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Christmas shopping? Try a Museum

1st November 2010 Print

With nearly 350 museums across South East England, there’s no shortage of cultural, historic and quirky experiences waiting to be discovered.

But now Tourism South East has come up with another reason to visit museums in the region - Christmas shopping.

With the festive season fast approaching, many museum shops sell much more than just the usual souvenirs, making them great places to pick up something different and unusual for the loved ones in your life.

Here’s a taste of what’s available for those who want to absorb some local culture and hit the shops at the same time:

Local crafts
The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, West Sussex, is dedicated to the preservation of traditional crafts and comprises nearly 50 historic buildings dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Here you’ll find a range of gifts made locally by traditional craftsmen - blue pottery from nearby Amberley, beautiful wood-turned bowls and even handmade period furniture in oak or elm.

Traditional preserves
Gilbert White’s House & Garden and the Oates Collection, in Selborne, Hampshire, is a fascinating property where you can learn more about Gilbert White - ‘the first ecologist’ - and explorer Captain Lawrence Oates, who famously died in Antarctica on Captain Scott’s doomed expedition. The gift shop offers a collection of Emma Bridgewater jams, honey and chutney, as well as crockery and an extensive range of cookery and natural history books. It’s free of charge to enter the gift shop, but you would be missing out if didn’t take the opportunity to explore the house too.

The Lightbox at Woking, Surrey, is one of the South East’s most dynamic museum and gallery spaces, with exhibits devoted to contemporary art and science, as well as family-friendly interactive displays. For unusual and eco-friendly gifts The Lightbox has all sorts of weird and wonderful ideas including glow-in-the-dark light boxes, recycled green bottle goblets and sunjars!

Military fashion!
For adventurous boys and history buffs a gift from the REME Museum of Technology, Arborfield, Berkshire, could work a treat. Maintained by the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the museum is dedicated to showcasing the technology used in maintaining and developing army equipment. The shop reflects this by offering military and exercise clothing and equipment as well as books and DVDs on the subject.

Fantasy worlds
Immerse the kids in the fantasy worlds of Roald Dahl, and pick up some whizzpopping gifts at the same time, at the Roald Dahl Museum at Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire. From a build-your-own Chocolate Factory to Big Friendly Giant mugs, there are enough presents to satisfy even Veruca Salt. There are also many events and workshops taking place over the festive season.

Dino delights
Dinosaur Isle traces the Isle of Wight’s geology and houses more than 1,000 of its best fossil exhibits. It’s also the perfect spot to get the ideal gift for the little terror in your life. Hundreds of different dinosaur items are stocked, from gear-powered T-rexes to Dinopoly - a board game you can really get your teeth into! With geology sets, books and DVDs for older kids and adults, there’s something for every enthusiast.

Retro fun
The Milestones Museum, Basingstoke, Hampshire, is a living history museum based around a collection of Victorian and 1930s streets, with shops, a village green and even an Edwardian pub! Traditional board games and puzzles, model vehicles and even Victorian costumes for the kids are among the retro items available.

Classically-inspired jewellery
Founded in 1683, Oxford’s renowned Ashmolean Museum was Britain’s first-ever public museum and today houses the University of Oxford’s world-class collections of art and archaeology. Gift hunters will find bespoke jewellery inspired by individual collections. Its newest range is based on the works of the Pre-Raphaelites, with accessories and stationery on offer too.

Flipping marvellous!
Forget Xboxes and Playstations - if you really want to make a statement with your present, get the overgrown schoolboy in your life a classic pinball table! The Pinball Parlour in Ramsgate, Kent, is a collection of pinball machines from all over the world, with a number available to buy - or just visit for a flipping good time!

All revved up
For speed merchants what could be better than owning a piece of your own race track? That’s on offer at the Brooklands Museum, located at the world’s first purpose-built motor-racing circuit at Weybridge, Surrey. A square yard of the track starts at just £95, and the lucky recipient can choose their own dedication and image to go alongside it!

For arty types
The Pallant House Gallery Bookshop in Chichester, West Sussex, has a collection of rare and out-of-print books for anyone with a passion for modern British art. It’s also the perfect place to pick up a specially-commissioned print. With exciting temporary exhibitions and an important permanent collection, Pallant House Gallery is fast becoming the home of modern art in the South East.

For more information about museums in South East England, please see: