In our annual guided tour feature, Val Baynton highlights attractions and venues that offer expert led visits. Discovering the secrets of an attraction or looking behind the scenes are ways to make your group outings even more appealing!Exploring ancestry or the specific history of a place or locality, in the manner of popular TV programmes such as ‘Who Do You think You Are?’ and ‘The House Through Time’, are popular pursuits, and groups can follow up this interest by booking into behind the scenes tours at County Record Offices and Museum collection stores.
Groups can learn about what has been preserved from the past and how documents are conserved at Essex Record Office in central Chelmsford. A guided tour around the building shows how archive collections are cared for and includes a tour of the Searchroom, a visit to a store room and the conservation department, and a small display of maps from a location of your choice can be prepared. You will also see a few ‘treasures’ from the archives.
Tours last approximately two hours and can accommodate groups of up to 16 people. Groups have an option of booking a bespoke document display as well.
In Worcestershire, Hartlebury Castle, once home to the Bishops of Worcester, and around four miles from Kidderminster, offers private tours and behind the scenes visits to groups.
Last year, new areas of the castle – including the Bishops Palace – were opened up and groups can learn about the lives of its residents, see the Medieval Great Hall and Georgian Saloon and visit the north wing, which is home to Worcestershire’s County Museum. Here, objects as diverse as toys, costume and horse drawn vehicles including gypsy caravans are on display.
Another important element of a visit is The Hurd Library – a unique example of a working library still on its original shelves in the room built for it. It was founded in 1782 by Richard Hurd, Bishop of Worcester and holds over 5,000 volumes. The Library is only open on Tuesdays, but groups can pre-book a private tour to include the library and other parts of the castle or talks from curators.
Worcestershire’s Collections Centre is a five-minute drive from the castle and this is where thousands of objects relating to the county including archaeology, costume, furniture, art and social history are stored and cared for. Groups can book a behind the scenes tour of this building with the collections team. The tour lasts around 90 minutes and is for between eight and 14 people, but it’s possible that two tours could be run in a day for larger groups.