Independent readers are being given a rare opportunity to go behind the scenes at some of the nation’s most exciting museums – seeing their hidden treasures up close, meeting the expert curators and visiting parts of the building not usually open to the public... and all for free!
Medieval logboats, elephants skulls and rare Chinese ceramics are just some of the artefacts that will be accessible to the public throughout the Hidden Treasures period. Curiosities previously unseen, secret storerooms usually closed to the public, and expert guides ready to give you a personal tour are all part of this unique national event, taking place between 22 and 27 August.
Run by the museum charity the Collections Trust, with its media partner The Independent, Hidden Treasures offers Independent readers priority booking for these behind-the-scenes tours of top heritage institutions – and a chance to secure their place before the general public.
So during this August bank holiday break, why not explore your local museum? Whether it’s a free family day out identifying bugs at the Cardiff Story Museum, a sneak preview of the V&A’s soon-to-be opened new wing, or a peek at the secret costume cupboards at Platt Hall, Manchester, Hidden Treasures will give you the opportunity to see collections up close and personal – and find out more about our nation’s heritage from the experts.
The highlights from Hidden Treasures 2013
There are lots of great events to choose from in this years’ Hidden Treasures (22 to 27 August), with museums all over the UK taking part. You can view a full listing of all events and booking details at hiddentreasures.org.uk – but here is a taster of the events currently on offer…
Victoria and Albert Museum
A chance to be one of the first to see the objects that will be going into the new Europe 1600-1800 Galleries (opening December 2014). Led by curators from the project team.
22 August at 3pm
Natural History Museum
Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the 27 kilometres of shelves, 22 million specimens and cutting-edge scientific research in the Darwin Centre’s Zoology spirit building, where you can see the specimens collected by Charles Darwin.
22 to 27 August at 11.45am
National Maritime Museum
A chance to meet the curator of art and be treated to a selection of some of the quirky, moving works on paper relating to travel, naval and maritime history.
22 August 5pm, 6pm & 7pm
The British Library
Get a special tour of the Centre for Conservation and see some of the more unusual and rare items held in the Library’s collection, including exquisite, illuminated folding physicians calendars from the 14th and 15th centuries and the famous Great Omar – an elaborately crafted book created in 1912 (the first copy sank on the Titanic, the second was destroyed in the Blitz; the third is kept safely in the British Library stores).
22 & 23 August 10.30am & 2pm
British Postal Museum and Archive
Visit the Museum Store and discover a hidden part of postal history – the post office underground railway.
24 August at 10am (drop in all day)
The Geffrye Museum of the Home
A collection that explores the home from 1600 to the present day. Visit the stores with a curator and one of the museum’s volunteers, and see items such as an 18th-century “easy chair” and a Frank Stanton painting of an Islington interior.
22 & 23 August at 12pm, 1pm & 2pm
Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection
A collection of art and design objects that started over 100 years ago. Get a behind-the-scenes tour of the William Morris wallpapers, prints from famous alumni, and inspiring art objects.
22 August at 11am & 2pm
Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide
Discover anti-Nazi pamphlets, secret diaries and Nazi board games in Britain’s largest archive relating to the Holocaust and Nazi era.
22 August at 11am
The Museum of the Order of St John
The museum tells the story of the Order of St John – from its origins in Jerusalem, through to its role today with St John Ambulance. Gain access to the 40,000 objects in the stores, including a 19th-century ambulance litter, uniforms and first-aid books.
23 & 27 August at 12pm
Museum of Richmond
This independent museum celebrates the rich history of Richmond. It will open its doors for a special curator-led discussion and tour.
27 August at 2pm, 2.30pm, 3pm & 3.30pm
Orleans House Gallery
Enjoy a glimpse at the art collection in the picture store at the gallery. Among the works held here are one of only three paintings completed by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot in England, and a Hogarth.
22 August at 10.30am & 11.30am; 27 August 2pm, 3pm & 4pm
Hitchin Museum and Art Gallery
A chance to learn from museum staff about the work being undertaken in the lead up to the opening of North Hertfordshire Museum in 2015. Also, see the football boots of one of the greatest players of the English game: Sir Stanley Matthews.
22 August at 10am; 23 August at 10am
The Royal Institution of Great Britain
See a Nobel Prize with your own eyes, read Michael Faraday’s notebooks and discover rare objects in a behind-the scenes tour of the RI.
22, 23 and 27 August at 11.30am
Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery
Come and see objects brought out from the stores, including a bust of Henrietta Pilkington by Charles Summers – the Australian sculptor who created Melbourne’s Burke and Wills Monument.
27 August at 10am & 2.30pm
UCL Art Museum
A pop-up exhibition, specially curated for Hidden Treasures, of some of the museum’s most illustrious work – by Durer, Rembrandt and Turner.
24 August at 1pm
St Paul’s Cathedral
Discover dramatic moments in the life and history of St Paul’s through encounters with treasures from the Collections.
22, 23 & 27 August at 10am, 12pm, 2pm & 4pm
Explore objects from the anthropology and natural collections in the Horniman’s Study Collections Centre (SCC), the offsite storage facility which houses the majority of the collections.
22 August at 9.30am & 1.45pm
National Army Museum
Housing over 40,000 objects telling the story of the British Army, join curators as they take you behind the scenes of this remarkable collection.
27 August at 11am and 2pm
North of England
Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Whether you are a fan of Chorlton and the Wheelies or Danger Mouse, the tour will showcase rarely seen objects from the private collections of the British animation studio Cosgrove Hall Films.
22 & 24 August at 12pm, 1pm & 3.30pm
People’s History Museum, Manchester
Celebrate Manchester Pride in this LGBT tour of the main galleries. See material from the archive, including a handbill advertising a public meeting for the Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners campaign in 1984.
23 August at 1.15pm & 2pm
Leeds Museum Discovery Centre
Elephant skulls, mummy bandages and meteorites – this behind-the-scenes tour will be a unique opportunity for hands-on exploration.
22 August at 11am & 2pm
Explore this state-of-the-art resource centre, which houses objects ranging from folk art to decorated toilets.
23 August at 3.30pm; 24 August at 3.30pm
Ever wondered how a lunellum was used? Bede’s World allows you to experience Anglo-Saxon and Monastic life through the objects they left behind.
22 and 23 August at 10.30am
Discover more about Barnsley’s Roman coin hoards and links to Egypt – and handle some Roman coins with a professional guide.
23 August at 2pm
Work with a letterpress printer and help reprint an old ballad. Get a closer look at a collection of early printed material.
23 August at 2pm; 24 August 2pm
Discovery Museum, Newcastle
Have a peek at never-before-displayed objects from the finest collection of scientific and technical material outside London – including world “firsts” such as Charles Parsons’ Turbinia, the first vessel to be powered by steam turbine.
22 August at 10.30am, 23 August 11am, 27 August 10.30am
North Lincolnshire Museum, Scunthorpe
Enjoy creative crafts with a Second World War theme and a new children’s trail, which will take you through the many galleries. Handle artifacts and meet an “awesome ancestor” from the Second World War.
23 August at 10.30am
The Weavers’ Triangle Visitor Centre, Burnley
A special guided walk along the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, through the Victorian industrial area known as the “Weavers’ Triangle”.
25 August at 2.15pm
World Museum, National Museums, Liverpool
Wonderful World is a series of family talks, behind-the-scenes tours and workshops, with activities ranging from Indian folk dancing to a creepy-crawly tour.
22 to 27 August
Stephenson Railway Museum, North Shields
The Museum will offer special tours of the workshops where their steam and diesel passenger trains are maintained.
24 August, half-hourly between 11am & 3pm
National Railway Museum, York
Visit the renowned archive facility and see how railway offices have been converted into high-grade storage for the treasures of the museum.
22 Aug 10.30am & 3.30pm
Manchester City Galleries
There’s an event at each of the venues, ranging from up-close investigations of the Turner watercolours at Manchester Art Gallery, to a meander through Platt Hall’s curious collections of Mary Hope Greg – the Edwardian collector, maker and rescuer of the intimate and personal things of the past.
22 & 23 August 2pm; 27 August 3pm
From curator-led tours on fossils to drop-in family workshops – there’s a host of Hidden Treasures events for all ages.
22 to 27 August
Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum
To celebrate the A Pint in the Museum exhibition, enjoy a general knowledge pub quiz with a historical twist! Tickets are £5, which includes one drink.
22 August at 6.30pm
Museum Collections Centre, Birmingham
A look at some of the smaller objects in the stores. Staff will give you information about objects from Egypt, Peru and Japan.
23 August at 10am & 1pm
Junior store tours: a chance to see storeroom objects showing the working and social lives of Mansfield residents – including hoovers, mangles and typewriters.
22 August at 11am & 1pm
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon
A rare opportunity to take a basement tour of the collections – which contain treasures such as early printed books.
22 & 23 August at 10.30am & 2.30pm
Royal Birmingham Society of Artists
The RBSA will display a portrait from the permanent collection, not on display normally, and host a talk by the archive team.
Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Museum (Royal Warwickshire)
Discover an exhibition of hidden treasures from the collection. Listen to a short talks session about objects usually in the store.
22, 24, 26 & 27 August at 11am; 23 August at 2.30pm
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Go behind the scenes and uncover hidden gems, from significant Pop Art works to rarely seen Victorian and Georgian pieces.
23 August at 11am
A unique opportunity to discover the rarely displayed hidden treasure – an original watercolour by J M W Turner.
22 to 27 August all day drop in
South of England
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
A participatory talk and tour by curator, taking you through objects from the museum’s collection.
22 August at 11am & 3pm
Oxford University Natural History Museum
Closed to the public throughout 2013 for restoration, the museum will be opening its doors for Hidden Treasures to run a behind-the-scenes tour of the special objects, including insects collected by Charles Darwin.
24 August at 10am
Polar Museum, Cambridge
Unusual objects and hidden gems from the Inuit art collection and Textile conservation will be there for you to explore.
23 August at 11am, 1pm, 3pm
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Curators from the museum will reveal the artifacts acquired from the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, the biology collection not usually open to the public and the internationally recognised collection of Chinese glass.
22 August at 11am, 12pm, 1.30pm
Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum
Come and discover what goes on behind the scenes at the Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum of local history. You can look at the costume store – and learn about how to care for such a collection, ahead of the new conservation project.
24 August 10.30am; 26 & 27 August 10.30am & 2.30pm
Finchcocks Musical Museum
Watch demonstration recitals on the collection of period-keyboard instruments, led by the founder and director of Finchcocks – with a wide range of guest artists (limited availability).
22, 25 and 26 August at 2.45pm & 4.30pm
Oxford Museums Resource Centre
The Museums Resource Centre will open its doors to the stored textile collections, usually only seen by researchers.
22 August at 5.30pm & 6.30pm
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Behind-the-scenes tours of Coins and Medals and the Founders Library. Visitors can also enjoy a visit to The Origins of the Afro Comb exhibition.
22 August at 11am, 12pm, 2pm & 3pm; 23 August at 11am & 12pm
Join curators on a special tour and discover the stories behind the collection, with objects ranging from a baby rhino to the Poole canoe.
23 & 24 August at 11am & 2pm
Edinburgh Museums and Gardens
Get a rare view inside one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems, the recently restored St Bernard’s Well, and learn from experts how to take care of your own hidden treasures at home.
22 August at 10am, 11am & 3pm; 26 August at 12pm; 27 August at 11am
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Get up close to the documents that detail Inverness’s hidden history of land disposal and royal gifts, exposing the wishes of, amongst others, Mary Queen of Scots and William the Lion.
24 August at 11am & 2pm
The McManus Collections Unit, Dundee
A guided behind-the-scenes tour of the museum stores, where under one roof there are butterflies, agates, dresses, Roman pottery and Inuit necklaces.
23 August at 1pm
Cardiff Story Museum
Bugs, Pests, Dust and Rust: A hands-on event for all of the family where you can learn how to identify bugs and pests and have a go at handling objects.
22 August at 10am & 2pm
National Museum Cardiff
The museum houses Wales’s national archaeology, art, geology and natural history collections. Meet the curator and tour the Natural History Department.
27 August at 1.05pm
How to book
Hidden Treasures tours are provided free of charge and are available to book for Independent readers before the general public. To reserve your place on one of these tours, please visit www.hidden treasures.org.uk and go to the “find your nearest venue” page. There you will see a full list of participating venues with full booking and access information. Book your place directly with the venue, quoting “Independent priority booking”. Independent priority booking runs from 13 to 15 July. Please note, places on Hidden Treasures tours are strictly limited, and allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Terms & Conditions
Hidden Treasures tours are free, but you may be asked to pay for admission if you subsequently decide to visit another part of the attraction. Bookings are being coordinated directly by the venue, so please note that specific access conditions, T&Cs or age restrictions may apply – so do refer to the conditions on the participating museum’s website before booking.