Awesome to zany

Ancient House Museum, Thetford

Ancient House Museum, Thetford - Credit: Archant © 2004

As Norfolk Museums Service marks 40 years of caring for and sharing some of our greatest treasures, Rowan Mantell celebrates with an A to Z of the county’s collections.

Products of the past at Norwich's Bridewell Museum

Products of the past at Norwich's Bridewell Museum - Credit: Archant © 2004

A is for Ancient House Museum, Thetford, a Tudor merchant’s house packed with treasures from the town’s past. Meet revolutionary philosopher Thomas Paine and see a table set for a Tudor feast.

B is for Bridewell, where the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell tells the stories of the city’s industrial past from textiles to mustard, chocolate to shoes.

The Rows at Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth

The Rows at Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth - Credit: Archant © 2004

C is for Cromer Museum, based in a fisherman’s cottage. Find out about lifeboat heroes and the scandal of mixed bathing.

D is for dungeons deep beneath Norwich Castle, where prisoners were chained in darkness. Tours include the collection of death heads – plaster-cast impressions of executed criminals.

The polar bear in the natural history department at Norwich Castle Museum

The polar bear in the natural history department at Norwich Castle Museum - Credit: Archant © 2004

E is for Elizabethan House Museum in Great Yarmouth. Discover life in this quayside house from Tudor times, and see the Conspiracy Room, where the death of King Charles I might have been planned.

F is for Farming. Find out how the agricultural workers of the past grew food and tended livestock at the working farm, part of the Gressenhall museum.

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G is for Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse where visitors can experience everything from the shame of being sent to the workhouse to countryside festivals.

H is for the Happisburgh hand axe. More than half a million years old, this Norfolk beach find pushed back the date for human occupation of Britain by 200,000 years and is regarded as one of the country’s greatest historical treasures.

I is insects and inverterbrates – both part of the natural history collection at Norwich Castle, of around 1.5 million specimens from bugs to polar bear.

J is for the joint museums committee of Norfolk County Council which oversees the work of Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service.

K is for King’s Lynn, where Seahenge timber circle, built 4,000 years ago, and revealed on a Norfolk beach by retreating sand and sea, is now displayed.

L is for the Lynn Museum which, in addition to Seahenge, also houses Iceni gold coins hidden in a cow bone and Victorian fairground gallopers.

M is for the Matlaske reliquary. This medieval gold pendant, engraved with a picture of Christ on the cross flanked by two saints, would have held holy relics to ward off disease.

N is for Norwich Castle, built as a Norman royal palace 900 years ago and now home to priceless collections of art, archaeology, and natural history.

O is for oldest. When a gigantic skeleton was discovered in cliffs near Cromer, it caused a world-wide sensation. The West Runton Elephant is actually a 700,000-year-old Steppe mammoth and the oldest such skeleton in the UK.

P is for painters. The art galleries at Norwich Castle display a world-famous collection of Norwich School paintings, including masterpieces by John Crome and John Sell Cotman.

Q is for Queen Boudica, leader of the Iceni tribe who led a revolt against the Romans from her Norfolk heartlands. The Boudica Gallery at Norwich Castle includes Europe’s largest collection of Iron Age gold and silver neck rings.

R is for the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, housed in Norwich Castle. Displays include the letters and diaries of men who fought in both world wars.

S is for Strangers Hall which brings Tudor and Stuart Norwich vividly to life. Find out who the Strangers were and how they helped shape the city.

T is for Time and Tide, the Yarmouth museum in a former fish factory which tells the story of the town’s transformation from sandbank to seaside resort. T is also for the 3,000-plus teapots on show at Norwich Castle.

U is for underground. Thousands of archaeological finds, many unearthed by metal detectorists, are reported to Norfolk’s identification and recording service every year.

V is for Viking. See weapons, jewellery and sculptures, plus an ingot of Viking gold discovered on the site of Norwich Forum, at the Castle Museum.

W is for weaving. Norfolk was the centre of an international textiles trade for centuries, from medieval worsted to Norwich shawls which were the height of 19th century fashion. See fantastic examples in the Costume and Textile Collection at Norwich’s Shirehall Study Centre.

X is for x-ray. X-rays of a 3,000-year-old mummy, given to Norwich Castle by King George V, revealed Victorian pins and clips, used after mummy unrolling parties.

Y is for Yarmouth’s Tolhouse Museum. One of the oldest prisons in the country, it tells stories of smugglers, pirates, murderers, and witchcraft trials.

Z is for Zzz. Time for bed – have a go at bed-making Tudor-style in Strangers Hall.

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