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May’s Historic Trips...Ten Things To Do

Get out and about with our guide to the very best historical attractions this May.

Published: May 4, 2010 at 10:00 am
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1. Learn about Lambeth Palace

It is 400 years since the foundation of Lambeth Palace Library, so it is displaying its diverse collections of manuscripts, archives and books. Included is a Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed in western Europe from movable metal type, and the 12th-century Lambeth Bible, regarded as a monument of Romanesque art. There is a set of the works of Aristotle, owned by Robert Dudley, favourite of Elizabeth I, and Richard III’s manuscript Book of Hours, which was in his tent at the battle of Bosworth.


Exhibition: Treasures of Lambeth Palace Library
Lambeth Palace Great Hall, London
17 May–23 July
Tel: 0871 230 1107

2. Spend a night in a museum

Museums at Night, the annual after-hours celebration of UK culture, returns this year to a range of museums, galleries and heritage sites. You might visit the Old Operating Theatre in London, or try a night in the Second World War shelter at the Cabinet War Rooms. In Weston-Super-Mare 50 flight simulators will link up to recreate a massive air battle over the bombed ruins of London. At Chatham’s Historic Dockyard there’s a paranormal ghost investigation, or you could explore the line-up of activities at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. And that’s just a sample of what’s on offer.

Event Museums at Night
Various participating museums
14–16 May

3. Hear songs of freedom

For the anniversary of both the wartime evacuation of islanders and Guernsey’s liberation, more than 1,200 voices will sing together. Along with this event, festivities can be enjoyed in the island’s vibrant capital, St Peter Port. Fireworks will bring the day to a spectacular conclusion.

Festival: Guernsey Sings: A Thousand Voices
St Peter Port, Guernsey
9 May
Tel: 01481 723 552


4. Check out some ancient chessmen

The Lewis Chessmen were discovered on the western shore of the Isle of Lewis in 1831, as part of a hoard of walrus ivory. The hoard includes assembled pieces from at least four chess sets, probably made in Norway in the late 12th or early 13th century. They are one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made in Scotland. This exhibition will look at the mystery and intrigue surrounding the chessmen, explore the stories surrounding their discovery and show how the characters reflected society at the time they were made.

Exhibition: Lewis Chessmen: Unmasked
National Museum Scotland, Edinburgh
21 May–19 September
Tel: 0131 225 7534

5. Try toy boats

Borrowing extensively from the collection of the Musée National de la Marine in Paris and some of Britain’s foremost collectors, this new exhibition contains over 100 colourful and imaginative items from a 100-year golden age in toy development. Toys, games, catalogues and photographs reveal how, from 1850 to 1950, the craze for all things maritime overtook toy companies. It’s a great look back at a time when toy boats were as fascinating to children as computer games are today.

Exhibition: Toy Boats
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
1 May–31 October
Tel: 020 8858 4422

6. Hear tales of the WAAF

The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was established on 28 June 1939. Within a year, tens of thousands of women were serving alongside the RAF on airfields, radar stations and barrage balloon centres across the country, all of which were primary targets for the German air force. By 1945 over 200,000 women had served in the WAAF, employed in over 110 different trades, supporting operations around the world. They became a vital part of the Royal Air Force’s war effort, and you can see their stories told here.

Exhibition: Women of the Air Force
Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford
Until 27 June
Tel: 01902 376 200

7. View virtual history

One possible future of the touring exhibition is computer-imaged artefacts, and a glimpse at this high-tech history can be had this month at Llangollen. The first stop on a tour of north Wales and the borders, the exhibition will feature a collection of holograms and 3D computer images of artefacts from various places that are not normally on display to the public. Virtual images of national treasures such as the Burton Hoard, the Bardsey Crown and the Llyn Cerrig Bach Plaque will be available, allowing public access to treasures that normally remain unexamined by the wider populace.

Exhibition: Virtual Artefacts
Llangollen Museum, Wales
6 May–2 June
Tel: 01978 862862


8. Experience Irish art

Ulster Museum has recently reopened after a three-year, £17 million redevelopment project, and is proving immensely popular. This massive new exhibition centres on the major Irish artists of the last few centuries, including Nathaniel Hone, Roderic O’Conor and Hughie O’Donoghue. It’s arranged into themes such as ‘Renaissance to Romanticism’ and ‘Faces and Places’ and pretty much guarantees a fascinating day out.

Exhibition: Visions
Ulster Museum, Belfast
Until 26 October 2010
Tel: 0845 6080000

9. Let Lautrec take you to Paris

This British Museum tour makes its first stop at the Walker Art Gallery, featuring around 50 prints by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Described by a contemporary critic as “the quintessential chronicler of Paris”, Lautrec is legendary for his ability to combine the excitement of the cabaret with the shadowy private lives of prostitutes and their clients. No matter how well you know Lautrec, this is an essential visit.

Exhibition: High Kicks and Low Life
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
14 May–8 August
Tel: 0151 478 4199

10. Feel the need for steam

In 1860 the steam-powered warship HMS Warrior was launched, at the time the biggest, fastest and most heavily armoured warship afloat. In 2009 the British Steam Car team, reaching an average speed of 148.308mph, set the steam world land speed record. These two events and the nearly 150 years in between are examined at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s event.


Event: Celebration of Steam
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
8 & 9 May
Tel: 023 9283 9766


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