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More treasures in Norfolk's museums

PUBLISHED: 10:49 04 July 2011

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Archant

Norfolk museums are a treasure trove of hidden delights. STACIA BRIGGS continues her journey to discover more at Gressenhall, the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, Yarmouth's Tolhouse and the Time and Tide Museum.

GRESSENHALL FARM AND WORKHOUSE

In 1776, the combined parishes of Mitford and Launditch bought Chapel Farm at Gressenhall to build ‘a house of industry’ for the poor. Transformed into a workhouse by the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the aim was to keep costs low by making life for the paupers so unpleasant that people would do their utmost to avoid having to live there.

The workhouse closed in 1948, within living memory for some of those who visit today. After a short period of time as an old people’s home, Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse opened as a museum in 1976.

Inside the museum itself, the Toil and Plenty exhibition charts the development of farming from the mid-18th century to the first combine harvesters – here, you can find out about George Edwards, a Norfolk man who began life as a crowscarer and was in the workhouse as a child, rising to become a pioneer of farm workers’ unions and an MP.

Upstairs, there’s an immense collection of incredible objects given to the museum by the people of Norfolk and including exhibits such as medieval bricks to 1960s kitchen gadgets.

Here, you can find a Victorian egg boiler, a 1970s Cub Scout uniform, a portable Turkish bath, a dried cat, First World War memorabilia and an undertaker’s measuring sticks. Look out for the refurbished workhouse clock mechanism which used to dictate the inmates’ day and night and still keeps good time.

In the Village Row, you can find the buildings which – in workhouse days – were used as a nursery, a ward for unmarried mothers, schoolrooms and a ward for male ‘casuals’ and which are now home to recreations of how a blacksmith, seedsman, grocer and postmaster served a rural community around 70 years ago.

At Cherry Tree Cottage, you can see a traditional 1930s cottage set in a proper cottage garden with carefully-tended vegetable plots, a herb bed and lavender walkway, while one of Norfolk’s oldest horseless carriages, the Panhard et Levassor car, is kept at Gressenhall nearby.

Once owned by Charles Rolls, co-founder of Rolls Royce, the Panhard is maintained for the museum by a team of diehard enthusiasts and volunteers.

Head down to the farm, where you can meet the famous Suffolk Punch horses, the ploughing pair Trojan and Bowler and young Jimbo. There are also Red Poll cattle, Suffolk Sheep, Southdown Sheep, British White Cows, Marsh Daisy Chickens, Norfolk Black Turkeys and goats to see.

The farmhouse itself offers a window on to a traditional way of life and boasts an old-style range cooker where farmhouse fayre is still prepared. There’s also St Nicholas’ Barn, with a wide variety of farming implements from the last 200 years and a recreated wartime shelter for you to sit in.

Most children will agree that the woodland play area is worth the admission fee alone – through the orchard a huge wooden adventure park with swings, climbing walls, treehouses, a willow tunnel and all manner of things to play on awaits. It’s the best of its type in Norfolk.

■ Don’t Miss: Tractor rides around Union Farm and the 1950s room in the main museum.

■ Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, Gressenhall (3 miles northwest of Dereham on the B1146), 10am-5pm, £8.90 (£7.70 cons), £5.90 children, under-4s free, 01362 860563.

ROYAL NORFOLK REGIMENTAL MUSEUM

My children are still thrilled to be able to get into the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum by walking down the spiral staircase and tunnel built in the 1830s for prisoners to be taken from Norwich Castle to court in the Shire-hall.

Not for those of a nervous disposition or anyone uncertain on their feet, this atmospheric walk leads to a recon-structed first world war communication trench where the sounds and sights of the war are brought vividly to life.

You can, of course, choose to enter by the more conventional entrance door on Shirehall, but my children won’t hear of it – a trip to the trench is one of the highlights of a visit to the Castle and then the Regimental Museum. The Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum sits within the Shirehall building which dates from the 1800s and has been the centre for jurisdiction and administration for the county. A Shirehouse is documented as having stood on the site since 1270 and since it was rebuilt in 1579, it has undergone several redevelopments, some of which have provoked controversy.

When Sir John Soane built a new Shirehall in 1789, it was unpopular with local people and so, just 32 years later, a competition was held to design a new building, which was won by William Wilkins. He designed a new Shirehall and improved the jail, linking the buildings by a tunnel. In 1907, chambers were added on the south side of the Shirehall and, since then, both parts of the building have been refaced.

The courts moved to a new site near the cathedral in 1988 and the civil courtroom was lost when the Regimental Museum was built, although the other courtroom remains intact within the Norwich Castle Study Centre.

Opened by the Queen Mother in 1990, the extensive and varied collection on show at the museum is loaned to the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service by the Regimental Trustees.

Displays aim to explore the daily life of a soldier in peace and wartime and tell the story of the regiment, which was actually known as the Royal Norfolk Regiment for only 24 years. Initially, regiments were known by the name of their colonel, then in 1747 a numbering system was introduced and this Regiment became the 9th Foot.

The first link to Norfolk was made around 100 years after the regiment was formed and became The 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment. In 1881, all numbered infantry regiments were given stronger geographical links and a fixed regimental depot. The Norfolk Regiment was born and Britannia Barracks were built in Norwich as the headquar-ters for recruiting, training and accommodation for the soldiers.

Brilliantly laid out and engaging to visit, the museum has a host of fascinating exhibits which tell the stories of everyday soldiers and their families through 300 years of war and peace.

Read moving poems, diaries, letters and cards written to loved ones from the frontline and look at the kit, rations and personal items the men carried with them every day while they were in battle.

There are powerful displays of equipment, souvenirs and military memorabilia from all the major campaigns the regiment have fought in and you can watch archive footage from a tour in India and see historic photographs from the museum’s vast collection of more than 12,000 images.

Learn about the bravery of men like Norfolk’s Major Jamieson, who received the Victoria Cross in the second world war and try on a modern soldier’s pack – if you’re strong enough!

Don’t Miss: The regimental drum from the 2nd Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment which was hidden in Belgium in 1940 and returned to the regiment in 1945. The bottled poisonous insects, shown to soldiers before they under-took tours in exotic climates.

t The Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, Shirehall, Market Avenue, Norwich, Tues-Sat 10am-5pm (From July 4), £3.70 (£3.10 cons), £2 children, under-4s free, 01603 493649.

TIME AND TIDE

Housed in the former Tower Fish Curing Works, Time and Tide is a fantastic museum where you can take an ex-citing journey into the past.

Find out more about Great Yarmouth’s rich maritime and fishing heritage and some of the colourful characters who made their living from the sea.

Visitors can wander through a Victorian Row and see inside a fisherman’s home, experience the heady atmosphere of a 1950s quayside, take the wheel of a coastal Drifter and hear gripping tales of wreck and rescue on the high seas.

It’s an opportunity to follow Yarmouth’s transformation from a sandbank to the present day, through times of boom and bust and war and peace.

The Tower Fish Curing Works was built in 1850, enlarged in 1880 and closed 108 years later in 1988.

Bought for conversion into a museum, more than £4.7 million was spent on redeveloping the site and Time and Tide opened its doors to the public for the first time in 2004.

Take a look at the tall smoke sheds where fires used to be lit on the floor to cure thousands of herring at a time. The fish were pierced on long sticks, or speets, which were laid across wooden bars, called ‘loves’.

One of the worst jobs faced by a herring worker is recreated at Time and Tide: a deep pool of brine was used in which to soak the fish and then a worker would be sent into the cold, smelly tanks to retrieve the herrings.

In the days before brine, the fish were preserved in salt piles – you can still see the white mineral marks on the walls.

When the workers finished collecting the herrings from the brine, they warmed up in front of the fire in the barrel-makers, or the coopers, which was based on site.

It was here that the barrels used to store the fish were made up at the factory to keep up with demand. A life-size model now stands in front of the old fire, along with the tools and materials used to make the barrels.

The museum’s collection is dominated by fishing equipment such as nets, blocks and lanterns from herring drifters and baskets for unloading the fish at the quay and there are boxes and stencils from curing firms which operated in Yarmouth.

Lifesaving and rescue is represented by equipment from early lifeboats and there’s information about Captain Manby, the local inventor of the lifesaving apparatus that can be seen at Lynn Museum.

You can also enjoy looking at a fine collection of marine art, a significant selection of ship models, tools used for ship and boat building, net mending, basket making, sail and rope making and coopering.

See celestial and terrestrial globes, compasses, sextants and sea-charts can be seen, along with beautiful sailors’ crafts such as inscribed ostrich eggs, knotwork and wool pictures.

Other exhibitions or objects to look out for include a display of bones excavated from the North Sea, a clump of mammoth hair, the Gorleston Hoard – a collection of Bronze Age weapons and axes found in 1952 – and an An-glo-Saxon boat carved out of a tree trunk.

With plenty of interactive displays, this museum is perfect for all ages.

t Don’t Miss: The spacious courtyard beneath a spectacular canopy of sails, surrounded by historic fishing boats.

t Time and Tide Museum, Blackfriars Road, Great Yarmouth, 10am-5pm, £4.80 (£4 cons), £3.50 children, under-4s free, 01493 743930.

TOLHOUSE MUSEUM

Discover the fate of thieves, smugglers, witches, pirates and murderers as you visit one of the oldest gaols in the country which dates back to the 12th century.

Like a relic of a bygone era, stranded amongst the modern streets, houses and offices of Yarmouth, the Tolhouse was built around 800 years ago.

This medieval building, close to South Quay and with plenty of downstairs storage space was first used as a place for paying tolls (hence its name) on herring catches.

The great hall, where the original owners probably dined, became known as the Heighning Chamber, where local people came to pay taxes. It then passed into the hands of town officials who turned it into a courtroom, a police station and a soon-to-be infamous gaol.

The underground storerooms made perfect dungeons while the upper chamber became the court room where local magistrates dispensed justice: rough justice.

Inmates were whipped, branded with irons, humiliated by being locked up in public stocks or sentenced to death. The penalty for petty theft worth more than a shilling was, in theory, hanging.

Their treatment depended on how rich they were – gaols were privately run and the staff would have to be paid for everything, from food to bedding. Pauper prisoners regularly starved to death.

Sarah Martin, a dressmaker from Caistor, was inspired by religious faith and possibly pioneers like Elizabeth Fry, and began visiting the prison in 1818, teaching the inmates to read and write.

Other reformers, such as John Howard, denounced the filthy conditions, and in 1853, the Penal Servitude Act was passed to clean up prisons.

Possibly the most famous villain of all linked with the Tolhouse is Matthew Hopkins, the infamous witchfinder general, who visited Yarmouth in 1645 and who made a fine living accusing, trying and torturing so-called witches.

A wonderfully evocative little museum, full of atmosphere and a slight chill in the air.

t Don’t Miss: The faces carved into the wooden panelling.

t The Tolhouse, Tolhouse Street, just off South Quay, Great Yarmouth, Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun 12pm-4pm, £3.70 (£3.10 cons), £2 children, under-4s free, 01493 858900.

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