Hidden from the spring sunshine by trees, the Milton Keynes Museum’s entrance is the front door of a farmyard house. To a first time visitor, it’s not that clear how big the site is until you step inside.
Parlour rooms littered with paintings and drawings of the 17th century farm lead to a period style school classroom, complete with slate to write on and worn wooden desks. Following on, there is a warm farmhouse kitchen, complete with real fireplace, before visitors end up in an indoor High Street.
Shops have been painstakingly recreated, from groceries to medicines, there are objects as small as matchboxes to 6-foot high signs advertising products. There’s even a makeshift cinema and a Post Office (all created by the museum’s dedicated team of volunteers).
All without stepping foot outside, there’s a large barn dedicated to the area’s farming history, which leads onto the newest exhibition and activity gallery about human communication, Connected Earth. Elsewhere there is a transport gallery that features the world’s largest working phone and an enormous tram.
Needless to say, Milton Keynes Museum is bursting at the seams with activities for families, all relating to the history of the area. And following decades of hard work, it has been awarded a vital boost in funding from the Arts Council England. If they win the second stage, the council will give them a total of £7.2 million to renovate the site.
Formed in 1973, the museum was a result of local people who wanted to collect items from farms and factories that were being closed down to build the new town. Volunteers bought the Stacey Hill Farm estate in Wolverton, with the long-term aim of building a museum.
Today’s museum director, Bill Griffiths, says: “Milton Keynes had everything, but it didn’t have a museum. There was space here for expansion and changes, and people wanted to preserve their heritage.
“They had parents and grandparents who had lived in the area before the city was built. It’s part of their history and culture.”
After a fire in 1996 destroyed a lot of the grade II listed barn and cowshed, the past 15 years has focused on rebuilding the museum. Today, schools from the Milton Keynes area regularly visit the site, which saw nearly 30,000 visitors this year.
Bill adds: “The museum itself tells the story of the area’s heritage from the Victorians up until the start of the city. We all relate to the Victorian period because a lot of it is mechanical, we can see how it works, and we have a lot about farming too, although that can be more difficult to explain.”
This year, it announced plans for further expansion, funded by Milton Keynes Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council. They include two major galleries being added, with special exhibits featuring some of the town’s biggest success stories, including Red Bull Racing and The Open University. Due for completion in spring 2018, it would also focus on the area’s early history dating back to the Bronze Age.
“I think Milton Keynes is a fantastic city. It has so much green space and wildlife too,” explains Bill.
And residents’ stories will play an important part in the transformation.
“There are many stories that have their roots here and my view is that museums should reflect the people who visit them.
“We want people to contact us with stories. Most of the time they won’t have that opportunity. It’s difficult to get to people and hear everyone’s story, if we don’t know we can’t do anything about it.”
Bill adds: “We are here to interest those who are just finding out about the world. If we are boring we won’t encourage that.”
For more information on Milton Keynes Museum and the expansion go to miltonkeynesmuseum.org.uk.
Milton Keynes Museum is putting on its annual Easter egg hunt this half term, with youngsters invited to hunt for treasure and unlock the way to chocolate prizes. Everyone wins something in the traditional game, and opening hours will have been extended ready for the summer. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am until 4.30pm, until October. Normal admission prices apply for the Easter hunt, which lasts from Friday until Monday (April 3rd-6th).
Win a family ticket to Milton Keynes Museum
Fancy paying the site a visit? We’ve teamed up with the museum to give away a family ticket (two adults and up to four children) to visit for a day. All you have to do is answer this simple question:
All you have to do is send your answer, name, address and daytime contact number to firstname.lastname@example.org or MK Museum Competition, Phonebox Magazine, Unit 2 Stanley Court, Olney, Bucks, MK46 5NH. The closing date is April 22nd.