£1) for the Ross Tiger tour, fishingheritage.com