Weird and wonderful places
The world is full of some rather bizarre, yet incredible, collections, museums and heritage attractions.
Last summer, I was fortunate enough to visit the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi, India, where, amongst other objects, I enjoyed seeing privies, chamber pots, toilet furniture, bidets and water closets in use from 1145 AD to the present day. Of course, aside from the fun factor of visiting a museum devoted to toilets, it also serves an important purpose of helping experts learn from the past to solve problems in the sanitation sector today. Elsewhere across the globe, one can visit the Currywurst Museum in Berlin, Germany and in the USA there’s the Washington Banana Museum in Auburn - or why not head to France’s capital to enjoy the Paris Sewer Museum?
Closer to home, however, there is no shortage of offbeat museums that are sure to raise a smile but offer an informative look into subjects not usually touched upon by traditional heritage attractions. Heritage Open Days provides the perfect platform to explore these.
In Birmingham, there is the fantastic Pen Room, where you can learn about the history of the city’s pen trade and explore the early history of pens from the quill up to the steel nib and fountain pen. Plus, the volunteers that run the museum offer fascinating facts to a visitor – for example, at the height of the pen trade, one museum guide told me, up to three quarters of everything written down in the world was with a Birmingham pen! What I also love about the Pen Room is that you can have a go for yourself. You can try out pens from through the ages, use Braille writing machines or even make your own pen nib with original equipment! Furthermore, for Heritage Open Days, the Pen Room will often run special events and in 2012 they invited the Birmingham Calligraphy Society to run Hands on Calligraphy Days in celebration.
More locks than you can shake a key at
Another Heritage Open Days oddity can be found on 54 New Road, Willenhall. The Locksmith’s House depicts one of many small family run lock making businesses that thrived over 100 years ago and is filled with the actual belongings and furniture of the Hodson family of lock makers, who were the last inhabitants of the property. The attraction boasts an impressive lock display gallery, which showcases some extraordinary locks from across the ages. This cultural gem is normally closed to the public and Heritage Open Days offers the perfect opportunity for you to get more acquainted with the wonderful world of locks, keys and lock-making tools.
Keep up with the time
The Coventry Watch Museum is another treasure trove that opens its doors for Heritage Open Days. Watchmaking was first recorded in Coventry in the 1680s and during the 18th century the city emerged as one of the main centres of the watchmaking industry in England. The museum, situated in historic cottages in the city centre, contains watches, tools, photographs and maps. Coventry Watch Museum also created the Watchmaking Heritage Trail, which is marked by blue plaques around the city centre and can be enjoyed all year round.
These three attractions situated in the West Midlands are just a taster of the many quirky museums in this country telling the fascinating stories of seemingly mundane objects. So, when the next Heritage Open Days weekend comes around, why not think outside the box and visit somewhere a bit more unusual that you normally would?