Birmingham is full of strange places and peculiar people. Only recently did the entire city go bonkers for a 10-metre mechanical bull. But that’s why we love the city so much. It’s these oddities the makes the place special. It only makes sense then that there are some equally odd museums to go with it too. So we’ve rounded up eight of the best and barmiest museums around Birmingham.
Cadbury World is an institution in Birmingham. It’s had the whole city chocolate mad since the 1990s. This Willy Wonka-esque factory is a dazzling adventure into the world of chocolate making. Your journey might begin normal enough, making your own choc, but you’ll be on an adventure to an Aztec Temple to discover the origins of the cocoa bean quickly enough. With its mix of multi-sensory cinema, interactive digital displays and demonstrations, Cadbury World has remained refreshingly bizarre over the decades. There’s enough chocolate here to send anyone doolally too – you’ll be singing “oompa loompa doopity doo” all the way home.
Cadbury World, 69 Linden Rd, Bournville, Birmingham B30 1JR
If what you’re thinking is: A pen museum? Isn’t that a bit boring? Then you’d be wrong. Long before it became Birmingham’s coolest location, the Jewellery Quarter was capital to the world’s pen trade in the Victorian age. About 100 pen factories in the area accounted for 75% of all pens worldwide. The Pen Museum is a celebration of this time. Visitors interact with a range of activities that includes, writing with a quill and ink, using typewriters, trying calligraphy and using graphology to analyse your handwriting. There’s also the opportunity to make your own pen nib. With pen usage gradually fading from modern life, this collection becomes stranger and more fascinating by the day.
The Argent Centre, 60 Frederick St, Birmingham B1 3HS
Out in Dudley, you’ll find people living life like it was 200 years ago. In one of the first industrialized landscapes in Britain, there are 26 acres of reconstructed shops, pubs and houses to explore and historic characters to meet. You can head back to school and visit the vintage cinema, eat traditional fish ‘n’ chips and play old fashioned street games at The Black Country Living Museum. It might be the closest thing to a time machine The West Midlands has. They also run regular Peaky Blinders-themed evenings to live out your Tommy Shelby fantasies in.
Tipton Rd, Dudley DY1 4SQ
Something for lovers of the macabre. Newman Brothers’ Coffin Works is another Jewellery Quarter industry brought back from the dead. It once produced some of the world’s finest coffin furniture, including for funerals of Joseph Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother. The extensive and unique collection of shrouds, coffin furniture and paper archives gives us a better understanding of the changing attitudes to death over the last 100 years. It is a morbidly fascinating trip, if a little unnerving.
13-15 Fleet Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, B3 1JP
This 250-year-old working watermill has become somewhat of a pilgrimage for fantasy fiction fans. None other than JRR Tolkien grew up in the area and once described it as a “lost paradise.” It served great influence on Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings, as did much of the surrounding Shire Country Park. A two-mile tour takes you from the mill to Moseley Bog, via Tolkien’s childhood home, with a stop-off for pizza in the mill’s courtyard. Sarehole Mill is not just for Tolkien Heads, however. The tranquil mill pond is free and explorable during opening hours, as are the surrounding woodlands, both filled with wildlife and magic.
Cole Bank Rd, Birmingham B13 0BD
Ever wanted to know what it’s like to be locked up? No, nor us. But now you can anyway. This Victorian lock-up was built in 1891 and remained a working police cell block until 2016. West Midlands Police Museum offers visitors the chance to experience life on both sides of the bars. Solve crimes in the forensics lab, dress up in old timey uniforms, or take your own mugshot. There’s so much for you to discover, including a real police box, police motorcycles and memorabilia. It’s as close as we ever hope we’ll get to visiting a real prison.
The Lock-up, 40 Steelhouse Ln, Birmingham B4 6BJ
7. Soho House
Soho House is one of the stranger Birmingham museums because of what it was rather than what it is. In the 18th century, The Lunar Society – a sort of monthly dinner party – used to meet in Soho House every month during the full moon. Spooky! It was this quirk that led to them calling themselves ‘lunaticks’. The group was made up of industrialists, philosophers and intellectuals, such as Joseph Priestley, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood, James Watt, and William Withering, that would discuss the latest ideas and inventions, and carry out scientific experiments too. These days Soho House is an elegant home that you can explore, but you can still take the Lunar Society Trail around the city.
Soho Ave, Birmingham B18 5LB
A mini-city run completely by children? Now that is one of the craziest ideas we’ve ever heard. But it might just work. We jest, obviously, but Thinktank’s MiniBrum is a spectacular interactive gallery . With child-sized recreations of the city’s most recognisable landmarks, such as the Birmingham canals, Selfridges and the Old Joe Clock Tower. Aimed primarily at children around the age of 8 – sorry parents – it features several different play zones for children to discover. Elsewhere Thinktank continues the madness with The Science Garden. Where people of all ages can get to grips with various engineering exhibits – including a giant hamster wheel and Terminus, an intriguing machine that if you get moving enough causes an explosion of dancing balls and whistles. Thinktank also has a Planetarium to dazzle you with the wonders of the universe. Science truly is a marvel.
Millennium Point, Curzon St, Birmingham B4 7XG
BONUS: Land of Lost Content
We can’t quite count this as one of our Birmingham museums. But we still have to feature it. The Land of Lost Content is a two-hour drive away in Shropshire, but has its origins in the city. Its founder Stella Mitchell began collecting everyday objects while studying art in Birmingham in the 1970s. It is just brimming with oddities. From tickets from the first National Lottery to Chad Valley toys and a Sinclair C5 (imagine an 80s electric tricycle), it has everything you haven’t thought about in years. Well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area.
The Old Market Hall, Market St, Craven Arms SY7 9NW