Milestones: An attraction of local history

Words: Connor Steel

Photograph: Aisling Steel

MILESTONES Museum, classified as a living history experience, is located in Basingstoke leisure park and is said to be a popular example of local Hampshire past and present.

Opened in 2000 by the late Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, and run by the Hampshire Cultural Trust, the all-weather attraction hosts a network of streets modelled on those originally found in Victorian and 1930s Hampshire, including train tracks, old vehicles and shops based on historic and traditional village styles.

Research shows that popular Victorian public houses, railway stations, toy shops, and a television store are located, which all includes original equipment alongside a pier set-up including an interactive penny arcade.

Last weekend, just 16 days after the attraction reopened following the Covid-19 lockdown, myself and two siblings visited the museum on perhaps the most fitting anniversary of June 6; two of us had already been once in mid-2018 and one hadn’t visited in her life.

Having paid just over £46 for pre-purchased tickets (two adults and a concession) and booked our visiting slots, the arrival at 10.38am was extremely simple and efficient lasting just a couple of minutes. Having been scanned into the venue and used hand washing facilities, entrance was permitted to the main area of the museum that can be found on the second floor (lifts and stairs are available for use to ensure accessibility).

Using the one-way system to navigate through the first section, content was surprisingly interesting on the subject of Thorneycroft manufacturers and featured historic equipment/vehicles that were used in the early 1900s. There are mannequins throughout showing characters, which one of the unnamed siblings found slightly terrifying given that an eye had popped out and sought to cover it in photographs. Despite our interest in Thorneycroft artefacts, this was quickly passed through by other visitors as they raced to reach the much mentioned ‘street network’.

And who can blame them? The street network was a brilliant example of simplicity combined with detail throughout. The first stop was an old ‘Co-operative’ shop, where service was sadly denied by the mannequin assistant who didn’t even answer my questions. Further, attempting the hopscotch was also a failure, but the less said about that the better!

But visits into the TV store, greengrocers  and Teddy Bear Museum were successful, with lots of history and vintage memories for all ages; including the three young-ish ages of 28, 25 and 19 in this small visiting group.

After a small break in which we sat outside for lunch and drink, whilst also removing our face masks temporally, it was back on the history trail as the air-raid shelter came into view on the network of cobbled streets. This was preceded by trips into the allotment area where examples of 1940s layouts were offered, as well as a ‘play’ with some old fashioned petrol machine just outside a makeshift garage display.

Upon leaving the air-raid shelter (when safe to do so), it was then time for a stroll past the sweet shop, the pub and a school building before unwittingly disturbing a mannequin in an outside toilet. It may have been a tad constipated, but certainly made us jump.

Alongside the models of streets, buildings and vehicles were information boards showing historic facts to readers. Gosport heroes feature on a photo-board in the air-raid shelter whilst photos of Fareham were featured in a piece on WW2 bombing. A large scale resolution image, for example, shows a scene from Victory in Europe Day from Gosport; where residents threw huge street parties. This was particularly interesting given the 75th anniversary last year. Other areas such as Park Gate also feature; alongside artefacts from Havant, Petersfield, Milton and Basingstoke.

After following the one-way system to its initial conclusion after two-and-a-half hours, it was decided that another walk round would give more photographic opportunities with fewer people around. On this walk-around, it appeared that we had missed some areas the first time, including an old fire-truck and sandbags alongside an old Victorian bike with one wheel much bigger than the other. But this is when the artistic license and laughter came out amongst certain members of the visiting group, with a recreation of a famous Frozen scene (sibling) and Singing in the Rain around a lamppost (self).

The final act of the day involved visiting the model train station by the exits, but not before a photo was taken of a family member lying on the floor in pure exhaustion!

The only disappointment of the day was that some areas were closed to the public and visitors couldn’t climb onto any artefacts such as the fire-truck/bus model as was previously permitted. This was due to Covid-19 regulations and included the pier section due to open on June 8, whilst the sweet shop and live pub scene were shut due to it being a Sunday. It is widely hoped that everything can open as normal from June 21 pending Government guidelines, but it didn’t deter from a lovely day out with family and enjoying local history – including teaching the youngest of the group some much-needed culture.

And it was fairly cheap in comparison to other attractions across Hampshire despite costing £46 for tickets. These are valid for 12 months and allow unlimited visits in that period, providing an online booking day/time is done using Milestones – Living History Museum in Hampshire (milestonesmuseum.org.uk).

However this feature is only short term and will likely end after Covid-19 rules cease to exist, meaning that visitors can be spontaneous and turn up whenever. If you are adding in the non-essentials such as £8 for drinks and £13 for souvenirs including presents for Father’s Day, an overall cost of £66 for three people (not including petrol costs) doesn’t sound too bad. Family tickets are also available for a set price, while adult tickets are approximately £16.50 and concession tickets for disabled/elderly are fixed at £13.25 pending any further increases.

Free parking, accessibility for everyone, toilet and café facilities and finally attractions suitable for all ages; it was agreed that Milestones Museum was fantastic and another visit before June 2022 will definitely happen. But just remember to wear walking shoes and switch the brain into learning mode, whilst also taking videos and photos if an idea for further research is seen.

Milestones is definitely a great attraction, but is bigger on the inside than it looks upon the outside… as we all found out.

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