In the 19th century York had many candy factories, and sweets are still important despite the fact that at one time a high tax was placed on sugar. The biggest industry in York, England, today is tourism. I wondered about the many carousels I saw about town and finally found out in the York Castle Museum why they’re here. Creating carousels was once a big industry in Yorkshire. No kidding. York deserves every tourist it draws. It’s an important destination. Just look at the lady in the white hat in that 2nd story window.
The York Castle Museum is in a prison built in an old Norman castle next to Clifford’s Tower. Over time, separate prisons were inside it for females, debtors, and notorious men like Dick Turpin, its most famous inmate. Wandering around the York Castle Museum will get you into what remains of this historic prison. I didn’t know much about Dick Turpin before I entered this strange place. Turpin was an 18th century highwayman like Robin Hood. He was hung in York for horse theft after spending time in this prison. Like Robin Hood, most of what is said about Turpin is either false or urban legend. What is true is that he was brashly executed after exhibiting “amazing assurance” and bowing to spectators like a comic actor.
The tour of York Castle Museum begins with an interesting timeline that seems to focus on characters like Dick Turpin. It’s followed by some unusual period rooms. These are usually yawn-inducing to me but not here because this museum consistently explores dare-to-be-different themes. Even the Staffordshire figures are worth a look; and the history related, which can be boring, is atypical. For example, I learned that William the Conquerer built his first castle in York in 1068 only 2 years after successfully invading England. There’s a permanent exhibit featuring this museum’s toy collection. Made in Yorkshire, Gilligan’s Galloping Carousel is featured. Even its biggest lure, Kirkgate, which is shown in all of its publicity, is rather fun to see if a bit hokey. A large re-creation of a Victorian street, Kirkgate’s full of quirky stuff and ultimately winning. I went into an exhibit about World War I expecting to be underwhelmed but then became fascinated by the Zeppelin raids York endured during it.
Both the temporary and permanent exhibits throughout York Castle Museum are atypical. Shaping the Body and the Costumes of Yorkshire were permanent. There was a discussion of scurvy in Shaping, and I found myself entertained by learning that pills containing tapeworms causing terrible problems were once sold in York to aid in weight loss. I was by now not surprised by anything I found here. I turned one corner and encountered a display that actually requested visitor input. “How do you shape your body?” it asked. The answers posted were fun to read.
One of the most offbeat tourist attractions I have ever been in is the Museum of Broken Relationships that originated in Zagreb, Croatia. A clone of this weird undertaking with added objects from York’s collections will be here until March 22, 2020. I suspect that Queen Elizabeth will be here to see it.