Our kids change their minds about everything all the time: what food they’ll eat, the TV shows they like and what they want for Christmas (although they do give that one a LOT of thought). What they’re very consistent with, however, is their favourite museum in York: York Castle Museum. It lodged itself in their hearts early doors, and remains in pole position today. It might not be the most modern visitor experience on the planet, or have the most interactive features, but they love it and it’s mostly because of Kirkgate.
Kirkgate is the museum’s undercover Victorian street, painstakingly recreated to showcase the businesses that would have existed in York at the time, from the pharmacy with its dubious remedies to the toy shop, sweet shop and pawnbrokers. In normal times, we would just flash our YMT Card, whizz around the museum and end up on Kirkgate where we’d pop in and out of the shops and inevitably leave with a bag full of sugar mice or boiled sweets from the confectionary shop. For the time being, such freedoms are a thing of the past, but the lovely folk at York Museums Trust have found a way that children can still enjoy Kirkgate in a controlled, socially distanced way: their new family tours. We were invited along to try the tour for ourselves and it was great to be back.
The children’s tour is just one of the tours on offer at York Castle Museum, but with each tour you can expect the tour numbers to be very limited. In our case, it was just the four of us (me and the three children, while Mr Viking held the fort at Little Vikings HQ). The suggested age range is five to eleven, which seems about right to us: our kids are 5, 8 and 10 and it held their attention for the full 45 minutes. Any longer, however, and I’m sure they would have got itchy feet. It would be hard work if you had younger siblings in tow who struggle to stand still and listen for any length of time – worth knowing if your youngest is toddler age.
On the Covid-safety front, our guide was wearing a visor and gloves and we wore our face coverings in line with current government guidance. For obvious reasons, there’s no opportunity to handle objects or do any interactive activities. Although that’s a shame, as it’s always a good way to engage children, it’s understandable in the circumstances and meant that we didn’t touch anything throughout the tour. The cafe and shop are closed, so bear that in mind if they’d usually form part of your visit.
On the tour
Under normal circumstances, we’re the type of visitors who soak up the atmosphere rather than reading all the information. As a result, there’s a lot about Victorian life in York that we didn’t know about until we did the tour. Yousef, our friendly costumed guide, gave us a whistle-stop tour of the street and how it would have been to live in the city at the time. We learnt about the difference between the rich and the poor, the businesses behind the shopfronts and – crucially, as far as the kids are concerned – where they went to the loo!
It’s a fascinating glimpse into how life was, and it definitely felt like we ticked a homeschooling box too (better late than never..). The script was snappy enough to keep the kids engaged and the pace was good so they didn’t have time to get bored. We were all happy to be back at the museum and, although the kids said that they’d like more activities to do, they understood that this is the new normal for the time being. They’re keen to go back and explore the whole of the museum again when it re-opens fully (especially the sweet shop!) – fingers crossed for news on that before too long.
For a glimpse into Victorian life in York that’s accessible for children, York Castle Museum’s family tour is just the ticket!
Opening times – Open Thursday to Sunday
Tickets – Must be pre-booked in advance
Prices – Tours priced individually, from £8 per person for the family tour. YMT Card holders have to pay full price for the tour.
Address – York Castle Museum, Tower Street, York YO1 9RY