Reviews Day Tuesday: Powell Cotton Museum

Last Friday, with the Easter holiday officially coming to an end, we still hadn’t had a proper day out!  The weather was looking unpredictable so we couldn’t plan a picnic as I’d hoped.  I debated an afternoon in France, but the howling wind when I woke up soon made that idea less appealing!  So I had a look online for some inspiration and we came up with Hornby Hobbies (which is lots of model trains) or the Powell Cotton Museum, which I understood to be some dead animals and a garden!

As the weather was changeable, I decided that the Powell Cotton Museum was the better bet for a whole afternoon out as we could look round the museum while it was raining and go into the gardens if it brightened up.

Although it’s only up the road, I don’t think I’ve ever been to the museum or gardens before, but knew the park for its large soft play centre that’s also based there (as well as a craft village, garden centre, falconry and restaurant among other things). Despite some incredible Trip Advisor reviews, I have to admit that it didn’t sound terribly exciting: …the museum houses the growing collection of trophies gathered by the young Percy Powell-Cotton on a series of amazing trips to the wildest areas of northern India and Tibet at the end of the 19thcentury and beginning of the 20th century. 

Gallery scene at the Powell Cotton Museum. Image credit quexmuseum.org

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong!  The “collection of trophies” were mainly the skins of wild animals, stretched across life-size frames and placed in a scene (or diorama) that reflected their natural habitat.  The first exhibit had a number of zebra, deer, antelope and giraffes grazing in an African savannah.  The huge scene gave the animals a sense of reality that I’ve never seen before.  The next exhibit was of many different types of monkeys, apes and gorillas, swinging from the branches of trees and lolloping along the ground.  The accompanying education sheet provided for free at the entrance asked how many monkeys were in there, but even I couldn’t count them all, there were so many!  Then there were leopards, tigers (the girls were MOST excited by this!), snakes, wolves, buffalo, hippos, rhinos, foxes, hares, lions and corpse birds, to name but a few.  The most impressive of all, was the giant elephant that stood proud and tall in one of the most exciting of the dioramas on display.  The bones of its leg had been reconstructed in a corner of the room and visitors were invited to stand next to it to appreciate the scale of it.  It was HUGE!  According to the diorama notes, the floor of the scene had to be specially lowered to fit the specimen in and it reached up to the ceiling above.

Gallery 1. Image credit Museumsatnight.wordpress.com

Along with the fantastic diorama, there are also exhibits of animal skulls, elephant tusks, deer heads and various artefacts from the various cultures Percy Powell-Cotton visited on his travels.  There is an interesting gallery based on Angola and one section has been left blank as it was not felt that there was anything that could reflect the history of the years it was at war.  For an empty case, it was a very powerful sentiment.

pickled toad at Powell Cotton Museum

Pickled toad!

The most bizarre gallery of all, however, was en route to the main house, where a number of “pickled” creatures were on display.  These included giant toads, jars stuffed full of scorpions and snakes and even chimpanzee foetuses!  I’m not easily grossed out, but this did it for me!  I’m surprised I didn’t have nightmares after seeing it!

You can then visit some of the rooms of the Powell-Cotton home which have been laid out as they would have been when the family were living there.  As an adult, it was an interesting aside from the main museum, but after the excitement of all the animals, the children were not impressed!

Peacock at Powell Cotton Museum

Peacock

As the sun was trying to peep out, we decided to have a wander around the gardens and, again, were immediately impressed by the beauty and size of them.  As we entered the gardens from the main building, we were met by a colourful peacock, sat on the ornate pergola.  Behind was a giant redwood, clusters of tall bamboo and lush green lawns dotted with established trees and flowers.  A sunken pond featured a water fountain and the walled garden was also home to some Victorian greenhouses.

Walled gardens and Victorian greenhouses at Powell Cotton Museum

Walled gardens and Victorian greenhouses

There was a small Easter egg hunt through the woods that surround the main gardens which amused the girls more than a basic walk might have done, especially as it had begun to rain by now.  Although we didn’t stay outside long, I know we’ll visit again once we get some better weather as it is an ideal picnic venue for families, and there is reduced admission for just the gardens.

As I mentioned earlier, there is also a small craft village on the site.  When we wandered around it, most had closed up for the day, being late on a Friday afternoon, but one craftsman was still hard at work, and we had a good chat with him about the ukelele he creates and he demonstrated some of the models, including a bass version!  This was a fitting end to a fun afternoon that was full of surprises!

If you are visiting East Kent, or live nearby, I would certainly recommend visiting the museum.  It is wonderful for children as they will love seeing the lifesize animals up close and personal in what appears to be their natural habitats.  There are some slightly gruesome scenes of animal kills, but I think it is important for children to understand the reality of nature, in all its gore.  With the added bonus of the gardens, the craft village and the soft play, this is easily a good day out for families and everywhere, apart from the first floor of the house seemed to be accessible for pushchairs/wheelchairs.  There is a cafe attached to the house and also Quex Barn which sells local produce in a restaurant setting.  We’ll certainly go again just to appease Bunny’s constant talk about the lion with blood on it, and to see if Bear can progress past calling everything “an-mals”.

Please excuse the lack of images from the museum, but visitors are politely asked not to take photos.