UK Social History Museums

View UK Social History Museums at Mashed Museum.

The Best Museums of Social History in the UK

There are plenty of museums up and down the UK that specialise in showing us how we lived in bygone days. It's interesting to see how our ancestors survived from day to day plus how improvements in living standards over the years changed our lives forever. Here we take a look at some of the best Social History Museums in the UK, where they are located plus what they have to offer.

Beamish Beamish

Beamish is an open air museum located in County Durham in the North East of England that charts the history of ordinary folk who lived in the area in the 1820's, 1900's and 1940's. It's a fantastic day out for all the family that is both educational but really great fun with many school trips visiting the museum every day. There is so much to see and do at Beamish including houses and shops all furnished as they would have been in a bygone era. All the staff dress in period costume making for an authentic experience, while even some visitors like to dress up too so fully immersing  into the atmosphere of the museum.

What Can We See at the Museum?

Beamish isn't a classical museum in the way that artefacts are displayed in glass cabinets. Beamish is a fully working interactive place where visitors really can experience what it was like to live in the North East of England long ago. Staff here know their stuff too so any questions visitors have can be answered by them no problem.

Beamish is divided into sections that include

  • The Colliery
  • Pit Village
  • Pockerley Wagon way
  • Pockerley Old Hall
  • The Town
  • The Railway Station
  • 1940's Farm

The town is representative of a pre First World War town and has a Co-op Store, a Row of Terraced Homes, a Dentist, a Solicitors, a Bakery, a Pub, a Sweet Shop, a Stables and much much more! It really does feel like you are stepping back in time, while looking around the town alone will take visitors a good two or three hours!

We especially liked the Colliery as it showed us what life was like for miners in the early years of the 1900's. As you can probably imagine conditions were grim and visitors will see just how bad they were when they go down the mine shaft to take a look. Visitors can see the cages that miners used to travel up and down to the coal surface. It's really fascinating!

The Hall is also interesting as visitors can see how the miners or tenant farmers lived, while the servant's quarters certainly display how different it was for the lower orders back then. Visitors can either walk around the site or catch one of the vintage trams and buses that run there. It is an amazing experience, especially for those who dress up when visiting the museum as once you get on a tram you really feel the part, its great fun! Beamish has so much to see and do that visitors need to make an early start so as to find the time to experience everything that is offered here.

Location and Opening Hours

November 2014 through to the end of March 2015 Beamish opens Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. The museum closes during these months on Mondays and Fridays. Accurate opening hours can be found at the website as things may change from time to time.

Mid-Week Discounts are available except for during half term week in February, while entry prices range from £5.25 to £9.25 depending on your status. The museum is just twelve miles from Durham and eight miles from Newcastle. The museum is also accessible by bus, train and car with a large car park that is free of charge available for drivers. Further information regarding bookings and facilities can be found at the website.

  • Beamish Open Air Museum
  • Beamish
  • Stanley
  • County Durham
  • DH9 0RG
  • Tele 0191 370 4000

York Castle Museum York Castle Museum

We have visited York Castle Museum many times over the years and enjoyed the experience every time we have visited. The museum is constantly changing with upgrades and new exhibitions being installed from time to time therefore whether you have been to the museum before or not revisiting it is a great day out. The museum covers social history regarding 18th Century Prisons, the Victorians right through to the 1960's and more. There is plenty to see and do for adults and children alike and all under cover too!

What Can We See at the Museum?

The York Castle Museum stands where York Castle once stood and is housed inside an old women's prison and a former debtor's prison that were located next door to one another. Whenever we visit the museum our first port of call is to see the fascinating Victorian Street that is an accurate replica of how a street would have looked back in those days.

The street has a range of shops and interiors displaying how a Victorian kitchen would have looked or a schoolroom. There is a police cell and at the far end of the cobbled street stands an amazing full sized Hansom cab complete with magnificent horse. The shops are all based on shops that would have been doing business at the time and include

  • Music Shop
  • Sweet Shop
  • Drapers
  • Sadlers
  • Gunsmith
  • Chemist
  • Ironmongers
  • Toy Shop
  • Milliners

Just at the side of the street is a small alleyway that shows us how the poverty stricken people of York lived back then along with models of actual characters that lived in the area.

Another interesting attraction is the prison cells where criminals were kept including the infamous highway man Dick Turpin. Eight inmates who resided here are featured in the display including the last woman to be burned at the stake, while the prison has a gruesome past and is not for the squeamish.

Other parts of the York Castle Museum not to be missed include

  • The 1914 World War I Exhibition
  • The Sixties Exhibition
  • From Cradle to Grave Exhibition
  • Toy Stories
  • Raindale Mill
  • Patchwork Quilt Collection
  • Miniature Marvels Exhibition

Location and Opening Times

This amazing museum is located right in the centre of York therefore is easily found when travelling by train, bus or car plus there are plenty of car parks available including the museums own nearby. Clifford's Tower sits directly opposite the museum and the museum opens every day from 9.30am to 5pm except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

In 2014 the museum featured an offer whereby visitors could pay £12.00 to visit 2 museums of their choice. What's on offer for 2015 regarding prices can be found at the website.

  • York Castle Museum
  • Eye of York
  • York
  • YO1 9RY
  • Tele 01904 687687

The Black Country Living Museum Black Country Living Museum

The Black Country Living Museum is located on twenty six acres of former industrial land and covers over two hundred years of social history. Visitors are advised to set aside a whole day for visiting the museum as there is so much for all the family to see and do here. An authentic Black Country village of yesteryear has been created here with staff dressed in full costume to ensure your experience is one you will always remember.

What Can We See at the Museum?

The Black Country was one of the most industrialised parts of the UK and to demonstrate this  Black Country Living Museum boasts two real mine shafts, a canal arm and lime kilns. There are houses, shops and workshops to look around with each one playing host to thousands of interesting artefacts.

There is also an exhibition to commemorate the World War I centenary, while there are lots of great interactive events where children can join in and have fun along with learning their social and industrial history. Visitors can even go underground to see how the miners worked or watch a blacksmith as he makes nails and horse brasses.

The museum has a super gift shop where visitors can buy a souvenir of their visit, while the shop also features cards and gifts along with paintings and artwork. Why not take a ride on a real tram or board a trolley bus, while kids can listen to stories of how we lived all those years ago. The Black Country Living Museum really does have something for everyone!

Location and Opening Times

The museum is located between Dudley and Tipton on the A4037. Travelling by car is easy and the museum has a car park that costs £3.00 for the whole day, so very reasonable. Visitors arriving via train will travel to Tipton Station that is only a mile from the museum, while Network West Midlands operates a regular bus service too.

Buying tickets online is definitely the cheaper option, while there is a whole range of prices from children's tickets through to families and concessions. A full price list is available at the website. The museum opens Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 4pm.

  • Black Country Living Museum
  • Tipton Road
  • Dudley
  • West Midlands
  • DY1 4SQ
  • Tele 0121 557 9643

The Museum of London Museum of London

The Museum of London teaches us about the capital's history going back to Roman Times and is one of the most popular museums in London. The museum we know today was opened by the Queen in 1976 and covers over four hundred and fifty thousand years of social history meaning whatever it is you wish to know regarding London's social past you will find the answer here. Families, groups and individuals are all welcome and The London Museum assures its visitors will enjoy a great experience.

What Can We See at the Museum?

The museum host many events along with a number of permanent exhibitions that include

  • London before London the Story of the Thames River
  • Roman London a display of artefacts
  • Medieval London with 1300 exhibits
  • War Plague and Fire from Elizabethan Era to Great Fire of London
  • Expanding City following events after the fire
  • Peoples City that includes the Victorian Era and Victorian Street
  • World City that charts from the 1950's to today

This museum gives a fascinating insight into the origins of London its rise and fall over the centuries through to the London we see today. We found the exhibits and accompanying information really informative. The Museum of London also hosts new exhibitions one of which is the Sherlock Holmes Exhibition. We really liked this as the voice of Conan Doyle could be heard as well as lots of great exhibits to accompany the talking.

We also enjoyed the photograph collections that charted life from the late nineteenth century through to 20th century. There are some amazing photographs to be seen here along with the work of Henry Grant freelance photographer covering the 1950's to the 80's. Oh and don't forget to take a look at the Lord Mayors coach and walk the Victorian streets too!

Location and Opening Times

The Museum of London is located on London Wall between St Paul's tube station and the Barbican tube station. There is a car park beneath the museum although there is a charge to park here. Bus services 4, 8, 25, 100, 172 and 56 also run past the museum. The museum opens all year round from 10am to 6pm except for three days over Christmas and admission is free, which is a real bonus. Where else can you find a full days entertainment free of charge?

  • The Museum of London
  • 150 London Wall
  • London
  • EC2Y 5HN
  • Tele 020 7001 9844

Denny Abbey Farmland Museum Denny Abbey Farmland Museum

The Denny Abbey Farmland Museum opened its doors in 1997 and has gone from strength to strength ever since. The museum concentrates on the farming and social lives of the people of Cambridgeshire with plenty for families to see and do making it a great day out all round. School visits are welcomed along with groups or individuals too. The museum has been host to many events over 2014 and there are many planned for 2015 details of which can be found at the website.

What Can We See at the Museum?

The first thing that hits us as visitors is the beautiful setting of this amazing abbey and farmland. You can imagine what it must have been like all those years ago when this land was first farmed. Attractions include

  • The Fenman's Hut with displays of animal traps and other artefacts used by the trappers
  • A Dairy
  • A Blacksmith
  • A Wheelwright
  • 17th Century Stone Barn
  • Farming Equipment and Agricultural Tools
  • Framers Cottage
  • Nuns Refectory

Denny Abbey which was once the home of Benedictine monks is steeped in hundreds of years of history and is a must see when visiting the museum. The museum also houses a fabulous children's play area where kids can blow off a little steam after they have looked around all the exhibits.

The Farmers Cottage is also not to be missed as it is furnished with items from the 1860's, while the museum created a fictional family to live in the cottage whose story is based on true facts and accounts from Cambridgeshire people.

It really is fascinating to see how people lived long ago as their lives were so very different from the lives we live today. Denney Abbey Farmland Museum offers an educational but fun day out for all the family, there is an on-site shop plus great picnic areas where visitors can enjoy their snacks and drinks.

Location and Opening Times

The museum is located in Waterbeach Cambridge and is easily found by car or bus. Bus services run from Drummer Street Station in Cambridge. Children under five get into the museum free, while charges range from £3.00 through to £13.00 for a family ticket.

The museum opens from April through to 2nd November, while opening times vary with Bank Holidays differing from the rest of the year. All prices and opening information can be found at the website.

  • The Farmland Museum
  • Denney Abbey
  • Ely Road
  • Waterbeach
  • Cambridge
  • CB25 9PQ
  • Tele 01223 860 988/489