Ah, Liverpool. Home of The Beatles and technically, the Titanic (though she launched from Southampton, Liverpool was registered as her home port). As the city was only one stop of many on this road trip, my time there was limited, so this will only be a partial review of these museums, since I didn’t have a chance to explore them as thoroughly as I normally would. I go to a lot of maritime themed museums, so I probably would have felt safe skipping the Merseyside Maritime Museum, had it not been home to the Border and Customs Museum, which resides in a corner of the Merseyside Museum’s basement.
I think I was expecting something slightly more awesome, based on the description in the outdated, but still quite useful Weird Europe guidebook, like maybe all the really unusual things that have been confiscated by customs over the years – there was some of that, but not to the extent I was hoping. I don’t know, I mean, it was perfectly fine, just not quite what I anticipated, which is probably my own fault. It did kind of feel like a “what not to do” guide for potential smugglers, with a few games to see how well you could identify suspicious behaviour. However, aside from a case of exotic (dead) animals that had been smuggled in, and a prosthetic leg that had been used to hide drugs, most of the prohibited items on display were mundane things like counterfeit bags and shoes.
Fortunately, not all was lost, as the other side of the basement contained an exhibit on the immigrant experience, complete with a re-creation of steerage class on a ship, which possibly had authentic smells, it was hard to tell. Even if it didn’t, odours were available in the customs bit, where you could even smell “faeces” (of course I did, why wouldn’t you?), but when I turned the knob, a puff of some kind of faeces dust went up my nose, so use with care! All this was just in the basement- the museum had three more floors to explore, but the fact that it was so huge meant that I didn’t have time to give the rest of the museum my full attention.
I did walk through the International Slave Museum on the third floor, which looked very interesting, and included an example of a slave’s hut. Even though I’m not really all about the Titanic (my friend and I went to the cinema when the film came out for the sole purpose of making fun of it, and as an excuse to eat ourselves stupid on candy and popcorn of course), I checked out the exhibit on it because, like the Thackray Museum, they had character cards to choose from, so you could see if you would have survived the sinking (I chose wisely), and I love that kind of crap. I was also quite interested in “Hello Sailor,” an exhibit about homosexuality at sea, as cruise ships often served as a safe haven for gay men back in the middle part of the 20th century. It included a guide to “Polari,” a special language invented by gay sailors both as a way to identify each other and prevent others from understanding their conversations.
There were many other galleries that looked fascinating, including ones on the Lusitania, sailing during wartime, and even a special trail you could follow that would take you to all the objects pertaining to the American Civil War, that I would love to go back and check out someday (Liverpool had close ties to the South due to all the American cotton coming through its ports for British mills, as anyone who’s read Gone with the Wind knows, so I bet there was some cool stuff in their collections), but I also wanted to see a bit of the Museum of Liverpool, so I headed over there instead.
The museums are just across the river from each other; the Museum of Liverpool in some fancy modern glass construction, with an awful lot of steps winding round the interior. The museum focuses on the non-maritime side of life, primarily the former and present inhabitants of the city, which means of course, The Beatles. I like The Beatles just fine, but I wouldn’t say I’m suffering from any kind of “Beatlemania,” so I was content just to look at what they had in the museum rather than go on one of the full-fledged Beatle tours or something. We were nonetheless enticed by the Beatle Experience, which takes place on the top floor every half an hour or so, but rather than being some kind of mini-concert involving impersonators or even holograms (that would have been cool) as I was expecting, it was just some informational video projected onto the walls of a round room. It wasn’t really worth waiting for, but it does give you a chance to check out the stage where John and Paul met, which is kept inside the room.
They had more Beatles memorabilia outside, like a set of their suits, and a quilt that John and Yoko slept under when they were doing their protest for peace and stayed in bed for a hella long time, but if you really want to get a proper Beatles experience, I think you’d be better off on one of the aforementioned tours of Liverpool. Most of the rest of that gallery was devoted to other stars of Liverpool – a few actors, and quite a few sports stars.
The other half of the top floor was about Liverpool life, and my favourite things were a large model of the Liverpool Anglican cathedral, which is apparently super huge in real life, a small replica of a working class Victorian street (which had a stuffed cat, and an outhouse that made farting noises when you touched the door and told you to go away, loved it!), and a little quiz about the Scouse accent, which I found hilarious and informative. The floor below this appeared to be a timeline of the city, with an old train you could climb into and stuff, but I gave it the most cursory of glances in our (unsuccessful) attempt to get back to the mega-expensive carpark before we got charged for another hour.
Bottom floor was a crazy mix of objects from Liverpool’s history, as well as a section on immigration that also appeared to have neat stuff in it. I feel bad that I didn’t get to really appreciate everything, but both the museums were massive and free, and I’d love to go back and investigate them more thoroughly in future, in addition to checking out some of Liverpool’s many other museums. 4/5 for both.