If you live in or around Shropshire, you know you are in the shadow of a World Heritage Site; The Ironbridge…but are you aware of all that the Ironbridge Gorge Museums have to offer children in need of entertaining?
We were asked to spend our Half Term Holiday looking at all the Ironbridge Gorge Museums had to offer and first impressions were that there were an awful lot of museums to see within such a small area! There is also a great value ‘Passport’ available for purchase (£68 for a family of two adults and their children) which gives you unlimited access to all the museum sites making it perfect for families with young children…
After a little research, I decided that Blists Hill and Enginuity were the most suitable for my 6-year-old and Toddler, we were also pointed in the direction of some craft workshops; it was going to be a busy few days!
For our first adventure, we met up with some friends and took a trip back in time at Blists Hill Victorian Museum. The whole site is outdoors (so come prepared for the weather) but is totally pushchair friendly throughout (give or take a few of the shops and houses where the pushchair needed to stay outside…).
On arrival, the newly built entrance sets the scene for a trip back in time (a little noisy for sensitive little ones!), before you step right into a Victorian Street. Our first stop was the Bank where the children happily exchanged their £5 note for some Victorian coins. The Banker took the time to explain the exchange rate to the children, reminding them to take care not to lose the tiniest coins. We then meandered our way down the street looking in and out of the shops. We encountered a Grocers, a very smelly Chemist and Haberdashers to name but a few. The shops are well staffed with friendly, knowledgeable characters in authentic dress who took the time to engage with the children as they worked their way through the themed Halloween Book Trail. A popular stop was the Fish and Chip shop where our children happily munched their way through some rather delicious and freshly cooked cones of chips.
We carried on down the hill, past the Candlemaker, Sawmill and Bakery (which had an exceptionally long queue having just taken a fresh batch of baking out of the oven), as the children had by this time checked out the map and realised that at the bottom of the hill was a Funfair.
The fair consists of traditional fairground games, swing boats (I had forgotten these existed!) and a rather speedy looking Swing Carousel which was, of course, the chosen ride to spend some more Victorian coins on…
By this time, the toddlers were in need of a run around so we happily positioned ourselves on the large grassy picnic area with coffees from the Pavilion while the two older children picked up the final trail queue in Squatter’s Cottage, explored the School and took a ride on the Incline Plane. This replica lift takes you up to the canal path which returns you to the main street without having to push the buggies back up the hill!
The site is large but can be covered in a day and we certainly didn’t do it all! There is still the trip down the mine, among other things, to fit in next time!
Day Two was rather more sedate for us. With the toddler safely with Daddy for the day we met up with some more friends for a ‘girls day’ of crafting. We had been asked to sample some of the activities on offer across the sites and decided that we would first go to Jackfield Tile Museum to decorate our own tiles and then head to the more modern Enginuity to look at the Monster Making Workshop.
We parked at Coalport China Museum and walked our way down the canal, past the Tar Tunnel (both additional Gorge Museum Sites), along The Lloyds and past the Maws Craft Centre to reach the rather impressive and still active Tile Workshop. On arrival, we entered a busy set of rooms where everyone was in various stages of creating their own masterpiece.
We started off by practising our ‘outlining’ skills using rather wobbly bags of ‘slip’ in preparation for creating our own tiles. The workshop is full of inspirational ideas for your creation and tiles are available in all sorts of shapes and sizes (I also discovered that the Workshop take on commissions so will remember that one for the next special occasion!).
After much deliberation and looking through the folders of suggested designs, we all decided on our own designs and started off by transferring them onto the tile with some very messy carbon paper.
Once finished, we used our newly gained ‘outlining’ skills to draw the designs onto our tiles. There was a real variety in terms of what you could do (along with creating your own design!) but it is worth noting that smaller crafters need to be gently steered in the direction of a simpler design, the outlining process does make your hand ache after a while!
Once the outlining had dried, we set about using the rather strange paints to complete our designs. These ‘glazes’ need to be dabbed gently on the tiles and took a little getting used to, you also have to follow the reference guide to make sure the right colours are used as the glazes look nothing like they will look once fired!
You need to allow a good hour and a half for the workshop as painting takes rather a long time (our youngest needed help finishing hers off!) and once we had handed over our tiles for firing (you can either choose to collect about a week later or ask for the tiles to be posted – just look at the difference once the tiles were fired, we almost look like professionals!) we were ready for our lunch.
We had baked potatoes and sandwiches in the Jackfield Museum Café before winding our way back down the Lloyds to the cars. A short journey through Ironbridge itself and past the famous bridge took us to Enginuity. It is worth noting that you do need to pay £3 for parking in each museum but you can use the same ticket in each of the sites…
Enginuity takes on a different tone to the other museums we visited; its exterior is old but the inside is very much more modern. On this occasion, we were here to take on the challenge of making our own pneumatic monsters. We made our way to ‘Gagetdom’ and were briefed by the staff about the challenge we needed to complete. The activities and workshops vary on a day-to-day basis and some carry an extra charge. On this occasion, we paid £1.50 for our ‘monster’ kit which seemed good value for money.
The children enjoyed creating their ‘monsters’ and were pleased that they managed to get their pneumatics to work. They were even more thrilled when the pneumatics were demonstrated on a larger scale when they were allowed to make ‘Tiffany’ the resident pneumatic T-Rex move and roar!
The following day, we decided to return to Enginuity to see the museum from the point of view of a rather inquisitive toddler! I was on my own on this occasion but as the site is relatively small (basically all in the same room), found it easy to manage both children as they explored the things that interested them individually. There are lots of hands on things to do here and a big favourite was most certainly the water exhibit. The children can explore the effects of dams and water systems (getting rather wet in the process, although aprons are provided) and generally have lots of water related fun. A couple of the elements here (such as the Archimedes Screw) weren’t working but the children still enjoyed this exhibit the best. Also popular were the two ‘ball’ related exhibits. One of these represents a boiler where children have to turn the wheel to start the water and add the fuel (balls) to keep the energy going. There is also a recycling based activity on similar lines (which did seem to have a few of the balls missing…).
There really is a lot to see and do here and the appeal is for children of all ages and stages. I get the feeling that this is a museum that will grow with my children. Right now, they were interested in the cause and effect of pushing buttons and leavers and seeing a reaction but as time goes on they will be more interested in the wealth of knowledge presented to accompany the exhibits…
Before we left (this is very much a half day rather than full day place to visit) we had a quick play in the soft play before popping next door to The Museum of Iron where there was a café for our lunch. Just be warned, we arrived at around 11.50am and the staff there commented that there was no hot food available till midday…we ate our sandwiches and then headed home for naptime.
If you live locally to Shropshire or are planning a holiday here, it is certainly worth investing in the Passports. Between them, the museums offer a good few days of family entertainment and the sites are all close together, accessed via Junctions 4 or 6 of the M54.
NB: We were provided with free passes for the week but all the opinions are our own.