Montacute, Somerset: TV Radio Toy Museum

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Just down the road from Montacute House (it’s not a very big village), is the TV Radio Toy Museum (no punctuation or “and” in there according to their website, despite what the sign on the actual museum says, so you get the fun of trying to say it all in one breath).  If you’re visiting the museum and Montacute House, the sensible thing to do would be to leave your car at Montacute House, as there’s not that much parking available in the village itself.  Cheapskate that I am, I was apprehensive about paying 8 quid to visit what I imagined would not be a very large museum, but the pictures of terrible looking mannequins and dioramas on their website were enough to lure me in (since I am the same person who paid 8 euro to see the spectacularly awful Museo delle Cere in Rome.  What can I say, I have a weakness for shitty waxworks!).

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Though I was correct in assuming that the museum was not large, it was packed absolutely full to the gills with crap.  Unlike the Bakelite Museum, there were plenty of captions as well (almost too many, when it came to the items I didn’t care about; i.e. most of them).  It is billed as the TV Radio Toy Museum, but I’d say 90% of the stuff there was TV related, as the toys were all promotional items relating to TV shows, which was OK by me, since I’m not really familiar with old radio shows anyway.  Unfortunately, although there was a good mix of British and American TV programmes represented (though obviously more British ones), the vast majority of them were Westerns or cop shows, which are also genres I care very little about.

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But then again, I somehow suspect I’m not their target audience; though they bill themselves as “a wonderful experience for all the family,” judging from the Trip Advisor reviews, it’s apparent that the museum is primarily used as an outing for middle aged people and their elderly parents, so the older people can have the “fun” of reminiscing (which seems a bit patronising, but whatever).  I wouldn’t say I did much reminiscing (because it wasn’t aimed at people in my age range) but I did have fun admiring the pictures (and mannequin) of a young Roger Moore.

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And tickling a scary monkey head under the chin, of course, although he never laughed or talked or whatever it was he was meant to do (which I was admittedly relieved about, since he freaked me out).  Now, I’m not sure how busy it ever gets in the museum, but you’d definitely want to aim for a slow day, because it is narrow in there.  Awkwardly narrow, to the point where you have to smoosh yourself against the exhibits if someone wants to pass you, or else everyone has to shuffle single file behind the slowest people in the museum, which is what happened near the end of the museum with the Whovians (more on them in a minute).

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If I had to guess, I’d say one of the main draws in the museum is the Horror/Sci-Fi section in the back, which is remarkable mainly for the sheer crappiness of the dummies.  Just look at that Spock, Data, and Picard up there!  I’d be hard-pressed to say which one looks the worst, though I’m leaning towards Spock.  They weren’t the only comically distorted television characters, as we stepped into the TARDIS to find…

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The whole range of Doctor mannequins, which were every bit as awful as the Star Trek ones.  We also came across some real live people dressed as four of the Doctors.  Initially, I assumed they worked there, and thought it was kind of a nice, albeit odd touch.  Soon however, reality set in, and it dawned on me that they didn’t work there at all; they were just nerds!  I mean, not knocking anyone’s lifestyle choices; if you’re brave enough to walk around in public like that then more power to you, but they were a bit much, especially as I was forced to trail slowly behind them and listen to their detailed discussions of every Doctor Who object in the museum (and one of them did not put much effort into his costume.  I think he was meant to be Christopher Eccleston, but you couldn’t really tell; it was a poor showing compared to the other three).  I only mention this so you’re aware that it appears to be some kind of pilgrimage site for people of a certain nerdly persuasion.

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I wasn’t big on the fact that aside from the mannequins and toys, most of the museum was made up of comic books.  I suppose a wall of comic book covers is a bold graphic statement, but it doesn’t really do much for me.  I mean, you quickly scan it, and move on.  It’s not very interesting or informative, is all.

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I guess I was slightly more impressed with the actual Crystal Maze jumpsuit (it’s not something I grew up watching, just something I’ve caught in reruns in recent years on Challenge (though as game shows go, I much prefer Dale’s Supermarket Sweep, and classic Stars in Their Eyes…that Harry Hill reboot is beyond awful)), and jeez, how about all those weather-themed board games?  I love board games, but even I have my limits, and I think The Met Office Weather Game might be one of them (admittedly, my boyfriend was intrigued enough to try to track it down).  He also couldn’t believe that they had a referee figurine from that Gladiators show, because apparently no one in their right mind would want an action figure of a referee (the only action figures I had were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ones, so I don’t have a strong opinion on this either way).

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Suffice it to say that I wasn’t overly impressed with the TV Radio Toy Museum, though this is in large part because I am not British, a baby boomer, or the right type of nerd.  I tend to nerd out more on history, and books, and cool museums (obviously); not so much TV, and my favourite show (Seinfeld) wasn’t even represented, nor were The Golden Girls or Frasier (I love Frasier but I hate Cheers.  Weird?), and the early years of The Simpsons and I Love Lucy were only given a passing mention.  Even the British programmes I like, such as Peep Show and Father Ted (and Keeping Up Appearances, thanks to my grandma) were too relatively recent to feature here.  The museum has a tearoom attached, and a shop selling all manner of vintage toys and games, but I felt I’d spent enough money at the place (too much, really, it shouldn’t have been more than about 3 quid), so I gave those a miss.  The mannequins were great (in the sense of being hilarious), but the rest of it could do with more organisation and a larger display space, and would benefit from incorporating more actual memorabilia, rather than just comic books and promotional materials.  2.5/5.




Montacute, Somerset: Montacute House

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Another stately home, and more Damian Lewis connections.  Same old, same old, in other words.  (I’m not even THAT into Damian Lewis.  I mean, sure I like the guy (and he’s foxy in glasses) but not as much as the frequency with which I post about him would have you believe.)  Montacute House, in Somerset, is another one of the many places where Wolf Hall was filmed, even though the house was built well after Henry’s reign.  (But you can probably see why they used it; it’s magnificent looking.)

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And yes, it’s another National Trust property, but for once that was a good thing, since it meant it was open on Easter.  As we’re not religious, and there’s only so much time you can spend eating chocolate (and that’s coming from someone with an extreme sweet tooth, I think it’s because I gobble all the chocolate down in seconds, so although I can consume a vast quantity, it doesn’t take me long!), my boyfriend and I needed something to fill our time on Easter Sunday, so this fit the bill nicely.  We got there pretty soon after the grounds opened, and found out the house wasn’t due to open for another hour, so we spent more time wandering around the gardens than we normally would have.  (Admission is £11.20 sans Gift Aid for non-members, or more realistically (because I know I usually get guilted into these things), £12.40 with it.)

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At least all the daffodils and tulips were in bloom.  I’m not a huge flower person, in that I don’t know much about all the different types (and I certainly wouldn’t ever dare try to grow any), but I can appreciate a nice garden (as long as I don’t have to spend too long looking at it), and I’m especially partial to those daffodils with the yellow centres that kind of look like eggs.

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However, I’m much more the type to explore secret passageways and outbuildings, so I spent most of my time wandering into mysterious hedge tunnels, peering down the hole in the ice house (which was full of empty Tango bottles, like every other ice house.  Who are all these litterbug Tango drinkers?  I don’t think I’ve ever even had the stuff), and venturing into pavilions that stank of rotting flesh.  Upon discovering an animal skull that still had maggots crawling on it on one of the window ledges, I realised why they smelled so bad (honestly, I think they were probably just old and a bit mouldy, as the skull was picked pretty clean – I’m using artistic licence here).

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The house finally opened, so we ran inside before it got filled up with children on the Easter Egg Hunt.  I feel like at this point I should just have a National Trust disclaimer or something I can direct people to, but I’ll say it again anyway: like the vast majority of National Trust properties, Montacute House did not have a great deal of information inside about the past owners.  As usual, the little fact sheets that were available were mainly concerned with the furnishings.  And it was pretty clear from the start that Montacute was a very art-focused property, portraiture in particular.

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Well, portraiture, and that fabulous bas-relief on the right (I have no idea if bas-relief is the accurate term, as I’m not good with art, but I just spent ten minutes trying to find out what that thing is called, and bas-relief is the closest I can find.  If anyone knows what the correct term is, please let me know!) depicting a woman hitting her drunken husband with a shoe, and the husband subsequently taken off to be publicly shamed for being drunk whilst watching a baby.

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In addition to Wolf Hall being filmed on the grounds, there’s also been some productions filmed inside the house; the room pictured on the left was still in disarray after being used for some unspecified BBC production, and they filmed that terrible Johnny Depp film The Libertine using that bed on the right (not knocking the Earl of Rochester, his poetry is lewdly amazing, but that film really did not do him justice).  And I swear one of the volunteers mentioned something Jane Austeny being filmed there as well.  A range of historical eras are represented through the furnishings of the rooms, so I guess it all works.

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The top floor was the glorious Great Hall (apparently the longest surviving one in England, as in, literally the longest in terms of length, not that it’s the oldest surviving one), and it was devoted entirely to a joint National Portrait Gallery/Montacute House exhibition depicting famous figures from the time the house was built, so lots of Tudors and Stuarts.  This exhibit did have extensive signage by each painting, and larger fact sheets about the fashions of the time (the kind of thing you’d expect from the National Portrait Gallery), so that was a nice change from the rest of the house.

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I did notice that there were little scavenger hunt sheets located in each room, where you were meant to find various animals hidden in the furniture or paintings; since I got cheated out of the Easter Egg Hunt by virtue of being old, I freely indulged in trying to find all the animals, though it was harder than expected.

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Outside the house, there was a tearoom with the usual National Trust offerings (sadly no special chocolate cornflake nests or anything for Easter, so I just had a boring old shortbread) and of course a shop, but that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.  Montacute House is undeniably handsome, and the gardens were quite nice as well, but save for the National Portrait Gallery space, and that thing that is probably a bas-relief, it was all just a little dull really (after seeing Longleat just a couple days before, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of whimsy at Montacute). Maybe I’ve just been to too many stately homes in the past few months but I’m kind of over them.  Still, it’s probably quite nice if you’re not as house-weary as me.  3/5.

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Williton, Somerset: The Bakelite Museum

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This is one of those cases where I took one for the team, so to speak.  Do I care about Bakelite enough to spend £5 visiting a Bakelite Museum?  No, absolutely not, but it seemed like an unusual museum you guys would enjoy hearing about (though I could well be wrong about that).  If I wasn’t particularly excited about Bakelite in the first place, I was even less excited when we pulled into a parking lot full of abandoned-looking vehicles (I think they’re actually part of museum-guy’s collection), one with a poor dog left inside of it (at least the windows were open), and awkwardly milled around the front of what looked like someone’s house, waiting for a sign of life. After not too long, an elaborately mustachioed man emerged and collected our money.  He informed us there was a power outage, so we’d have to look around the museum in the dark (to be fair, he told us about the power outage before he took our money, but you’d think he could have reduced the price a little bit since it was difficult to see anything).

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Things didn’t improve when my allergies started flaring up immediately after setting foot in the place. It was a health hazard on so many levels – I suspect that would have been the case even if the lights had been on.  Everything (as far as I could see) was coated in a thick layer of dust and cobwebs, and the creaky wooden floors felt like they might collapse under me, especially on the top level of what used to be a watermill; plus stumbling over rusty farm equipment in a blackened room was probably a recipe for tetanus (I’m very glad I’m up to date on all my vaccinations).  I say all this not because I’m particularly concerned about health and safety (on the contrary, I rather enjoy jumbled-up, rickety old places), more because there was absolutely no degree of upkeep evident in the museum, so I’m not exactly sure what our admission fee was paying for, besides possibly so the owner could pay rent and expand his collection (by contrast, the Museum of Everyday Life and the Bread and Puppet Theatre Museum in Vermont are two of my favourite places, and they also have an air of benign neglect – the difference is that they are free to visit, and have cool stuff inside them).

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So I’m sure you all know that Bakelite is an early plastic that they used to make into pretty much anything in the early-to-mid 20th century, so there was a varied array of crap on show, but sad to say, crap is what most of it was.  More than anything else, it was reminiscent of my grandpa’s basement, barn and garage.  My grandpa was a bit of a pack rat (I wouldn’t say hoarder, because he was capable of throwing some things out, and his living space was kept clear and tidy (though much of that may have been my grandma’s influence)), and in over half a century of living in the same home, he’d acquired quite an impressive collection of junk (though surprisingly well-organised junk, he was a great one for neatly labelling boxes), so I used to love wandering through his basement as a kid, as it was kind of a treasure trove of vintage toys, both leftover from my mother and aunts, and acquired from garage sales for my and my brother’s enjoyment.  After seeing the Bakelite Museum, I’m thinking we shouldn’t have cleaned out his house after he died, but left everything as it was, and charged people to look around like moustache man is doing.

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Some of it was vaguely sorted by type, and I suppose there is some satisfaction to be had in looking at a wide range of similar items arranged by colour, but I would have been a lot more satisfied if someone had taken a dust rag to the place at some point in the last decade.

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The first two floors were given over to Bakelite, but the top floor was meant to be some sort of Rural Life Museum, and contained the aforementioned collection of mouldering farm implements, including what I like to refer to as the “wall of animal mutilation devices,” with various castrating and branding appliances.  I suppose I was lucky that I could see any of it at all, because even with all the doors and windows open, most of the light didn’t penetrate the interior, so I was reliant on the small flashlight I keep in my purse for emergencies, to prevent me from tripping over something and killing myself.  Because of the flash on the camera, it may appear lighter in some of the pictures than it actually was.

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The only area I really liked in the museum was the last room (before exiting down a rickety staircase), which featured delightfully morbid articles like a Bakelite coffin, and some Edwardian mourning jewellery; as far as the rest of it was concerned, labelling was sparse at best (and nearly impossible to read anyway, between the hand-lettering and of course, the lack of artificial lighting), and I really didn’t need to pay to see a bunch of vintage radios or telephones shoved in a corner.  There’s apparently some sort of cafe, but we were the only people there, besides some friends of the owner who appeared near the end of our visit, so I would have felt really weird sitting there (I had to use the bathroom, which was located behind the guy’s house, and walking down a long dank alley by myself past more rusting machinery freaked me out enough).

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While in theory, this should have been exactly the sort of place I like – quirky, independently run, unusual subject matter – in practice, it fell totally flat for me.  I know the power outage was outside their control, but the owner should have at least offered a discount or a flashlight that was more powerful than the little one I just happened to have on me, as it was nearly impossible to even make out half of the collection (I’m assuming he was the owner because there was a large portrait of him hanging inside the museum, which I only noticed later when looking through the photographs, as it was too dark to see it at the time).  Even if the lights had been on, I still would have thought the place was kind of a rip-off, considering not much of an attempt had been made to curate anything.  My expectations were not high going into the museum, but it failed to meet even that low bar.  1.5/5.

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Nether Stowey, Somerset: Coleridge Cottage

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Alright, yes, it is ANOTHER National Trust property, and it won’t be the last one this year by a long shot, but I am trying to space them out as promised.  Besides, it’s Samuel Taylor Coleridge we’re talking about here.  I named my now deceased Madagascar Dragon Tree after him (one of the “easiest indoor plants to grow and maintain” my ass), and I would have gone to see his house even if it wasn’t covered by my National Trust membership, so I think I deserve a break on this one.  There’s actually a whole “Coleridge Way” walk that runs through the Quantocks, but that seemed overly ambitious considering the changeable state of the weather and my lack of hiking attire.  Coleridge Cottage is located in the amusingly named village (one of many in Somerset; I’m partial to Goathurst and Queen Camel myself) of Nether Stowey (naturally, there is also an Over Stowey, which is actually south of Nether Stowey, so not quite sure how it’s “Over”), and admission is £5.60 sans Gift Aid (which I admit is a bit steep for how long it takes to see the property).  The house is not particularly large; it initially only consisted of four rooms, and has since had a kitchen and a couple other rooms added on for use as museum space, but is still rather small.

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Although Coleridge and his family only lived in the cottage for a three year period (it was rented out to him by his friend, Thomas Poole), it was one of the most productive periods of his working life, so his most famous poems, including “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Kubla Khan,” and “The Nightingale” were written here.  I am not, generally speaking, a big poetry person, but I first read Coleridge back in high school, and I’ve always liked him (I think the whole opium thing made me think he was cool when I was a teenager), so I was interested to learn how some of his poems evolved (other than in a drug-induced haze, of course).  Helpfully, those stories were provided within the house (and the garden); for example, “This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison” was written after his wife accidentally spilled scalding milk on his leg, and he was forced to stay home and sit under a lime tree whilst his wife went for a walk with the Wordsworths and Charles Lamb (personally, I’d take sitting under a lime tree and reading over going on a walk any day, assuming there weren’t too many bugs about.  I’d even whip up a key lime pie for my guests to enjoy upon their return, but I guess that wasn’t a thing in Coleridge’s day).

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Because of the bonus museum rooms, Coleridge Cottage actually had quite a bit more information than the average National Trust property (I overheard one of the volunteers saying that they’re officially National Trust, but they’re left alone for the most part, which could well be why it was more homely and charming than a lot of National Trust stuff).  I learned a lot about Coleridge’s childhood, including that Coleridge once threatened his brother with a knife in a fight over a cheese toastie, ran outside and hid all night in the cold, and was consequently ill with a fever for weeks.  Now, I’m not generally a violent person, but I am VERY possessive of my food, so if anything was going to drive me to violence, it probably would be someone stealing a delicious grilled cheese (or other tasty food) from me (made with a nice mature cheddar though, not that awful American “cheese” gloop; since Coleridge’s incident took place in Devon, not far from Somerset, cheddar seems a likely choice for him too).  I also learned that Coleridge enlisted in the army under a fake name – Silas Tomkyn Comberbache (that surname sounds a lot like that of a certain British actor when you say it out loud), but Coleridge couldn’t hack it and begged his brothers to get him out; they managed to have him declared insane and discharged.

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Since the house was infested with mice (since we were just talking about cheese…) whilst Coleridge lived there, there was also a special mouse trail throughout the house, with adorable little stuffed mice hidden in each room along with facts about Coleridge’s battle with them (they annoyed the piss out of him, basically, but he felt bad about laying traps.  As someone who lived in a house with a bad mouse infestation, but still left out cake for the mouse in my room (who I named Sammy, another accidental Coleridge connection) because I liked him, even though his rustling around at night was super irritating; again, I can relate).  In addition, there was a station upstairs where you could practice writing with a quill pen and ink (total failure, as always), and a nice cushy reading room stocked with plenty of books.

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The cafe was located outside, and was oddly confined by a fenced enclosure thingy, so we had to go through various little doors to see the well and garden, with all the people in the cafe staring at us as we walked back and forth, but the garden was unexpectedly quite large and pleasant.  There were benches scattered throughout with little speakers attached to tell you more about Coleridge’s poems, and some cute fake ducks and pigs made from metal.  We also found a random shed that was apparently used for games and demonstrations, which had a big trunk full of old-timey toys (ball in a cup, anyone?).

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Although it was not an outwardly impressive property, I still left feeling reasonably impressed with Coleridge Cottage, having learned a fair bit about Coleridge’s personal life (particularly his troubled relationship with his wife), and having enjoyed the various diversions around the house.  If you’re fond of Coleridge, I do think this is well worth the stop, even if, like me, you’re not keen on walking the “Coleridge Way.” 3.5/5. I should mention (since I have a photo of Yankee Jack all ready to go) that there are more Coleridge themed attractions in the vicinity that don’t involve much walking.  Most notably, in the seaside town of Watchet, there is a statue of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, and a couple small museums that mention Coleridge.  However, the statue I’m pictured with here is actually one that shares the promenade with the Ancient Mariner – Yankee Jack. He was not American, but ran the blockades during the American Civil War, thus acquiring his nickname.  I have to say that his statue was more appealing to me than the emaciated old mariner, but either way, Watchet is a good place for statues, despite its small size and extremely mucky harbour, so it may be worth a gander as well on a Coleridgey day out.

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Street, Somerset: The Shoe Museum

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Much like editing this post (seriously, I am just not feeling it today.  This has taken me the best part of the afternoon to proofread, and I dozed off at one point and suddenly woke up with drool all down my face), our second day in the West Country didn’t get off to the best start either, as we made the mistake of trying to go to Glastonbury (the town, not the festival, since I know damn well festivals are not my scene).  Multiple people, including the proprietress of our B&B, had told me about the “special atmosphere” there; being the skeptic that I am, I predicted that meant there would be a lot of shops selling crystals.  I wasn’t wrong.  Still, we wanted to at least hike up to Glastonbury Tor, but couldn’t find parking anywhere within a few miles of the hill (it was a Bank Holiday weekend after all, and there were a bunch of special events on at Glastonbury Abbey) and didn’t fancy hiking all that way back, but the glimpse of the town I got whilst we were circling around trying to park somewhere was enough for me.  Far too many hippies wearing silly clothing, the pervading stench of incense, and yes, the extremely high quota of crystal and astrology shops meant the place was not for me (for real, how do those shops stay in business?  I could see maybe one or two of them staying afloat, but not twenty!).  However, I perked up considerably when we gave up and headed onward to the nearby village of Street. Not that the village itself was anything so much to look at, having been turned mainly into an outlet mall, but I was excited for the Shoe Museum!

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Street is where Clarks Shoes got their start, and where the headquarters are still based (that’s why Glastonbury Tor is part of their logo), so it’s only natural that a Shoe Museum grew out of this (I feel weird not putting an apostrophe in “Clarks,” but there isn’t one in their official trademarked name, so I guess they don’t want one in there).  Be forewarned that a few things may stand in the way of seeing this museum, though.  Firstly, they are normally only open Monday-Friday, though obviously with an odd Saturday thrown in here and there (as we visited on a Saturday), so it may be best to check their website before attempting a visit.  You also have to park at and then brave the outlet mall, and try to resist its alleged low prices (ok, I did cave in and buy a much-needed new pair of sneakers, because a tenner for Vans is not a bad price, but the Cadbury’s “outlet” was selling Creme Eggs for twice as much as they cost at any supermarket, so I fail to see how those were bargain prices).  The next challenge was finding the place, which is theory should have been easy as it is right on the high street, but in practice we were thrown by one of those brown “places of interest” signs directing us up another street entirely (I feel like every time I type street, it is on the verge of being a pun, since the village is called Street); we eventually had to go in the library and ask directions, where they looked at us as though we were a bit dim.  However, having gotten through those hurdles, we finally found the Shoe Museum, with its delightfully free admission, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was much larger than I had been led to believe.

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I have never bought a pair of Clarks in my life, as they tend to be on the pricy side and I think are maybe a case of comfort over style, but I needed have feared not, as the main gallery of the museum is devoted to non-Clarks brand shoes from a number of historical eras (as they were mostly made by random cobblers, I’d say most of them aren’t a brand-name at all!).  And, best of all, the shoes were accompanied by a number of “Shoe-perstitions,” including tales of local ghosts that incorporated shoes somewhere in the legend (I am aware that I just pooh-poohed the supposed “mystical” nature of Glastonbury a few paragraphs up but I like hearing about folklore and hauntings, even if I don’t believe in them.  Call me a hypocrite if you like, but to me, there is a big difference between a free museum sharing a few entertaining ghost stories with its visitors, and a shopkeeper exploiting the gullible for financial gain.  Plus I like puns).  These included the story of some shoes that couldn’t be removed from a house without misfortune befalling the owners, and some superstitions I’d never heard of; for example, apparently it is (was?) a custom in England to put a penny in your shoe on your wedding day, in addition to the whole old/new/borrowed/blue thing.

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And there were some fabulous shoes here, something for every taste really (even some men’s shoes and boots, though these were by far in the minority).  I’ve always been partial to a two-tone shoe, so I loved all the oxfords and those gorgeous high laced boots, even if most of them looked way too narrow to even attempt cramming my toes into (I have narrow heels, but kind of wide toes (am I over-sharing here?) so it’s really hard for me to find shoes that fit properly. Which is why my feet are usually a hideous blistery mess).

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I’m not much of a heel girl, since I like being able to walk without falling over, but those were certainly very well-represented here too, along with a variety of more comfy-looking slippers.  They even had a slipper belonging to a Pope (I think it was one of the Leos, it’s shown below)!

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Off of the main gallery, there was a small annex that led to a re-creation of the original Clarks Office (spacious, yet cozy.  Much better than those dreadful open plan offices they expect people to work in today (says the introvert who couldn’t hack it in one, even as a volunteer)), and on the other end was the Clarks gallery, beginning with a brief history of the business (I say brief, but it was definitely written in the verbose style of all the best old-school museums) and a workbench belonging to one of their original craftsmen.

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After looking at Clarks shoes through the ages, I was surprised to see that Clarks weren’t always as, erm, ugly as they are today.  It seems the change happened gradually, and had a lot to do with mechanisation and trying to keep costs down and the like.

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There was a further small gallery downstairs (near the entrance) that told about Clarks during the World Wars, as the traditionally Quaker owners tried to reconcile their pacifist beliefs with capitalism and the very real need for shoes for the Allied soldiers (spoiler, some of the Clark family went to prison as conscientious objectors, and others tried to support the war effort in non-combative ways, like employing Belgian war refugees and making boots for the troops (as a side note to an aside, I’ve been learning a bit about the Belgian war refugee community in Wimbledon in the course of my research for a WWI project I volunteer with, and it is fascinating stuff)). They also had one of those old shoe measuring machines that you’re meant to stick your whole foot in, though it was behind a rope and not for use (I never experienced them as a child, as they’d moved onto those slidey metal things by then, but they have a working one in the Clarks shop in the outlet mall; shame the queue was too long for me to try it out).

Clarks Shoe Museum, Street   Clarks Shoe Factory

Say what you will about their shoes (I certainly have) and the fact that they are no longer made in England, but the Clarks Shoe Museum, is, unlike their footwear, still a very homespun affair, and a charming example of an extremely specialised local museum.  I really liked the homeliness of the museum, and was certainly impressed by the huge and unexpected variety of shoes on display; it was nice seeing something this old-fashioned in the middle of the otherwise crass outlet-shopping commercialism that has overtaken the village.  It certainly set the tone for a much-improved rest of the day (for the most part, as you’ll see in an upcoming post) after the New-Age nightmare that is Glastonbury.  3.5/5.