Milestones Living Museum

Shepherded by the ever-reliable TripAdvisor, my recent travels to the commuter town of Basingstoke, Hampshire took me to the door of the Milestones Living Museum, a small heritage center located in a converted warehouse within an industrial park. Despite its ramshackle exterior, this museum turned out to be a treasure trove of local history that provided me with invaluable insights into the modern history of a community about which I knew very little.

Milestones follows closely in the footsteps of its Midlands-based contemporary, The Black Country Living Museum, by creating an approximate facsimile of a historic street, replete with brick-and-mortar shops, historic vehicles and faux street cobbles. The audio guide desk was unattended when we arrived, leading us to tour the museum without accompaniment – a decision which did occasionally jar when confronted with a room full of exhibits with no written elaboration. Following the numbered labels for our missing audio guide proved to be an effective enough substitute for a proper map. The various shops and homesteads which lay open for visitation provided reasonable visualization of the lives of ordinary people in Hampshire between the nineteenth and twentieth century, with much of the focus being the coal, iron, and gas industries. Lip service was paid to the infamous ‘Swing Riots’, an agricultural uprising in 1830 where impoverished laborers turned on their penny-pinching bosses by smashing up equipment with their tools. However, I felt that the ‘Living’ part of the museum’s name was almost entirely absent. With only uncanny-valley mannequins affixed with voice recorders, the museum lacked an authentic voice. I feel that it could have strongly benefitted from costumed actors (as seen at the Black Country), who would be able to answer some of the many questions visitors are bound to have.

Blacksmith area

The recreated streets are an effective enough environment; one of my favorite touches was the inclusion of a carpet designed to look like floorboards. However, stepping onto the ‘Milestones Pier’ area is a different story, with painted-on ocean views and fences providing a poor substitute for the real deal. Nevertheless, there is much fun to be had on these imitation boardwalks, with a vast collection of old-timey arcade machines, ranging in age from the rustic ‘Love Testers’ of the late nineteenth century to the glitzy shoot-em-ups of the 1980s. Personal favorites included the hilariously-unfair greyhound racing game (which offers a 1 in 15 chance of getting any return on your investment) and the terrifying laughing sailor, whose Joker-like cackle can be heard from across the museum. There is also a nice selection of historic cars to marvel at, and a slightly underdeveloped World War Two section, featuring an Anderson shelter and garden allotment.

We spent around 2-3 hours in the museum, which felt just about right for the exhibits on offer. Although, for the price of admission (a steep £16.50 for adults, and £10.75 for children) I’d have hoped for a little more to do. Under 5’s go free, and all ticket purchases are valid for re-entry for up to a year – but as a non-local I’d be lying if I said I had any desire to return.

Machinists area

The museum has several eateries, including a replica 1900s pub, a tearoom (which had tragically just closed when we arrived) and a modern café, as well as a gift shop which allows you to purchase replicas of nearly every single nostalgic item on display throughout the museum. There are also several play areas suitable for young children, and a waiting area for those who wish to unwind. Few seating areas can be found on the museum tour, which is a slight oversight for the accessibility of the site that could be easily remedied.

If you ever find yourself in Basingstoke, I’d definitely recommend considering a visit to this homely little museum. What it lacks in innovation or depth it makes up for with a rough charm, and its heart is firmly in the right place.

The Milestones Museum is open from 10am until 4:45pm most days of the year, including Saturdays and Sundays. Its website is located here:

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Ellis Murrell

Ellis Murrell is a Master’s graduate in World Heritage Studies with a background in History. He is currently a Digital Engagement Trustee with the London Museums Group and a volunteer with his local museum in Kent, United Kingdom. Travel, heritage and dogs are the three sacred tenets by which he lives his life.