There’s No Doorman at the Dorman

4th March 2023

On a cold Saturday morning in early March, as part of our ongoing project to acquaint, or in some cases re-acquaint, ourselves with centres of local heritage, we drove down to Middlesbrough to visit the Dorman Museum, a place I’ve always wanted to go but had never got around to.

With the greatest of good fortune we were able to park right outside the main doors: the towering, mournful cenotaph to our left, a more recently installed but no less impressive monument to D-Day hero Stan Hollis and fellow Green Howard VC winners behind us while, just ahead and to our right, was a statue of Tom Dresser, a WWI VC recipient listed on the Hollis monument with a surname that crops up frequently in the museum.

You enter the museum past Dressers Tea Room with its carefully curated Victorian theme. It’s seems to be just as popular with non-museum goers and is where we repaired for lunch after ‘doing’ the ground floor, before tackling the second. The museum itself is entirely free of charge, organised on two floors around and over the reception lobby.

Sharing space with the Teesside Archives, the ground floor is a fascinating interactive history of Middlesbrough through time, from prehistory to sometime around the sixties I’d guess, with some of the most convincing mannequins I’ve ever seen (a couple of ladies chatting in the mocked-up street). In the centre of the museum is the impressive Nelson Collection of bird species and their eggs. Whatever you think of taxidermy in museums (it’s of its time so I don’t find it a problem) it was fascinating to realise how species in the region have changed over a century or so. 

Upstairs is a well formulated exhibition about the natural world which covers cosmology, geology, palaeontology and anthropology, detailed enough for the mind but short enough for the back and feet. On the other side of the building, over the walkway crossing the Nelson Collection, are the Christopher Dresser (there’s that name again) & Linthorpe Art Pottery exhibitions.

I’d never have thought it but these two exhibitions stole the show for me. Linthorpe Art pottery is stunning (in my humble opinion) particularly so when seen as part of such a large collection. The interconnected history of Middlesbrough’s iron, brick and pottery industries is a fascinating one as is Dresser’s association with it. He seems to have been somewhat overlooked historically but was a multi-talented designer, similar in style and contemporaneous with William Morris, one of the leading figures in the c19th Arts and Crafts movement. 

All in all we both felt we learnt a lot in a relatively short time, in a compact, comfortable space assisted by friendly staff. Admittedly it’s hard to concentrate as much as you’d like when you’ve got loads of kids enjoying the same space but it’s good to see and my next visit will most likely be on a weekday during school term. We’d recommend it to anyone – including parents!

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