The Culture24/7: Shakespeare to St Petersburg in our History and Heritage picks for July

By Ben Miller | 04 July 2012
A photo of a man in a suit posing with a glove puppet in front of a mini-stall in a room
Robert Styles, pictured in the Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead in 2011, is the star of one of Tom Hunter's photos in honour of Mr Punch's birthday at the V&A Museum of Childhood this month© Tom Hunter
Major exhibitions on Shakespeare and Catherine the Great bring the world to Edinburgh and London this month in History and Heritage.

Chichester’s swanky new museum, a celebration of Mr Punch at the V&A Museum of Childhood and one-offs for fans of bloody Saxon Kings and bygone railway beauty also feature among a few we’ve humbly picked out for your possible delectation...


The Novium, Chichester, opens July 8

We always knew Chichester was the place for a Roman reconnaissance. But for all its charm, the old Chichester District Museum had nowhere near the space of this three-storey sprawl of mosaics, Baths, make-up kits, pots, lead coffins and more, costing £7 million in a council investment which is sure to help a modern local economy with some stupendous ancient artefacts.

A view of one of the more established nearby landmarks, Chichester Cathedral, awaits on the top floor. The Sussex city has always been a joy to visit, but The Novium means you can see amazing history alongside great architecture and the wonderful gallery that is Pallant House. See our Preview.

Catherine the Great: An Enlightened Empress, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, from 13

An exclusive visit to Edinburgh for this exhibition on the “sharp, funny, generous, iron-willed and passionate” former Russian ruler and formidable art collector, co-presented by the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Her eye for collecting makes Catherine’s accumulated legacy astonishing enough. It’s also a window into the Imperial Russian court and its emergence as a cultural powerhouse, as well as an inspirational lesson for anyone aspiring to win wars, build palaces, write books or build rollercoasters. And who doesn’t?

Secrets of the Saxons, Bourne Hall Museum, Ewell, July 14

RaedWald, the 7th century King of East Anglia widely thought to have been the owner of the armour and weapons found at the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial, wasn’t a chap to be trifled with if the accounts of his marches north to bloody battles are to be believed.

This resurrection sees the Saxon ruler return in a full replica of his lucrative bodywear. He’s bringing artefacts to handle, each holding revelations on the dark age of British history.

Happy Birthday, Mr Punch, V&A Museum of Childhood, London, from July 14

Everyone’s favourite crimson-nosed puppet is 350 years old this year, having first been recorded in the diary of Samuel Pepys back in 1662.

Tom Hunter’s photos of “contemporary Punch practitioners” (known since Victorian times as Professors) accompany prints, posters and puppets from the George Speaight Collection here, revealing Punch’s theatrical origins as a charismatic 16th century Italian caricature, and then considering his jolly influence on popular culture. It’s part of The Big Grin, a nationwide birthday for the character.

Shakespeare: Staging the World, British Museum, London, from July 19

If the London 2012 Festival aims to leave a legacy, perhaps it’s fitting for the British Museum’s part in it to look back to the time of the great bard, whose playhouses, plays and philosophies provided such pithy consummation and commentary on the issues of the day, shaping British identity and opening a window on the wider world.

There are an extraordinary array of objects here. A coin commissioned by Brutus in the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination is a dastardly highlight, as are excavations from the sites of the Globe and Rose theatres, including a sucket fork for sweetmeats and the skull of a bear.

The Good Old Days, Electric Railway Museum, Baginton, July 21-22

Ditch your iPhone, flick off the PlayStation and chuck the telly remote in the bin – who needs all that when the Electric Railway Museum (within a train rumble of Coventry) has a Meccano bridge, Hornby train sets, Dinky toys and puzzle games ahoy in this open weekend?

Shunting demonstrations courtesy of two electric locomotives with a Mazda diesel kit, a pair of resplendent carriages and a thorough display offering just about everything you could dream of will all be overseen by experts ready for questioning. Frustrating delays are not included.

A Journey Around the World, Wardown Park Museum, Luton, until September

This Arts Council-backed exhibition by Wardown Park’s youth team, Re-Created, has been concocted to celebrate the London 2012 Games.

It aims to look at different cultures through artefacts from the museum’s stores, but also features a number of newly-collected objects alongside items loaned by local residents.
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