Last Sunday dawned cold, and clear. Such days, in a Scottish Winter, should be thoroughly embraced, so I put my crafting and garden planning to one side (such things can be done when it’s pouring down outside) and decided to surgically remove the boys from the playstation. I bundled the boys into twelve layers of clothing, Richard removed the frost from Jeff the Fiesta, and off we set on our adventure.
Destination: Summerlee Heritage Park, Coatbridge.
We have been to The National Museum of Rural Life, in Kittochside, a few times now; and Fin and I sheltered from the torrential rain at Almond Valley Heritage Centre (which we lovingly refer to as the ‘shovel museum’) on last year’s traditionally washed-out summer nursery excursion; but despite Coatbridge being only a couple of miles away, and entry to the heritage park being free (as it is run by North Lanarkshire Council), we had never ventured to Summerlee.
Ellis is now at the age where he is starting to take an interest in family history, and he is particularly interested in the Second World War. As Richard’s family are from this area of Scotland, and my family have a past immersed in industry in South Wales; Summerlee is an absolute gem as an introduction to what life was like for some of his family. It has a fantastic range of exhibits, documenting the area’s mining and iron producing past, with an impressive amount of interactive tools suitable for children of all ages. It also boasts some really interesting ‘capsules’ of everyday life and popular culture; from dance halls and theatres to a set-up of a mid twentieth century dentist’s room; and 1950s Co-Operative store shop-front. Obviously, the part that interested Ellis the most was the display of Second World War uniforms, weapons and gas-masks, alongside other ephemera about the area during wartime. Fin very much liked the steam trains, and waving at the tram (that unfortunately we didn’t go on this time – we are on a promise for the next visit).
My favourite part of the museum was the beautifully reconstructed miners’ cottages – a row of cottages each decorated to represent how miners and their families lived in the 1840s, 1880s, 1910s, 1940s, 1960s and 1980s:
Walking into the 1960s house, I couldn’t help but gasp – I was back in my paternal grandparents’ bungalow again, complete with Woolworths ‘painting’, pouffe, and ducks on the wall. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my grandparents had exactly the same carpet. I wanted to move into that little cottage. Seriously. I think my love of kitsch has gone too far.
The 1980s cottage I found particularly poignant, looking at all the high-tech gadgetry (including the ever-so-fancy Betamax, the ZX Spectrum and the Electronic ‘Simon’ game) given the hardships so many miners and their families endured during the strike of 1984, only to have the rug pulled from under their feet a few years later.
We are absolutely, most definitely going to return to Summerlee when the weather is more conducive to outdoor wanderings – after all, we still have the trams and the reconstructed mine to explore. We will, however, be taking a picnic, as the price of food in the cafe is absolutely exorbitant (though drinks are fairly priced) – but what can you reasonably expect from a museum that charges nothing for you to see so much?
Sadly, of course, in today’s economic climate it is these very museums – these Council run gems – that are most at risk from closing down due to cuts to public spending. Losing Summerlee would be a travesty, and I would urge anyone who can go to visit and support it.