Discover the Hidden Treasures: Behind the scenes at some of the nation’s most exciting museums

Unique national event will show you curiosities previously unseen, secret storerooms usually closed to the public, and expert guides ready to give you a personal tour

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The Independent Culture

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 – but here is a taster of the events currently on offer…

Greater London

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

Horniman Museum

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

Beamish Museum

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

Bede’s World

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

Experience Barnsley

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

Chetham’s Library

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

Manchester Museum

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

Mansfield Museum

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.

24 August

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

Peterborough Museum

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

Poole Museum

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 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.