M-Shed – Bristol’s newest museum

23 June 2011

It’s pretty serendipitous that the newly revamped Bristol museum, M-Shed should have opened in the week that we became Bristol residents once again and of course we couldn’t wait to visit and see what all the fuss is about! We were actually supposed to go at the weekend (I even booked timed tickets for the occasion) but were so busy with moving house that we didn’t make it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but have to say that we were very impressed by M-Shed and thought that it was extremely interesting and well laid out. The display begins on the ground floor with a gallery devoted to Bristol Places, with themed displays about each district of the city, complete with photos and items designed to evoke the very different histories of each area. Of course, we made a beeline for the section about Brislington, which involved Arnos Cemetery (I will be doing a separate post about this as it is the most amazing, huge Victorian graveyard), Robinson’s jam and the Arnos estate.

Residents of Brislington will be very familiar with the Black Castle pub in Sainsbury’s car park, which is actually a castle folly from the glory days of Brislington when it was populated by the mansions of wealthy Bristolian slavers and merchants. I was interested to see a lovely print of the castle in its heyday!

The highlight of the gallery was a huge floor map of Bristol, where we could pick out our house, Concorde, my husband’s workplace and everywhere we have lived in the city! There was also a double decker bus and working traffic lights, which my boys really loved. In fact there is lots in M-Shed for younger visitors to touch, look at and explore and it’s definitely well worth taking children there as they can learn so much – there’s even an interesting array of head gear from New Model Army helmets to Medieval merchants’ hats to try out.

It’s not just a history of Bristol, of course – there’s much to be learned about the social history of the whole country here.

Upstairs were more displays devoted on one side to Bristol Life, with displays about the cultural and everyday life of the city and on the other side, Bristol People, which highlighted Bristolians past and present, both well known and obscure. I thought this made for a fascinating glimpse into the history of a fascinating and vibrant city and was particularly moved by the displays devoted to the tremendous devastation of the Bristol Blitz in WWII and also the separate section about the slave trade, how horrible it was and its impact on the city’s fortunes. Bristol’s long history of riots and social disorder wasn’t ignored either.


The really special thing about the museum was that it was full of older visitors, all of whom were clearly having a brilliant time looking at the displays, reminiscing about Bristol in the past and exclaiming over forgotten memories. It was really great. In fact the atmosphere was just really nice throughout with Bristolians clearly taking great pride both in their (our? As the wife and mother of true Bristolians, I think I can claim some part of Bristol now, can’t I?) city and its latest addition – and rightly so.

For more information about M-Shed, check out their website.