Museums of Nottingham

Interior of the Museum of Costume and Textiles, Nottingham, circa 1983; image courtesy of Picture the Past -
Interior of the Museum of Costume and Textiles, Nottingham, circa 1983; image courtesy of Picture the Past –

I’ve just finished reading the novel The Museum of Innocence, by Turkish writer and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The book is the story of Kemal, a member of one of Istanbul’s wealthiest families, who, while he is engaged to be married, meets, falls in love, and becomes completely obsessed with, Füsun, a beatiful young shop assistant who is also a distant relative.

It’s an enchanting read, and to say any more would be to spoil the plot for anyone who might want to read it.

Its relevance to this post is that, as a result of the events that unfold in the book, Kemal establishes a museum. This museum represents, amongst other things (and to quote from the dustcover of the hardback edition of the book), ‘a map of society’s rituals and mores’.

A museum of the same name, set up by the author, actually exists in Istanbul. Pamuk dreamt up the idea of the novel and the museum at the same time and says that the museum, which opened in 2012, cost him approximately $1.5 million to create.

Istanbul has fascinated me for a long time and the process of reading the book and learning about the museum, as well as enjoying the terrific ‘cinematic extension’ of the novel called Innocence of Memories, directed by Grant Gee, has made me even more determined to visit it as soon as practicalities allow.

For some reason, I probably visit museums in my home town less frequently than those in other areas that I travel to on a reasonably regular basis. To paraphrase a well-known expression, these museums have become part of the Nottingham wallpaper for me. In fact, there are several that I haven’t visited at all.

Perhaps I should remedy this. But I do struggle with the whole museum experience sometimes. I find it difficult to focus on reading text on information boards while other people are milling around me. I dislike audio tours. Staff (including guards) can sometimes be off-putting or over-attentive. ‘Museum fatigue’ inevitably sets in after a while, no matter how fascinating the artefacts.

Here’s a list that I have compiled of museums in the City of Nottingham that I’m aware of:

  • The Natural History Museum (an old favourite – are the ants still there, I wonder?)
  • Nottingham Industrial Museum (the days when they run the steam engines are terrific. I’m fascinated by Nottingham’s industrial heritage and the place is on my doorstep, so why haven’t I visited in an age?)
  • Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery (due to be closed for redevelopment sometime this year and somewhere I’ve visited on a number of occasions)
  • The Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard (somewhere I should have visited more often, but it’s currently closed – other than to ‘pre-booked parties of 10 or more’ – due to the impending Castle redevelopment)
  • The National Justice Museum (formerly The Galleries of Justice – I haven’t visited since the change of name)
  • Green’s Windmill and Science Centre (another old favourite, but best with kid(s) in tow)
  • The William Booth Birthplace Museum (open by appointment only and comes under the category of ‘I definitely should have visited this one by now’)
  • The Museum of Archaeology, aka The University of Nottingham Museum (not really my cup of tea, but well set out and curated)
  • The National Videogame Arcade (I haven’t been yet, and I’m not even sure if it counts as a museum, but its website mentions that it includes ‘classic arcade cabinets’, which is why I’m including it here)
  • Wollaton Village Dovecote Museum (the only museum in the list that I hadn’t heard of prior to compiling it. I have made a mental note to visit it in due course)

There may be others that I have missed.

All-in-all, it’s a not-unimpressive selection. There’s something there for most people, I’d say.

But what of the museums that haven’t survived to tell their tales?

There are three that immediately spring to mind (arguably four if we include The Tales of Robin Hood), none of which I can remember having visited – the Canal Museum, the Museum of Costume and Textiles and The Lace Centre. They closed, as far as I can tell, in 1998, 2003 and 2009 respectively.

Of the three (we will sidestep the ‘sights, sounds and smells’ of the Tales of Robin Hood), the one that I most wish was still open is the Canal Museum. Perhaps my interest in canals wasn’t as well developed back in those heady days of the 90s.

The other two I can happily live without, although, were they still in existence, I dare say there’s a good chance that I would pop in out of curiosity – as much to see inside the buildings as anything else.

Presumably there have been other Nottingham museums over the years that didn’t make it to the present day, and perhaps the Nottinghamians of the past overlooked them or took them for granted in the same way that I so often seem to have done as far as our current establishments are concerned.

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