The York Castle Museum is the best museum in the city by some distance. While probably most famous for it’s full sized indoor recreation of a Victorian Street, the museum also has exhibitions about life in the 1960s, fashion and the shaping of the human body, as well as a history of toys and games. It is also currently home to a temporary exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the Great War, 1914: When The World Changed Forever.
The great thing about the York Castle Museum is that there’s so much to see – it’s exhibitions are literally packed full of fascinating objects. The museum’s name is a little bit misleading however. Although built on the former site of York Castle the building is actually made up of two eighteenth century prisons – you can visit the cells of the debtor’s prison, once the temporary home of highwayman Dick Turpin.
Entry to the York Castle museum is free with a valid York Pass.
Built in 1938 by John Kirk – a local doctor from Pickering – Kirkgate is a snapshot of late-Victorian life. A variety of shops line the main cobbled street, many of which have vanished from our towns and cities. All the shops have been modelled on real businesses that were trading in York in the late nineteenth century. As you walk round, costumed museum staff tell you more about the history of the objects you’re looking at and what life was like at the time.
The 1960s is a period looked back at with a mixture of nostalgia and awe – a man on the moon, an end to segregation in the United States, the arrival of the miniskirt, Beatlemania and an England team winning the World Cup! This exhibition tells the story of the big events of the decade but also those smaller changes that transformed daily life.
York Castle Prison
Perhaps not quite as dramatic – or gory – as York Dungeon, the York Castle Prison exhibition explores the lives of eight former inmates, including a women burnt at the stake, a man forcibly transported to Australia and the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin. The cells that held these criminals are virtually the same as they were back then – save for the electric lighting. Although the museum is no longer a functioning part of England’s justice system the building opposite the museum – originally an eighteenth century courthouse – is still used as York’s Country Court today.
Shaping The Body
Tapping into the Instagram generation’s image obsession, Shaping The Body explores the ways in which the human form has been squashed and squeezed by changing fashions. Whilst the first gallery looks at the way clothes have been used to accentuate particular bodily features, the second gallery explores changing attitudes towards food and their impact on notions of both health and beauty.
Temporary Exhibition – 1914: When The World Changed Forever
On display until 2018, 1914: When The World Changed Forever captures the feel of the early period of The Great War through a large collection of both military and domestic objects. The exhibition explores the experience of Yorkshire people at the time, as local and global histories came together – often with tragic consequences.
Other York Attractions Nearby…
- Clifford’s Tower
- York Army Museum
- York Dungeon
Wondering what to do in whilst you’re here? Read our guide to things to do in York.
Visiting York Castle Museum
York Castle Museum is open daily from 9.30am till 5pm.
An adult ticket costs £10, but up to four under 16s can get in free with a paying adult (which is a really great deal). Entry to the museum is also free with a valid York Pass (you can find out more about the York Pass here).
Photo of York Castle Museum at the top of page is by Jitka Erbenová