Frances Farrer discovers two special museums among Gloucester's attractions
Which lovely historic town can escape the heritage trap? Certainly not Gloucester, its Historic Docks burgeoning with waterfront cafes, visitor centres, doughnutpizza outlets, and fossil shops. But among all this are two museums of special interest: the Robert Opie Collection, also known as the Museum of Advertising and Packaging; and the Regiments of Gloucestershire display: 300 years of soldiering under a single roof.
The total Robert Opie Collection of around 300,000 items is many times greater than all that can be displayed at the Albert Warehouse, but the museum nevertheless contains an extraordinary number of packs, tins, bottles, posters, display cards and enamel signs.
The histories of eternal products such as Oxo, Bovril and Colman's Mustard are given and alongside the promotional ephemera contemporary domestic appliances such as cookers and washing machines are displayed for historical context.
Museum director Edward Garling says the collection can be used by teachers of history, art and design, business studies and environmental studies. Historical periods emphasised within the museum are Victorian, post-1930, and the Second World War.
It seems that children of between 8 and 12 years enjoy it most, and can often be found doing their own research by questioning older visitors to the museum. Teachers are advised, as always, to visit in advance, though every enquirer will receive the museum's information pack. There are quiz sheets and project sheets for schools.
The Regiments of Gloucestershire Museum offers "an insight into the life of soldiering down the centuries". Three hundred years of soldiering, in fact, with the displays backed by video and audio-visual support as well as sound effects. On arrival you will be welcomed by a speaking dummy and the news that more battle honours were won and more wars fought by the Regiments of Gloucestershire than any others.
The museum pronounces itself "not for the military buff," and is at pains to point out its strong domestic content. This includes artefacts produced by soldiers who were away fighting, and letters home to mothers and sweethearts. One exhibit shows the women who physically carried their exhausted husbands into battle during the Napoleonic Wars. Another depicts life in Britain in the 1940s during the Second World War.
The Robert Opie Collection, Albert Warehouse, Gloucester Docks, Gloucester GL1 2EH. Children 80p in groups of 10 or more, one teacher free for every 10 pupils, Pounds 1.95 for paying adults. Closed Mondays. Contact Edward Garling. Tel: 01452 302309.
* Regiments of Gloucestershire Museum, Gloucester Docks, Gloucester GL1 2ER. Tel: 01452 522682. Pounds 1.20 a head, book at least three weeks in advance Closed on Mondays