Housed in a former aircraft hanger, incongruously located next to a bowling alley and cinema complex in Basingstoke’s leisure park is one of my family’s favourite rainy day haunts: Milestones Museum of Living History. Here, toddlers can dash across a cobbled street past a truck, without parents needing to grab them by the hood at the last minute. Older children can learn about the history of their county while grownups can reminisce about the not too distant past in the Collections Corner where items from our youth or indeed adulthood have been consigned to history.
Milestones is a perfect example of how museums today can offer an immersive and interactive experience which makes history fun and enjoyable for all.
Milestones Museum is a recreation of Victorian and early 20th century Hampshire featuring streets and shops which visitors can explore. There is a multitude of restored vehicles on display including a special gallery dedicated to the Thornycroft Steam Wagon Company which opened a factory in Basingstoke at the end of the 19th century and employed thousands of local residents. The museum is very well laid out so even on busy days it never feels overly crowded (except the sweet shop).
Here are some of my boys’ favourite things to see and do at Milestones (they were five and three when we last visited):
- Playing in the post office
Although there is so much to see and do at Milestones, the children always love this little refuge which requires a special key to enter to restrict the number of visitors. The post office is often empty when we use it as not many people seem to know about it. Here, kids can dress up as a postman, drive a postal van, pretend to work behind the counter, deliver letters and so forth. Hours of fun, literally.
- Visit the 1940s sweet shop
Swap a pound for an old penny (not a great exchange rate, I know) from reception and head down to the sweet shop and choose between dolly mixtures, pear drops and other old favourites. Sweets are rationed and weighed as per the era so don’t worry, your children come away with quite a modest bag of treats.
- Marvel at the vehicles
There are fire engines, a tram, old buses, a steam train, a steam roller and trucks galore. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll be in heaven.
- Play in the gypsy campsite and “cook” with produce from the grocery shop
There is a Romani caravan parked on a green space next to a grocer’s shop where children can collect vegetables to cook at the gypsy campsite. If only my kids ate that range of veg in real life…
- Dressing up
As well as postmen, kids can dress as Victorian school children and attend school as it was at the turn of the century. With regal outfits, hard hats and a multitude of other costumes dotted about the museum, there should be something for even the pickiest dresser.
And here are some of the things the grown ups in our family enjoy at Milestones:
1. Having a drink in the Edwardian pub
The museum has it’s very own pub, the Baverstock Arms, what more need I say?
2. Look wistfully at the contraptions we used to own in the not so distant past
In one corner of the museum history fast forwards to a period that most parents, or grandparents will recall. It’s slightly disconcerting to have to explain to my children that I used to play music on a record player which is sufficiently old to warrant space in a museum. There are also black and white televisions, a vintage kitchen and even an old fashioned toy shop with many items I recognise from my childhood.
3. Play in the vintage arcade
This appeals to adults and children alike. My three year old son spent much of our last visit on the Postman Pat van and an old rocking horse while some of the adult males in the group enjoyed the rich cultural history of the arcade peep show…
There is so much to see at Milestones, I really enjoy just wandering around either by myself or with the kids and reading about a particular shop, vehicle or local person of note.
We’ve visited Milestones about four times in the last couple of years as it’s just down the road from my brother’s house and makes for a great afternoon’s outing when the weather isn’t at its best. As the entry cost is quite steep (see below), we have bought annual membership through the Hampshire Culture Card which includes entry to a number of other interesting places such as Aldershot Military Museum and Rockbourne Roman Villa.
The museum usually has a temporary exhibition on display to ensure there is something new whenever you visit. During our last trip it was a time travel adventure and there was also an area where children could play with remote controlled tanks. The museum also organises themed school holiday events.
Open: 10am-16:45 Tuesday to Friday, 11am-16:45 at weekends, closed on Mondays (except bank holidays).
Cost: £12.10 for adults, £8.10 for children aged 5-15, under 5s free
The Hampshire Culture Card costs £69 per family of two adults and two children, this gives free entry to all of the venues. Additional children can be added for £10 each. Single adult membership is £30 or £50 for a couple.