Two for the price of one: Shaftesbury Abbey and Gold Hill Museums

Date Posted: 18/11/2014

Children dressed as Medieval nuns

Dorset’s Shaftesbury Abbey Museum works in partnership with nearby Gold Hill Museum to offer a comprehensive learning programme.

Both museums house individual collections that tell the story of the town and local area from prehistoric times to the present day.

Founded over 1,000 years ago by King Alfred the Great, Shaftesbury is famous for its picturesque Gold Hill.

Shaftesbury Abbey was founded in 888; and the excavated foundations of this once-important Benedictine nunnery lie in a peaceful walled garden which has an extensive Anglo-Saxon herb collection. 

The museum brings to life the story of the abbey and its inhabitants with dramatic displays of medieval stonework. There is an audio-tour, printed guides and children’s trail.

Just a couple of minutes’ walk away, Gold Hill Museum is situated at the top of the well-known cobbled hill of Hovis fame. 

It tells the story of the area from prehistoric times through local industries, farming, children’s lives, and the World Wars through displays and artefacts. Toys and costumes can be handled and used for workshops.

Toys Workshop, Gold Hill Museum: Key Stage 1

The session is in three parts, which starts with a discussion of the toys that children use today. This is followed by an exploration of a selection of old toys, which the children are encouraged to handle, explore and discuss in groups.

Students will compare modern toys with the ones they have been examining, for similarities and differences.

The second part of the visit takes places in the museum galleries, so children can feel confident in using museums, have fun and find particular objects with explorer sheets provided.

Finally they return to the teaching room, and after discussing what they have found, they make an old-fashioned toy themselves, uch as a puppet, or a thaumatrope, which can be taken home.

Medieval Herb Workshop, The Abbey Museum and Garden: Key Stage 2

Trying Tudor food at Gold Hill Museum

This workshop is held at the abbey, using the Saxon herb garden there, as well as the museum.

Pupils will explore various aspects of medieval life, focussing on the abbey, but also on the trades and crafts in which people in and around the abbey were engaged.

The workshop is very hands-on, and starts with an exploration of archaeological material, using a variety of skills: careful observation, analysis, discussion, recording and interpreting.

Children will then be encouraged to imagine what life might have been like in medieval times (choice here of Saxon or post 1066): What jobs did people do? What was the lifestyle inside and outside the Abbey?

Pupils can make medieval herbal remedies, including toothpaste; spinning and weaving; calligraphy; tile-making and more.

Victorian workshop, Gold Hill Museum: various Key Stages

Gold Hill’s Victorian workshop offers several elements, so schools can choose what they would like to do, and how long they would like their visit to be. The session is firmly rooted in the lives of people in the town and local area.

The choices include: a tour of the town looking for evidence in buildings, street and house names. Pupils learn to identify types of buildings, their uses, and when they were built.

Weather permitting, the class goes on to Gold Hill (just outside the museum) to observe and record the street.

There’s also an artefact handling session, where pupils work in small groups as history detectives, observing, discussing and synthesizing interpretations of objects.

Each object is linked to a (fictional) member of the Victorian community, i.e. blacksmith, cobbler, farmer, school boy and so on and pupils dress up to represent each character.

More about Gold Hill Museum

Gold Hill Museum has been totally renovated, with new displays and a purpose-built education room, which can be used in conjunction with visits to either museum.

Workshop at Abbey Hill museum

It offers tours and/or workshops designed to develop your pupils’ historical investigation and interpretation skills, enhancing their learning in a fun and meaningful way.

These can be tailored to your pupils’ needs, with opportunities for cross-curricular and themed work, beyond the History curriculum.

The museum can cater for school visits of up to 35 children, divided into groups.

You can choose from artefact handling, role-play, storytelling, and themed hands-on activities, such as ‘Herbs and their Uses’ for the workshop sessions.

The Learning Team is led by Claire Ryley, an experienced teacher and museum educator. For more information contact the museums on:



School Travel Organiser's Guide