Disadvantages: No audio guide and limited toilet facilities.
On 1 October 2009 I visited York Castle Museum for the first time.
It is a social history museum that is located in York on the very site of York Castle, which was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068. It is two minutes walk from Clifford’s Tower and five minutes from Jorvik Viking Centre. It is considered to be a landmark in the development of museums and has twice won the York Tourism Award for best attraction.
Following guide signs I walked downstairs and passed through a display of farm tools of the region. I did have a quick look at these tools, but I could not figure out their functions. It’s really a pity most visitors just take this area as a way to next destination- Kirkgate.
Kirkgate is a recreation of a Victorian street and named after Dr John Kirk, the founder of the museum. In the street you can see a woven basket handcart for delivering parcel and mail, a bank, a police station, different shops and a grocery store, etc. It reflects the flourishing prosperity of Victorian times. Sitting on the bench and experiencing the street scenes from early morning till late night I was lost in the sound effects. One month later when I put the keyboard to write this article I still clearly remember the staff member of the grocery store, who was outfitted Victorian dress and explained to me how Victorian shop worked, also the sound of coins being counted in a shop, not to mention the Hansom cab, the horse of which is so real and it made me hesitate to go near it for a picture.
Next to Kirkgate there is an area of Edwardian shops. An ice cream handcart is standing in the front of two shops. At the exit I also played an early slot machine which mimicked an English execution. Unfortunately 20p just gave me thirty seconds to see it. When the prisoner dropped into a hole I finally got the idea this was an execution not a game.
Next day in the late afternoon, after visiting the National Railway Museum and Yorvik Viking Centre I popped over to York Castle Museum again to continue my discovery of the rest of the exhibitions. I headed towards the right part of the building and walked upstairs to a weapons gallery, a children's gallery, costume displays and 60s show, etc. Last but definitely not the least I went to the old cells, which once locked many famous criminals in British history including the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin. Because it was near the museum’s closing time a staff member followed me around the cells. In case he lost his patience and put me in the prison I escaped in a hurry, leaving the protest of the criminals behind me.
Summary: York Castle Museum is perhaps the finest social history museum in England, but a few small improvements would make it great.