Radstock Museum is brilliant and absolutely full of real, genuine local history. The dedicated team of staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to create the exhibits as they look today, and what they have curated is very impressive. Upon entering, visitors are struck by the large atrium space of this former Market Hall, and feel immersed into times past by the life-size recreations of shops and equipment. Every aspect of Radstock life and experience has been painstakingly presented, and informative noticeboards explain both the use and history of the artefacts.
The entrance doors to the museum, adorned with a photograph of miners emerging from the shafts.
A real feather in the Museum's cap is the wealth of mining history on display. The hills surrounding Radstock are riddled with mine shafts and pit works, and coal mining was once the principal Industry and employer in the area. A lovely balance between Industrial equipment displays and personal effects has been achieved and gives visitors a genuine connection to what life would have been like for 19th and 20th Century Miners and their families.
In the main atrium of the two-floor museum is this three-tiered mine lift, which must have been a tight squeeze.
With photographs and drawings to enhance the artefacts and items on display, visitors gain genuine insight into Radstock working and social life. I heartily agreed when a fellow visitor remarked that experiencing the museum was like'Shaking hands gently with the dead'. There is none of the sterility and superficiality that can be found in many museums today. No, this is a place that feels tangibly genuine, and immersive. I spent just two hours there, but could easily have passed all day there, reading the information and personal memories of residents that are spread throughout the museum.
Some of the mining artifacts on display, including mining lamps and excavating tools.
Another brilliant aspect of the museum is its reconstruction of a coal seam, cunningly swathed in near-pitch blackness and using sounds and lighting to create the illusion of working underground. It gave me a sombre appreciation of the claustrophobic and dangerous conditions that people had to endure day after day. I felt lucky to have been born when I was, as all of my ancestors were coal miners.
A very atmospheric and interactive display, recreating the conditions within a coal seam. In near pitch blackness, it gives the visitor some of the experience of being a miner.
Although the current Cooperative shop is across the road from the museum, the early 20th Century version of the grocers shop has been built, complete with contemporary equipment and packaging. Once again, there was something deeply human and touching about this. Next along is a cross-section of a mining family's front room and kitchen, painstakingly laid out as it would have been, and full of personal effects.
Radstock as it used to be. Contemporary tins and packaging.
Until they were axed in the middle of the 20th Century, the railway was a vital part of Somerset, and the legacy of this is well represented also. From train lamps to signal box levers, there is so much of this aspect of Radstock history to see.
A wall display full of artefacts from the now inactive Radstock Railway- essential to bothe the Mining infrastructure and for passengers.
My favourite recreation is of a Blacksmith's forge, and the equipment needed to heat the forge fire. This museum encourages you to notice the craftmanship and artistry of things, and I loved looking at the various hammers, callipers and anvils, all handmade by skilled locals of yesteryear.
A riveting display, recreating a Blacksmith's forge. There is also a superb five minute documentary film depicting a smith forging iron nails.
The upper floor tells the story of some of Radstock's famous and renowned Historical figures. I had no idea, but the Grandson of Admiral Horatio Nelson was once the parish clergyman in Radstock, and his alcove contains a maritime sword and a cannonball, dating to the same time as the Battle of Trafalgar. As the image below shows, the upper floor is open and spacious, yet there is a great deal to see nonetheless.
An old 'His Majesty's Voice' gramophone, with the upper floor in the background. This shows the scale of the museum.
I concluded my visit (and began this article) in the Museum cafe, which is adjacent to the gift shop and reception. With very friendly staff to talk to and free and fast wifi, it is a very social space, with hot drinks and cake available. It was a lovely way to end my visit, sit back and relax. One of the volunteers directed me towards a leisure display as I left, and I learned all about 'Quoits'- a game in which heavy iron rings are thrown towards a spike set into a bed of clay. They were tremendously heavy, and next time I visit I hope to find out more about them.
A pair of throwing quoits, and unbelievably heavy!
Adult entry was just £6 and comes with free entry for a further 12 months when you show your signed ticket when revisiting. This is something I will certainly be doing. With a carpark adjacent to the museum ( beneath the huge winding gear of Radstock Pit outside), it is also very easy to get to, situated at the foot of the long sloping road that heads to Bath. I went alone today, but will certainly return with my son, who the volunteers told me would be well occupied with quizzes and competitions on his visit. What is this place like? In a word- Marvellous.