While it may be a staple of science fiction stores, I doubt time travel is a viable possibility. Relax though; I’m not going to give a scientific explanation why I believe that to be the case, nor a theological one. But in York last summer I stepped into a time machine of sorts that transported me a couple of centuries into the past. I could even smell the horse manure in the stables.
Kirkgate is a 19th century Yorkshire street, recreated inside the York Castle Museum. The idea is to take you back and let you see and feel what life was like before your grandparents were born. Not that the York Castle Museum is in York Castle. The Castle was demolished long ago, and now there is a museum on the site.
I imagine that creating a museum exhibit is a challenging task. You want to impart facts, but you also have a need to entertain. In this post-television era it is difficult to hold people’s interest – we seem to have ever shortening attention spans. Plus, you want to make the experience enjoyable so that local people take part and come back. You don’t want to just depend on tourists. People want things to be interactive and hands-on.
I’m old-fashioned in many ways. If a museum gives me a printed card beside an artifact with a few details about it I am happy. But I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed checking out the shops of Kirkgate. Some of them I even recognized, having walked by their 21st century storefronts on my way to the museum. Always nice to see such continuity in business.
There was a confectioner (which actually had candy for sale if you wanted), a livery stable, clothing stores for men and women, a household goods store, doctor’s office of course, a jail, cabinet/furniture maker, music shop and undertaker. I’m sure I’ve missed a couple there. Shops have of course changed drastically in the ensuing years – I’m not sure the shop keepers of yesteryear would be all that thrilled with today’s retail outlets. We have gotten bigger and self-serve, losing the personal touch that was so important in retailing. To accentuate the experience, museum staff take on the roles of merchants in some of the stores, happy for interaction and willing to answer questions.
For me there is always the question as to whether I would visit a museum more than once. I visited the Education Museum in Ypres in 2009 and 2014, but doubt it rates a third visit should I ever be in that town again. One visit to the Richard III Museum in York was enough. I would take in the York Castle Museum again though should I be in York at some point in the future. Like most museums the displays aren’t all static; there are temporary exhibits that entice local people to return (for example I don’t expect the museum’s First World War display to be there next time I am in York). But sometimes the displays are so good that you want to see them a second time, and I think that is how I see the Kirkgate exhibit. I spent a lot of time there and saw all of it, but I think I would enjoy it again.