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Market Hall Museum, Warwick

Founded: 1836        Governance: Local authority      Scope: Local history & Archaeology   Visited: Autumn 2019

Warwick circles the top of the hill it's occupied since Saxon times, a quintessential county town: you can mostly ignore the presence of the Castle which lurks at its southern margins and which costs so much to get into that I didn't venture closer than was necessary to take a photograph. Its Museum Service - actually the County of Warwickshire's - divides itself between two sites, St John's House on the eastern margins of the town, and the 17th-century Market Hall, splendidly sited among cafés and small shops at the top of the cobbled Market Place: it was the latter I saw. Its round-headed arches are now filled with glass, and whereas they once sheltered stalls and traders, they now almost inevitably house a café of the Museum's own.

St John's House deals with the service's collection of social history material, leaving the Market Hall with everything else - art, industry, archaeology, palaeontology and stuffed stuff. Some of this is quite random; hence as you enter the galleries you are greeted by the Museum's mascots, a stuffed bear and an elk skeleton. This is another thematic rather than a chronological museum, and the downstairs room introduces the three main themes - 'Getting Here', 'Living Here' and 'Made Here'. It seems ever-so-slightly desperate, its inventiveness masking the fact that the objects are mainly stuffed otters, teddy bears and a Tesco worker's shirt, until you realise there's an upstairs as well! There things open out and luxuriate a bit, and there's more to look at, including antique musical instruments, weirdly positioned in a case, and a gigantic map of the county in Tudor tapestry. One wood-panelled room of oak display cases recognises the mid-19th century origins of the Museum in the collection of the Warwickshire Natural History & Archaeological Society, a complete and refreshing contrast from the darker main gallery. It's hard to tell the story of something as nebulous and disparate as an English shire county, but the Market Hall Museum does pretty well. The sculpture expressing what Warwickshire makes, or has made at some stage, is inspired: a tyre hangs over your head in the company of a bag of cement, a video game handset, and a fez, among other things. It could get no better!

Market Hall Museum, Warwick
Market Hall Museum, Warwick
Market Hall Museum, WarwickMarket Hall Museum, WarwickMarket Hall Museum, Warwick
Market Hall Museum, WarwickMarket Hall Museum, WarwickMarket Hall Museum, Warwick
Market Hall Museum, WarwickMarket Hall Museum, Warwick
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