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blog of the day 29.04.2004

Webbledegook: news and stuff
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Let history speak
Monday 22 August 2005
Last week Ellie and I went away for a few days, staying in Harrogate and visiting in and around York. One of the most interesting days saw us visit the Bronte Parsonage Museum at Haworth in the morning and the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford in the afternoon.
The Bronte Museum was wonderful. Haworth is a very picturesque village atop a brick-paved hill which has changed very little in 180 years (with the exception of the tourist shops). The museum is run by the Bronte Society and exists in the Bronte's actual home, the parsonage. One of the main reasons it succeeds, I feel, is that it has not relied on interactive displays, animatronic or posed models of its past inhabitants, or loud recordings and 'fun' activities. Walking through the house is like travelling back in time. There's the desk that Mr Bronte read his bible at every night. There's the couch that Emily Bronte died on. These are the floorboards that creaked as the sisters walked on them and discussed their stories. Each room had some text to accompany it, and your imagination did the rest.

What I also found amazing was that it's almost 150 years since the Bronte's lived there and their goods were dispersed, thrown away, or lost, yet the Society has managed to collect back so many of these items, some of them very fragile, yet surviving time. Whether you know any of the Bronte books or not, I highly recommend a visit to this wonderful place.

The National Film & Television Museum at the BBC's headquarters in Bradford was not as nice an experience. It seemed to use every trick in the book a modern museum would strive for (that's after we discovered where to actually go to see the museum part of the building) - buttons to press, levers to pull, voice recordings, mannequins (save us from museum mannequins!). It was just dull. The most interesting part, for me, was the animation floor, which had actual film cels on display. The trouble is, most of these had no context, so they were just pictures in isolation. Seeing the scene pictured on a screen would have given meaning to these displays, or at least a reproduction of further cels from the same scene to give some juxtaposition. The animation floor did have some good stuff too and was interesting to look around. One section for kids left me completely baffled - mirrors, levers and lights, most of whose purpose I could not understand. In all the museum wasn't awful, it was educational, but disappointing overall, and not a patch on the Museum of the Moving Image that used to be on the South Bank, which I've visited a number of times and couldn't help but compare it with.

In the evening Ellie and I did go to the Imax cinema - with about 4 other people in the audience - and saw a very good 3D film called Aliens of the Deep, even if it was a bit too Disneyfied for my liking - but still a marvellous experience.

Actually, we did have one more museum experience which was worse than Bradford - the Jorvik Viking Centre in York. This started as an archaeological dig in the late 1970s and has become an animatronic hell. After a laughably bad 'time-ride' (compare with Disneyland's infinitely better Star Tours), you get into a pod that takes you through the ancient city of York (c. 975 AD) and then get off at the end to see a few of the finds, once you get past the bored looking actors playing 'actual vikings' (one of which will stamp a coin for you if you give him an extra 1 on top of the already over-priced ticket you've just bought). Maybe it's aimed at kids, but even as a kid I think I'd have been numbed by most of it. The best section was at the end (and it's not a big place, even including the obligatory shop) where a full skeleton was on display, pointing out the poor chap's various wounds and traumas as seen through the chips and grooves left in his bones.

I'll end with the last fabulous day - Fountain's Abbey - a beautiful place and an enormous ruin to explore. The weather helped, but again your imagination did the work, prompted by the information on a leaflet or a guided walk.

Edit: Best line from the holiday: Ellie noticing a crowd of old ladies outside the famous Betty's tea room in Harrogate - "they're swarming round it like flies!"

Fountain's Abbey, near Ripon, Yorkshire

posted 22.08.05 at 1:04 pm in Webbledegook | permalink |


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