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Ten things to do in … December

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

Published: December 2, 2009 at 6:39 am
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 1. Discover classical music


“Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable,” said the Roman poet Juvenal almost 2,000 years ago. He was not alone in thinking this, for, as an exhibition at the National Roman Legion Museum demonstrates, music accompanied many aspects of Roman life. Instruments were played on the streets, at dinner parties and to greet important visitors. They were also frequently used for military purposes, sometimes as a form of communication, or occasionally to confuse the enemy. This exhibition contains replicas of several popular Roman instruments together with videos of them being played.

Exhibition: Roman Rhythm
National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon
Until 30 April 2010
Phone: 01633 423134

2. Celebrate Christmases past

Each Christmas London’s Geffrye Museum decks out its period rooms in authentic historical fashion. For 2009 the rooms will once again recall previous Christmas traditions and decorations – the fruit of ongoing research into the history of the festive season.

Exhibition: Christmas Past
The Geffrye Museum, London
24 November–3 January 2010
Phone: 020 7739 9893

3. Get into the swing of the Sixties

 We are fast approaching the 50th anniversary of the Sixties – the decade when British pop music took over the world. A new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery celebrates this landmark through displays of portraits and ephemera relating to the musical stars of the day. Relive the rivalry between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, discover how pop stars became fashion icons and meet a young David Bowie.

Exhibition: Beatles to Bowie – The 60s Exposed
National Portrait Gallery, London
Until 24 January 2010
Phone: 020 7306 0055

4. Take a broad look at a Tudor king

This year has witnessed the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s coronation. As part of the commemorations, the British Library hosted an exhibition about the king, curated by David Starkey. Now the exhibition comes to the Mary Rose Museum for the Christmas period. Visitors will learn about Henry’s complex personal life and the decisions he made as a ruler that transformed the religious landscape of England.

Exhibition: Henry VIII: Man and Monarch
Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth
12 December–
17 January 2010
Phone: 023 9283 9766

5. Hear why the French revolted

The causes of the French Revolution are regularly debated and will be once again this month at a scholarly conference in London. This two-day event at the British Academy considers how the French monarchy contributed to its own downfall, with contributions from leading academics on both sides of the channel. The conference is being held in honour of British historian William Doyle and has been sponsored by BBC History Magazine.

Conference: The Crisis of the Absolute Monarchy
The British Academy, London
14–15 December
Email: j.swann@bbk.ac.uk

6. Meet an intriguing court painter

Sir Peter Lely was a renowned Dutch artist of the 17th century who found employment in Charles II’s court. Here he painted some of the leading figures of the Restoration. However he was also a noted collector of art who managed to amass around 10,000 prints and drawings plus 600 paintings. An exhibition at the National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh displays a selection of Lely’s own drawings as well as some of the artworks from his collection.

Exhibition: Sir Peter Lely
National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh
Until 14 February
Phone: 0131 624 6336

7. Explore the revitalised Ulster Museum

After a three-year £17 million refurbishment, Ulster Museum is open to the public again. It is hoped that the project will herald a surge in visitors to one of Belfast’s premier cultural attractions. The revamp includes fresh, inspiring displays for the museum’s extensive history collections, where the seventh-century BC Egyptian mummy Takabuti takes pride of place.

Revamp: Ulster Museum, Belfast
Open now
Phone: 0845 608 0000

8. Go to an artist’s homecoming

Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) was one of Britain’s most formidable artists in the 18th century. Visitors to Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery can now enjoy a special exhibition of his work, which has a particular focus on his local connections. Reynolds was born in Devon and he had many patrons in the South West.

Exhibition: Sir Joshua Reynolds
Plymouth City Museum and
Art Gallery, Plymouth
21 November–20 February 2010
Phone: 01752 304774

9. Delight in the V&A’s treasures

The Victoria and Albert Museum possesses a fabulous collection of artefacts from medieval and Renaissance Europe. This month it unveils new dedicated galleries to showcase 1,800 objects from AD 300–1600. At a cost of £30 million these galleries are the museum’s biggest project for eight years. Among the highlights are a dazzling array of Italian Renaissance sculptures, a Florentine chapel, Roman ivory and the only great hunting tapestries that survive from the 15th century.

New galleries: Medieval and Renaissance
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Opens 2 December
Phone: 020 7942 2000

10. Pay tribute to a WWII heroine

In the Second World War Odette Hallowes worked as an agent for the British Special Operations Executive. She aided the French resistance until she was captured and imprisoned by the Nazis. Though she was tortured, Hallowes remained tight-lipped and even managed to steal her guard’s gun before she was freed. The gun is a star attraction at a new exhibition about this remarkable spy that also contains an audio interview with her.


A Secret Life
Imperial War Museum North, Manchester
Until 30 September 2010
Phone: 0161 836 4000


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