The St Albans museum and gallery keeps popping up in my research and I finally got around to doing a review of it. The museum opened in June 2018 and is right in the heart of the city. The building used to be the Town Hall and courtrooms for St Albans, but it underwent a massive £7.75 million transformation to turn it into the museum and gallery it is today. Despite being a fairly small museum it was surprisingly busy when we visited.
The one thing you’ll notice is that there’s a distinct lack of Roman history, despite St Albans being FULL of Roman history. This is for a good reason – there’s a dedicated Roman museum not far away. The Verulamium museum is also part of the St Albans Museum group and I’ll post a review soon.
It turns out that there is a “right” route around the museum and a “wrong” route. Or at least some visitors felt there is, and apparently we were going the wrong way! Oops, our bad. Anyway, if you want to take the right route then DON’T go into the cafe first even though it looks really cool. Go down the stairs to the right and have a look around the basement first. There are two main areas down here – the Western Gallery and the cells.
Because of the nature of the building there are several parts that have awkward access. Most people seem to leave their pushchairs in the foyer area. I always hate just abandoning the pushchair but there’s a guard standing in the foyer and my pushchair is beyond knackered now so it was ok. There are lifts available though.
Speaking of guards, he wasn’t especially helpful. I stood in front of him, with smallest child in her pushchair and asked if there are any loos. He directed me to the toilets at the front of the museum that are down a flight of stairs. When I asked if there was a lift down there because of the pushchair he said I could just leave the pushchair in the foyer. It’s not that I mind much but as it turned out there is a disabled access toilet and baby change (without steps) just behind him!!! Grrrr.
The Western Gallery
This is a large open space which tells you about some of the key people and achievements around St Albans. There is also a load of hands-on activities here. They have a little tent (which smallest child was instantly drawn to) and an entire trolley of activities and crafts to do. There’s also a ton of books to read and some bean bags to read them on. There was a giant skeleton puzzle you can build as well.
The information boards and exhibits focus on people such as Stephen Hawking (did you know he grew up in St Albans?) Did you also know that thanks to some of the companies based in St Albans have been integral to space and nautical travel? Not bad for a “little town just outside London”!!
The other part of the basement is home to the original holding cells for the court room. These are accessed via an awkward and narrow corridor. It’s not a problem for most people, but it’s not great for wheelchairs or pushchairs. There is a narrow spiral staircase coming off this corridor – this leads up to the dock, but more on that later.
At the end of the corridor are the cells themselves. There are two cells that have been left pretty much as they would have been when they were in use. When you shut the doors they make the stereotypical prison door BANG! I’m not sure why that was surprising, it’s a stereotype for a reason. When the kids have been driving you crazy all day it was in no way satisfying to lock them in the cells. Definitely not. N.B. despite my best efforts you cannot actually lock the doors so don’t worry, you won’t get locked in. The other cells down the corridor have been turned into loos! Obviously, what else do you do with empty holding cells!!?!!
The Court Room
Climb the spiral staircase and you’re in the dock! If however you’ve gone the wrong way down the staircase you’re treated to a grumpy old man wittering that you’re doing it wrong. Again, my bad.
So, back to the Court Room. Despite now being the seating area for the cafe they’ve left pretty much all the fixtures and fittings of the court in-situ. That means you can sit in the judges chair passing sentences on complete strangers whilst having a cuppa! It’s really cool and unique, but I’m not sure it makes for a peaceful cafe. It’s fairly small in there, and there are lots of excited children running around the dock. I do think it’s a great use of the space though.
Yes, I do now have a photo of all three kids in the dock looking guilty as hell. It was a photo opportunity too good to miss. I think it’s a bit like when you walk past a customs agent at the airport. Even though you’ve done nothing wrong you feel guilty. Either that or they had actually been up to something.
The first floor of St Albans Museum & Gallery
The main feature of the first floor is the assembly room. It’s just a massive empty, albeit it very pretty, room. I think they do a lot of their events in here but there’s not really a lot to see. There’s a small exhibition on the first floor landing and there’s the gallery as well. On the way to the gallery make sure you have a look through the internal widows!
The gallery only has temporary exhibitions I believe. When we visited to do the review of St Albans Museum the exhibit was about “The making of a market town”. It was very impressive but smallest child was all about the sheep.
Review of the children’s activities at St Albans Museum & Gallery
There are regular trails and activities at the Museum. When we visited they were taking part in that national Big Museum Hunt so we had to hunt for Where’s Wally. It was a free trail with surprisingly well hidden mini Wallys to find. The prize was a sticker and the chance to enter a competition, but it was free so I didn’t really expect anything. They also regularly run craft activities, which usually have a small charge. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do the craft activity as it was sold out but we had a quick look at some of the results and it looked good. Make sure that you have a look at their website for the latest activities.
Entry is free. There may be charges for some activities.
Parking / How to get there
Use town centre car parks
Address – Town Hall, St Peter’s Street, St Albans. AL1 3DH
On-site, including baby change. If you fancy it you can even go to the loo in a prison cell!
Cafe on-site with seating in the court. There’s also seating outside. You cannot bring your own food / drink.
Our review of St Albans Museum & Gallery
3.5 / 5 – It’s a lovely little museum. We were only there for a couple of hours, but we could have increased that if we’d taken part in the craft activity. There’s not a huge amount to do, but there are plenty of things nearby (such as Verulamium Park) to bulk out the day. The things they do have are really unique though!
I’m Vicky and I am a mum of three living in Aylesbury. I set up Free Time with the Kids to review free and cheap family days out in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, mainly because I kept forgetting all the fabulous places that were recommended to me!! I love getting out and about with the kids (and hubby of course) and we have adventures all over the place. My reviews tell you all the things you need to know about the family days out and activites we’ve done such as how much it costs, if there’s parking, toilets and if there’s a cafe or if picnics are allowed. I really hope you find the reviews helpful. If there’s anywhere that you’d recommend please get in touch email@example.com or get in touch via Facebook