Reviewed by Judy Cera
The Gloucester Waterways museum is situated in a beautifully refurbished old warehouse in the picturesque docks area of Gloucester. I took my two children, aged seven and eleven, on November 9th.
There is a pay and display car park right in front of the museum, as well as other car parks in the docks area. It is a short walk from the city centre, so would be easy to visit by train or bus too.
The museum takes up three floors of the building. We were advised by the friendly, welcoming staff, to start our visit on level three. This could be reached by the stairs or a lift. On this floor there was an exhibition entitled “Roses and Castles” with many examples of canal art including brightly painted jugs, decorated by the people of the canal. It was traditional for these objects to be decorated with pictures of castles and roses.
On level 2 the exhibition was entitled “Life on the Waterways” and it brought to life what it must have been like to live or work in the in barges and narrow boats on the canals of England. There were many exhibits including of boats, engines, and life-like models of people working on the boats. We could watch a video, but it was 30 minutes long which I thought was too long for the children to be just sitting watching a TV screen.
On level 1 – the ground floor – there were some hands-on exhibits in the “move it” Gallery. The best exhibit, and the one my children spent most time on, was a working model of lock gates. My children loved getting their hands wet playing with the toy boats and opening and shutting the lock gates to make the water level go up and down. There was an interesting explanation of how locks work. Other exhibits included “What shape is best for a boat?” where there were three different shaped boats and we could investigate which one moved the fastest due to its streamlined shape.
On level 1 there is also a gift shop and although disappointingly there is not a café, there is a coffee machine and some chairs and tables, and you can buy ice creams in the gift shop. There are plenty of eating places and cafes in the docks and quays area if you want to something else to eat or drink.
Part of the museum is outside on the quay side. Here there were boats that we could go on and walk around. For me the most interesting one was a steam dredger. We could climb down into the boat and see what it must have been like to work on a steam dredger. There was a 5 minute video that explained the purpose of the steam powered dredger. It was used to keep the canal and docks free from mud and silt. The mud and silt was scooped up from the bottom of the canal and tipped onto mud hoppers which took it down the canal to the Severn Estuary where it was dumped in the water.
The hands on exhibits and the quay side were the most exciting for the children. Some of the other parts were not so interesting and had a lot of written information which was too much for the children to read. It would have been good to have a member of staff on hand upstairs to explain some of the exhibits and to get the children involved. For example, on one floor there was a selection of clothes that the people on the boats would have worn. It would have been good to have someone there to encourage the children to dress up and to talk to them, rather than just having a heap of clothes. Downstairs, however, the staff were very knowledgeable and keen to engage us in conversation about what we had seen.
I would not come to Gloucester especially to visit this museum as there is not really enough to make it a full day out. However, the docks and quays area is beautiful, and it would be good to combine it with other activities in the area such as visiting the Gloucester Quays outlet centre which offers a good range of shops and restaurants as well as a brand new cinema. You could also combine it with a walk around the historic city centre. The museum is definitely worth a visit for local people who want to know more about the history of this fascinating city.
Santa Cruises from Gloucester Waterways Museum are running every weekend throughout December and three times a day during 19 – 24 December. At £9.50, including free arts & crafts activities and a museum visit, the Santa cruise is more than just a trip to see Father Christmas; it’s a whole day out!
For more information visit www.canalrivertrust.org.uk/gloucester-waterways-museum.
Gloucester Waterways Museum, Llanthony Warehouse, The Docks, Gloucester, GL1 2EH