Museums

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Museums are constantly having to reinvent themselves. Search, at Gosport in Hampshire (01705 501957), could be regarded as the reserve collections of Hampshire's entire museums service, or as an innovative museum education venture, under which guise it has won this year's Best Museum Education Initiative in the Museum of the Year Awards.

Search has been open for a year, offering primary schoolchildren the chance to handle historical and scientific exhibits in two-hour sessions led by interpreter-educators. It is a totally hands-on venture, with children able to connect via touch, video microscope and role play in reconstructed settings, such as a Victorian parlour, an archaeological site, and a 1930s kitchen. Proceeds from the fees (Pounds 50 for a pre-booked session) are used to train local people to work with visiting groups.

A different kind of interaction is on offer at the Ragged School Museum in the East End of London (0181 980 6405). A panel exhibition on Dr Hannah Billig, the so-called "Angel of Cable Street", is complemented by a "smelly" section on pre-NHS home remedies. Cough mixture made from onion and sugar, poultices for boils and sprains, carbolic soap and camphor, brown paper and goose fat - they are all here.

Dr Billig, who worked as a GP in the area from 1927 to 1964, was a selfless and dedicated physician, who worked through the air-raids and often treated her patients for nothing. The museum is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am-5pm and on the first Sunday of each month from 2pm-5pm. Admission is free. School visits, which involve Victorian role play, must be booked.

The National Maritime Museum (0181-858 4422) is running several exciting events over December. The medieval Frost Fair will be recreated in the Queen's House on the weekend of December 7-8 (adults Pounds 2, children Pounds 1, or normal museum ticket). Market stalls in the grounds will set the scene and inside the house costumed interpreters will demonstrate 17th-century crafts, while theatre company Baroque and Roll perform a court masque. Later in the festive season (December 19-23; 27-31) there will be performances of popular and court music of the baroque period.

The Museum of Mankind in London is the ethnography department of the British Museum (0171-636 1555). A starkly beautiful display of the life of the native peoples of the south-western USA, called, paradoxically, RAIN, evokes the dramatic landscape where rain, as the title of the show suggests, is vital, brief and intense. It is central to the art of the Hopi and Navajo peoples. Beautiful jewellery, pottery and woven blankets continue to be produced in this part of America, where the largest concentrations of native Americans live. Coming in from a rainy London street, the vibrance of colour and form is invigorating.

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