Working museums - six of the best

Dudley Canal boats

Museum visits are as integral a part of the summer holidays as children's TV and playschemes, but what do you do when you've visited all the usual science, natural history and art showcases? How about a trip to a working museum, where visitors are immersed in a living recreation of years gone by? We've picked six of the best from around the UK...
Beamish, Co Durham
Billing itself as "the living museum of the north", Beamish gives visitors a glimpse of life in the North East of England in the early 19th century, the early 20th century and the 1940s. The earliest time period is based around Pockerley Manor farm, showing how the agricultural revolution had affected life at the time – and also features a replica coal pit to represent the burgeoning industrial revolution. The main town area recreates local life from 1913, the year before the outbreak of the First World War – and features victorian buildings, horse-drawn carriages, vintage railway stock and a colliery village. There is also another farm on site representing northern English life in the 1940s.

Black Country Living Museum, West Midlands
The later industrial period is also recreated convincingly at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley. Covering the period from 1850 to 1950, the popular attraction covers 26 acres of former industrial land and focuses primarily on the mining and iron industries which once thrived in the region. Everyday life is also demonstrated, with a series of the most-notable buildings from the town moved to the site and re-built so that they will be preserved for future generations. As well as seeing traditional skills practised, (adult) visitors are also able to enjoy a traditional glass of ale in the museum's pub.

St Fagans National History Museum, Cardiff
This open-air museum features 50-odd historic buildings relocated across a 100-acre site – with displays of traditional crafts being held in authentic surroundings. There is a blacksmith's forge, a pottery, a weaver, miller, and clog maker on site, with the main focus being Welsh rural life from before the Industrial Revolution. And the best thing? Entry is free.

Highland Folk Museum, Cairngorms National Park
Nestled in the valley at Newtownmore, in Scotland's stunning Cairngorms, the Highland Folk Museum aims to show how locals lived from the 1700s to the 1960s. Featuring a mixture of relocated and purpose-built dwellings, the mile-long site has a six-house "settlement" of traditional thatched houses from the earliest part of that timescale – along with a working 1930s croft to display a more recent bygone way of life. Agricultural, domestic and craft artefacts are also displayed, to give a more detailed taste of how Scots used to live.

Morwellham Heritage Centre, Devon
Right at the other end of the UK, the Morwellham Heritage Centre gives visitors a living interpretation of Victorian industrial and domestic life in the region. The local economy was centred on the copper mine, which also gave rise to ore-processing and administrative facilities – and these are preserved along with workers' housing and the schoolhouse. As well as seeing life as it would have gone on more than 100 years ago, visitors also get the chance to descend into the copper mine by tram and to dress up in Victorian costume if they wish.

Dennis Severs' House, London
Possibly one for the older kids, a visit to this little London gem is an unforgettable experience. Built in 1724 and transformed by Hugenot silk weaver Severs into a jaw-dropping family home, the property has been perfectly preserved and now acts as the stage for a unique form of theatre – which is played out as guests visit in complete silence. It might spoil the effect to reveal too much, but rest assured a visit will provide a unique experience.

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