Museums at Night 2010: Family fun in Dorchester

By Rachel Hayward | 16 May 2010
Photo showing a grandfather son in law and his daughter standing on the top of the Keep Military Museum battlement

(Above) Three generations come out for Dorchester's Museums at Night 2010: Grandfather Roger Houlton, son-in-law Tim Smeaton and granddaughter Ellie aged 12. They were enjoying the view from The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester. All photos © Rachel Hayward/Culture24

Museums at Night 2010: Culture24's Rachel Hayward took her family to a very special evening in Dorchester...

The historic county town of Dorset boasts no fewer than six museums, and Museums at Night saw them unite to keep their doors open until 9pm for a family admission price of only £6 plus discount meal deals too.

This drew in hundreds of families from Dorchester and the local area. One family I spoke to described how Museums at Night had given the market town back to families on a Saturday evening.

Photo showing a mum and her two sons

Allner with sons Callum (13) and Henry (7), from Dorchester, thought Museums at Night was "excellent value"

The museums' offerings were eclectic, surprising and inspiring: from the Romans to Tutankhamun, dinosaurs to teddy bears, local military history and dinosaurs, there was more than enough to keep kids happy. The central locations of the museums also made getting around nice and simple.

"It was great coming along as a family and I learnt things tonight I didn't know," admitted mum Samantha Allner (above).

Brothers Callum and Henry both gave Museums at Night in Dorchester a 10 out of 10 score.

Photo showing girls looking at moths in glass cases and live moths in a tank

Visitors were introduced to real moths as well as ones in the Museum's collection at the Dorset County Museum

Photo showing two teenage girls with long hair doing some mosaic rubbing at Dorset County Museum

(Above) Teenagers Siân (left) and Annie (right) doing some mosaic rubbing at the Dorset County Museum

"One of my highlights was seeing Hitler's Desk in The Keep Military Museum," said teenager Callum. "I'd only been to the Museum before when I was little, so it was great to go again tonight."

His younger brother, Henry, was more enamoured by the laser shooting in The Keep and the Mummy's head in The Tutankhamun Exhibition.

The Dorset County Museum
Dorset County Museum opened its doors late for visitors to step back in time to discover more about the history of Dorset.

Many of the Museum's Galleries have interactive workstations and specific challenges and activities for children such as the fossil discovery table in the Geology Gallery.

Photo showing children in the Dinosaur Museum growling like dinosaurs with a replica of a T Rex dinosaur behind them

Younger members of the Garrity and Townsend families played at being dinosaurs in The Dinosaur Museum

There were activity carts in the Victorian Gallery and in the Archaeology Gallery to keep children amused with puzzles, quizzes, dressing up and drawing activities based around the Museum's collections.

The Dinosaur Museum
Lying just seven miles away from the Jurassic Coast in Dorchester, a visit to Britain's original Dinosaur Museum was not to be missed on Museums at Night.

The Museum combines contains life-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs (the usual suspects such as: T-Rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops) with actual fossils and real dinosaur skeletons to create a truly hands-on experience. Touching was positively encouraged.

The Keep Military Museum
The Keep Military Museum presents the courageous stories of the soldiers and their families who have served in the regiments of Devon and Dorset for more than 300 years with interactive displays and spectacular night-time views from the battlements.

Photo showing a teenage boy looking at a replica of the golden mask of Tutankhamun

Joshua Curry (14) comes face to face with Ancient Egypt

The Tutankhamun Exhibition
We left Dorset's history behind us and headed along to Ancient Egypt at The Tutankhamun Exhibition. The Exhibition is a recreation of Tutankhamun's tomb and treasures.

The current exhibition of Tutankhamun follows the Treasures of Tutankhamun Exhibition which was shown in London at the British Museum in 1972.

The golden Mask of Tutankhamun and many of the major treasures are too vulnerable to leave their home in Egypt again, so the Tutankhamun Exhibition was designed and created to overcome this problem. All the exhibits recapture the originals.

We discovered a collection of unwrapped mummies, mummified sacred animals, death-masks and other treasures. The collection brought back happy memories for us of a family trip a few years ago to Egypt and a visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Terracotta Warriors Museum
Ancient China was next on our ancient civilisations' itinerary. The terracotta warrior figures on display at the Terracotta Warriors Museum have been made as identical as possible to the originals, created for the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.

Fired in clay, they included a crossbowmen, a charioteer, an officer and a general dominated the exhibition space, standing up to two metres tall and weighing as much as 300kg.

Photo showing a young man and woman standing beside a life sized teddy bear

George Baines and Shelley Daniels at The Teddy Bear Museum

Teddy Bear Museum
There was a whimsical finale to our evening at Dorchester's Teddy Bear Museum.

The Museum itself is set in the house of life-sized Edward Bear and his family and boasts a collection of teddy bears from throughout the last century. The earliest teddy bear on display is know as Michael and dates back to 1906, accompanying Rupert Bear, Winnie the Pooh and Paddington among others.

It was a bit late for a teddy bears' picnic by this time, but we made good use of the special food and drink discount deals as local cafés, restaurants and pubs had got in on Dorchester's Museums at Night 2010.

The public verdict:

A photo of two parents and a child smiling

"It was brilliant for a Saturday night out with the family" - The Wottons from Bournemouth (with their son Carlo, 11)

Photo showing a mum and her daughter both with long dark hair and smiling at the camera

"Amber loves the Romans, so coming here this evening for Museums at Night is a perfect opportunity to find out more" - Abbie and her daughter Amber (6) at the Dorset County Museum

A photo showing two women wearing hijabs and smiling into the camera

"I've lived in Bournemouth for 15 years and had never been to Dorchester until now. The Dorset County Museum is beautiful" - Amal Shibani (left), from Bournemouth, with her friend Mayling Tse (right) from London

Photo showing a mum dad and young son and daughter standing on the top of the Keep Military Museum

"It's been a great excuse to come out with the family and enjoy the local museums" - Tony and Helen Harding with their children Robyn (8) and Ollie (4)

Photo showing a mum and her sons in the Tutankhamun Exhibition

"Museums at Night appeals to all ages and we've been learning so much tonight" - Dorchester family the Currys: Cristina, Joshua (14) and Sam (10)

A final word from Dorchester museums...
Event organiser Rachel Cole, from Dorset County Museum, worked with Colin Parr at the Keep Military Museum and Tim Batty from World Heritage to host Museums at Night in Dorchester, She called their night "a resounding success" and was also pleased by the team effort with local food outlets.

"This was a first for us and we're very happy with the results," she reflected.

"We're going to get together again as a partnership, think about next year's Museums at Night and how we can add even more to our visitors' experience."

"We've had hundreds of visitors through the doors tonight," added Tim Batty. "Figures have more than exceeded our expectations.

"We're particularly pleased to have welcomed local families, who are a key target audience for us. They've been making good use of the deals at restaurants and cafés too, so it should be a good night for business in the town."

"We're confident we're going to get repeat visitors after tonight who have now got a taste of our fabulous museums and will want to come back for more," said Colin Parr.

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