Nina often jokes that ‘intrigued’ and ‘hidden gem’ are my favourite phrases in Lifestyle District posts but we genuinely were very intrigued to discover what turned out to be an absolutely awesome hidden gem when we invited to visit the Somerset Rural Life Museum by the South West Heritage Trust.
Now we must admit, the museum’s name did initially conjure up images of an old warehouse stuffed full of old tractors. But how wrong we were!
Located a few minutes walk from the centre of Glastonbury, the museum reopened in 2017 after a three closure and a £2.4m refurbishment.
Before that, it hadn’t been changed since it was set up in the 1970s when the farm buildings, some of which date back to the 14th century, were donated by the Mapstone family to Somerset County Council.
The welcome was warm as we arrived at the former farmhouse and we were delighted to discover we had our own personal guide.
Polly was super enthusiastic and it was a joy to hear her stories and knowledge as she led us on a very enjoyable 90-minute tour.
From the ticket desk, you’re instantly transformed back to the 1940s as you enter a traditional farmhouse kitchen with the table laid for dinner.
It’s like the Mapstones have just stepped out for a country stroll and we loved having a nose through their cupboards!
The remaining galleries tell the story of rural Somerset life from the 1880s to the 20th century with well laid out sections that show off the museum’s impressive collection of farm machinery, equipment and more.
This is no stuffy museum and the £2.4m has clearly been money very spent. Fascinating black and white footage of farm workers is projected onto the very equipment they would have used and we spent ages chuckling at the screen displaying Somerset slang. ‘Fuddle’ (a drinking bout’), ‘bladderment (‘noisy talk’) and overtookt (‘tipsy) were some of our favourites!
Outside is the farmyard featuring an impressive life-sized sculpture of a horse constructed out of reclaimed metal by artist Harriet Mead, a lovely orchard growing old and rare varieties of apples and a brilliantly re-created First World War allotment showing how Somerset people supported the war effort.
But the absolute stunner of this museum is the Abbey Barn.
Built in the 1340s it was once part of Glastonbury Abbey. It survived the dissolution of the monasteries and was used as a farm building until the 1970s.
We were awe-inspired looking up at the barn’s magnificent roof and it’s a real atmospheric space with moody lighting, projection and a lone wagon that was used by the Mapstone family at harvest time.
To top off this very Somerset experience, the staff kindly treated us to lunch in the excellent on-site cafe which had to, of course, include some cider!
The Somerset Rural Life Museum is a real gem (yes Nina, I’ve said it again!) that’s run by a very enthusiastic and passionate team. It really deserves to be supported and we highly recommend it.
Somerset Rural Life Museum is at Chilkwell Street, Glastonbury, Somerset, BA6 8DB. It’s open Tuesday – Sunday (and bank holiday Mondays) from 10.00am – 5.00pm.
We were invited for a complimentary visit but all views are our own.