As the name may suggest, the Leicestershire town of Coalville has an industrial past that includes mining, and one of the former pits in the area now forms the centre of Snibston Discovery Museum and park. Visitors can learn about how technical innovation has changed the lives of people over the last five centuries, and see exhibits that chart those changes.
It is clear that the site was a former coal mine, and visitors can take a trip into the mine itself. There is also some of the original infrastructure that was used with the mine, including the train line that would have taken coal from the pit.
Inside, some of the trains that may have operated on this or similar lines are on display, and you can get close to them and see them in detail.
The museum is interactive, with exhibits explaining technology. I liked the mini car that could be lifted off the ground using magnets and pulleys. It seemed a popular choice with adults and children alike, all wanting to lift the car using the pulley mechanism.
Transport is a theme at the museum, and there were plenty of forms of transport on display, including fire engines, tractors, steam engines, and buses.
There was even a relatively modern looking penny farthing style bike.
The slightly odd appearance of a skeleton on a bike explains both the human body and how cycling works. Of course, having a skeleton also attracts children to see what is going on.
There was also a Sinclair C5 on display. I tried to explain that, when I was young, this was the future. Only, as it turned out, it wasn’t. An invention too ahead of its time to be successful.
Overhead, there were planes to be seen, as the forms of transport were not limited to those on the ground. Equally, there is a tunnel running under some of the exhibits that allows visitors – although, the smaller ones, perhaps more children sized than large adult – to crawl through.
There is a great play area outside which features exhibits that are both fun and educational. Things that make noise, a play park based on the site’s previous existence as a mine, and learning activities including many that feature water and how it can be pumped, moved, and used to generate power were all popular.
There is also a fashion museum which, as well as charting the changing fashions of the world, looks at the industrial changes and development of textiles that allows these new trends to appear. The changes in all sorts of items, from shoes to corsets, are charted.
I am far from an expert on either topic, and was not sure how interesting I would find the development of fashion, but actually, there was plenty to learn. I was amazed to see how much has changed, probably summed up in one garment which shows the changes not just to technology and innovation, but to society and attitudes. One of the captions reads “The bodice buttons down the front and laces down the back. It is lightly boned with flat steels that can be easily removed for laundering purposes. This new light-weight corset was designed to give comfort and support and was marketed as being healthier than more constricting corsets. It was also marketed to young active women for sports activities such as hockey and rowing”. That description might make you think that the item in question would be similar, or a least a prototype of a modern sports bra. It was quite far from that.
It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of various fashions from history all together, with more contemporary clothes.
I thought this children’s rabbit costume from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was rather interesting.
Like most of the parts of the museum, there were hands on parts of the fashion section where you could get close to some of the exhibits, try your hand at the skills required, and explore what roles there are in the fashion industry.
Given that a sizable number of visitors will be children, there were also plenty of exhibits of toys through the years. I was interested to see that a number of toys that I remember well, from my Star Wars figures to the space hopper, were all now museum pieces.
There was also a series of electronic games, most of which I remember well.
I had a really nostalgic moment when looking at the Lego section. I was drawn by the Concorde model, and when I looked closely, there was an “X15 Satellite Launcher” from 1982 behind it. I had forgotten all about that particular Lego set, but as soon as I saw it, I was taken back to playing with what was one of my favourite sets as a child. I still remember using the oddly shaped parts with my other bricks to come up with all sorts of new inventions.
There was also a great collection of model aircraft on display. I remember many happy childhood hours building planes just like these.
As well as all of the facilities and exhibits inside the museum, there is plenty of parkland around too, and the more attentive of those who stop in the car park might look up to see that on top of the grassy hill at the edge of the parking area stand statues of three Irish elk, sculpted by Sally Matthews, and made from recycled and reformed pieces of metal.
As well as plenty of places to walk and explore, there are fishing lakes too in the park.
We spent a few enjoyable hours at Snibston, with the adults being entertained and amused as much as the children. A good day out.