I was recently off work for a couple of weeks, and wanted to make the most of the unusually sunny British weather we were having. But it seemed that every toddler-friendly venue recommended online was either a farm or zoo (we have annual passes to the local zoo). The beach (too busy during summer holidays). Or too far away for a day trip. So with determination to find something that we would all enjoy. I went searching through some local attraction sites to see what was on offer. It was here that I came across the East Anglian Railway Museum.
What is The East Anglian Railway Museum?
The East Anglian Railway Museum is a living heritage site based at the rural Chappel railway station in Essex. The location is a small, but active railway station, yet behind the scenes is in my opinion, a hidden gem.
What’s There to See?
The East Anglian Railway Museum is full of Victorian buildings, and memorabilia which each tell their own story.
There’s a signal box where you can play around and pull the levers, or read through the numerous guides on how the box was used when it was still in commission. And you’re free to browse the historical memorabilia on display in the original platform, station masters office, ticket offices and waiting rooms.
For anyone who enjoy a bit of history, and seeing how things work. There’s a fully functional restoration house with information about each of the trains inside; including what they did in their day, and what is being done to them to restore them now. There are also a number of historical vehicles here, which we found interesting to read about and see.If you’re a Harry Potter fan; you’ll find the open train an interesting experience. Whilst walking down the corridor, I had an array of flashbacks to scenes from the movies and books. And half expected to see someone flying past the window on a broomstick!
And for the kids…
The museum offers lots of interesting activities for children to get involved with. The main attraction is a fun and educational adventure trail led by Milo the Mouse. Children can search for Milo and his friends around the museum grounds to find points of interest, where they can interact with the displays. For very young children, there’s I-SPY sheets available all with the same Milo and friends theme. And finally, the Heritage Center offers lots of fun activities for all ages such as building your own railway, and dressing up as a station master, victorian passenger or signalman.
The Heritage Center is especially good for those days where the weather isn’t being so competitive. Providing a warm and dry area to play in when the heavens decide to open!
Finally they have a miniature railway. For a small additional fee, you and/or your children can ride up and down the side of the main track, viewing some of the other miniature trains that are owned by collectors along the way.One other thing to mention is that the museum periodically runs big Thomas The Tank Engine events. These crowd-pleasing events involve the entire center being staged in a “Thomas and friends” theme. The events include rides on Thomas, and lots of photo opportunities with all of your favourite characters.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the railway, the engineering of the steam trains or the museum itself. Then ask one of the very knowledgeable staff! We managed to speak to a few people during our visit, who were all very helpful and happy to give us a history lesson on a particular area of the site.
The museum was very quiet when we visited, in fact we were the only family there all afternoon. Which was great for us, but not so great for the museum I imagine. Which really is a shame. It did however work in our favour, as one of the staff members we were talking to offered to take us on a behind the scenes tour of some of the usually hidden areas which was really fascinating. He went into detail about some of the buildings and trains on show in the main museum areas, and even some of the ones that weren’t currently on show. Talking about how they work, how they’re maintained, and what goes into owning, driving and restoring these impressive machines. For a young person to have so much knowledge of what is essentially a redundant era, it really showed us just how much passion the staff there have for both their work and the preservation of the museum and its features.
Upon leaving the museum, you have to drive under this amazing railway bridge. Which is a sight in itself! It’s hard to imagine something like this could be literally on your doorstep.
Is it Suitable for Families?
In terms of family friendliness. The website advertises that it is a family friendly location. Whilst I agree mostly with this, there are a few things to bare in mind before visiting…
There is a small coffee shop on the platform that sells cakes, ice cream and hot/cold drinks. But it only takes cash, and there are no facilities there to draw cash.
The site is based on an active railway line. So in order to get to the museum, you need to go over the railway bridge. This involves a lot of uneven concrete steps on both sides, and is definitely not pram friendly. There are also a few other areas around the site which aren’t pram friendly, such as the signal room and restoration house. So unless you have someone to help carry the pram in some areas. You’re best to either carry young children in either your arms, or a sling/carrier.
I definitely think the museum is a hidden wonder that is well worth a visit. I find it such a shame that young children nowadays are more interested in visiting theme parks or playing computer games than visiting places like this. As a child I loved visiting museums, and aim to make sure my son visits as many as possible.
It took us around 3hrs to view the entire museum, we didn’t visit the heritage center in the end as we decided Chase was too young this time. We were however talking to the staff quite a bit. So I guess if you have children and do all the activities there, and take a packed lunch, you could make a day of it. But for us, an afternoon was plenty.
You can find out more by visiting the East Anglian Railway Museum website.
Disclaimer: I paid for our entry to the museum, albeit at a reduced rate. I do not work for the museum, and am not affiliated with them in any way. The views and photos in this review are 100% my own.