Now, museums are definitely not ever at the top of my list of things to do unless the name Smithsonian is involved, but I must say that Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery and Museum is quite possibly the best museum I’ve ever been to. It’s not huge, but the mixture of hands on adult/children ratio exhibits is outstanding. Why yes, I’d love to play with masks and spin things and feel up old tiles. How did you know?! It was basically a hands-on timeline of the city.
Coventry also boasts the largest collection of British road vehicles at their transit museum……
Yeah….that’s just a few too many cars than I care to see. BUT, they have this one part that is dedicated to what it would have been like to live through the Blitz. To explain this properly, it’s dark. It’s creepy. And children start to cry the second they get near the entrance. No joke. Small child burst into hysterics the second she got close to the entry. But Val and I are adults. We can handle this. …..Right?
We start walking through. It’s a very well laid out exhibit, like all museum’s I’ve been to in England. As we continue walking, we get closer and closer to the actual Blitz demonstration. And I’m talking, there are bombs going off. Everything but actual destruction here. And there’s this creepy voice leading you along the way supposedly explaining things, but all I got is some good ole’ “Danger Will Robinson, DANGER!” to accompany my already growing sense of apprehension to what is bound to be a near death experience through that tin entry way.
Val and I walk through the bombings and then continue out the other side to the rest of the transit museum. We briefly turn around because of contradicting arrows and all of a sudden there is a man standing right behind us. We both jump a mile. Where. Did. He. Come. From?! He walks right on by us having mild heart attacks as though we aren’t even there DYING. As we recover we follow him around trying to figure out how to get out of this maze of cars. Exits all seem to be blocked off. At one point, we debate about jumping a fence because we see light on the other side. Finally after about 3000 wrong turns, we make it back to the gift shop entrance, ready to flee for our lives.
Now, Val and I had looked up different things to do in Coventry, and one was this watch museum. Coventry used to be the source for watches, not that we really knew what this meant before our little trip. But as we had some time to kill, we decided to go check it out.
And what we found, I barely have words for.
There are two old men dressed up in period clothes. What time period, I’m not exactly sure, days of yore maybe. Anyway, they each come up to us and start explaining what exactly is going on here. First of all, there are a couple rooms we can go into. There’s a video to watch and then there are watch making tools on display. Val and I go in to these dilapated rooms. This apartment complex was made up of apartments housing over 100 people and out back there were three “closets” for everyone to use. The wall paper is peeling off. It looks just awful. But we watch the video and look around because how do run away from two adorable old English gentlemen dressed up in clothing from the days of yore?
But then it gets interesting. The men are totally thrilled that they have two Americans in this museum. And they start telling us all sorts of stories and explaining the watch industry in Coventry. And then we learn, that this museum is a dream of theirs. They both come from watchmaking families, and they just got the space and are working slowly at turning it into something. They’re just up against a lot.
Mainly, there’s the fact that the building is about to split in two. Most likely a result of a bomb during the Blitz. So, they can only have two rooms open to go into downstairs and have a make-shift structure set up out back while they are raising money to fix the rest of it.
Inside one of the rooms are two cardboard doll houses. At first, Val and I didn’t get it. So…that’s what a journeyman watchmaker’s house looked like. Ok….But then we head around back and see that the house we had just been in, is in fact an old journeyman’s house. Ahhh, lightbulb moment.
Since there are three toilet areas, the men really want to do each one up as a different era. Best idea ever? I think so. Here’s a hole from 1810. Here’s a board toilet from 1890. And here’s a “modern” toilet from 1940. Love. It. Val and I were there for two hours listening to these men talk to us. I never even thought about the watch industry, but somehow, I ended up learning an insane amount. For example, did you know that on all Coventry watches, there are IIII instead of IV for the number four? I didn’t. Interesting or what? Why is that? They’re not really sure. But there’s a chance that the king just liked it that way. And as the king liked it that way, so it shall be. We were actually there until after they officially closed.
I really hope that the Olympics brings them a decent amount of tourism so they can raise funds to continue putting the museum together. It was one of the most unique and fascinating experiences I’ve had. Brits, stop looking at people funny for going to Coventry. You should totally go there. It has some quirky things to check out.