February half term is the ideal time to head indoors to visit a museum or gallery because the weather is likely to be poor on at least one day. I took my tween and teenage daughters to Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mill. It sounds a bit grim and gloomy to visit an industrial museum but we found it interesting and the girls liked it a lot. We went there after a trip to the trampoline park which rounded off a great day out.
Perched on the banks of the Aire just behind the leisure complex at Cardigan Fields, this museum is run by Leeds City Council. It took us about an hour and a quarter to go round. It’s relatively cheap entry; the cost of entry seemed to be a bit lower in reality than what they show on the website.
Machinery and Stories from the Past
We looked around the first display of machinery and tried to work out what they were all for. We found an ornate printing press and some things we couldn’t work out without reading about them. There were some hands-on things for children like buttons to press and drawers to open. In the next room we were lucky enough to see a massive spinning machine in operation. The machine was the size of a tennis court and one man was operating it as it moved back and forth across the entire floor.
We went on past cloth weaving equipment and soon found ourselves in a reconstruction of a tailor’s shop which the children took over and “ran” for a few minutes. We discovered in one display that the high street shop Burtons was started by an immigrant from Lithuania, Montague Burton. Nearby there were activities for smaller children.
Soon we came to a room with a display we all found sad and poignant, about the industrial disaster at Barnbow where dozens of women were killed in an accident at a munitions factory. Many of them left children or even died with their sisters. We paused for a family hug before moving on.
Next we attempted to solve a murder. Or was it suicide? Did Louis Le Prince really invent photography and have his invention stolen? Or was he overwhelmed by debt and take his life? We read the theories on display and took a vote; it could have been foul play. Also in the film and photography gallery there was a little spinning tub called a Zoetrope where we could see a rocking horse move as it span. I attempted a video of it. There were a few other gadgets like this and some colouring and stamping for younger children too.
Cinema, Floods and Picnics
The museum has a miniature cinema which is charming and old-fashioned. Apparently you can hire it for parties. It sits about 25 people and on the day of our visit it was showing old films of people at work.
Display rooms further on included a very thorough record of the 2015 Boxing Day floods, when the museum and Kirkstall Road area were all under deep water. Some damage is still visible – and smell-able – at lower levels. Then after a room displaying some history of fashion we were able to see steam engines, some vehicles and many stationery. Some looked quite incredible, like locomotives without wheels. One small engine was pink!
The museum tour finishes outside in a picnic area which can be accessed by footbridge from Cardigan Fields. There is a cafe inside and somehow we missed it. Also we managed to leave without visiting the gift shop, which probably saved me quite a bit of money.
Finding the Museum
A visit to the museum can be done on the same day as a visit to the Cardigan Fields leisure complex which is just a few hundred yards away over a footbridge. There is a cinema, bowling and trampoline park among other things, and also restaurants. However you would almost not know it was there, it’s just out of sight. The museum can also be accessed from the tow-path cycle route along the canal.
The great thing about visiting Armley Mill is that it is quite big with lots of rooms to move through. Even though there is a risk of children getting bored in museums sometimes, I find that if you keep moving onward and discover new rooms, the visit goes well. Of course I’d like to go slower, but it’s an acceptable compromise!
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