Molars, mowers and mummies; Think you've seen all the museums in Merseyside and Cheshire? Peter Elson selects the more unusual and curious examples for the discerning visitor.
HE University of Liverpool's Archaeology Museum celebrates its centenary this year and is a tribute to the era when it began. This was the time when private sponsorship demanded impressive finds.
These fine objects make a big impression in the modestly-sized galleries that fill two rooms in this former Melly (as in George) family's Liverpool town house.
More than 40, 000 objects are held in the museum's collection (which comes under the Department of Archaeology), but there is only space to display a couple of thousand of them. Much derives from excavations undertaken by Prof Garstang, head of history, who supervised digs in Egypt, Jericho and Turkey.
Dr Steven Snape, the honorary museum curator, says: ``The collection was built up from around 1900 and mostly concerns Egyptology, some material from the Near East, ancient Greece and a big coin collection.
``As Prof Garstang's digs were not university-funded, the best objects went to the private sponsors. These business men wanted results, so there was a diaspora of material. However, after their deaths many of these finds came here as bequests. ''
Among the Egyptian material is a 4, 000 year-old painted wooden coffin and a similarly aged mummy-case, both excavated at Beni Hassen. There is also one of the earliest Egyptian royal clay seals ever found, a clay cartouche that looks like a piece of broken pottery but comes complete with the owner's name, King Sanakhte.
``Prof Garstang was highly successful at unearthing finds as he targeted cemetery sites, which is no longer the case for archaeologists today. Mostly it's field studies, but we do get occasional bequests, '' says Dr Snape, who graduated from the archaeology department in the late 1970s.
With few jobs available in archaeology, Dr Snape became a corporate tax accountant in London, before applying for his present post. Surveying the museum with pride, he says: ``If ever I have a bad day, I remember what I used to be doing. ''
p Archaeology Museum, School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool, 14 Abercromby Square, Liverpool. Visits by appointment (0151 794 2000).
Liverpool Dental Museum Western Approaches British Lawnmower Museum
ONE of the less alarming exhibits in Liverpool Dental Museum is a fine ash wood chair, complete with lion head feet. Today this dental chair, dating from the 1887, would be banned from all surgeries as a health hazard.
``Ah yes, '' quips John Cooper, the museum's curator, ``but you see back then, bacteria hadn't been invented, so there wouldn't be cross infection. ''
Joking apart, the museum is a fascinating record of a vital medical profession that has made life for all of us immensely more bearable. However, the cringe factor is high even on entry. Giant wax models of decayed teeth greet visitors on entry.
``This museum started in the 1860s as a teaching facility for dental students. There were no photographs or X-rays available for tuition back then, so you had to have these aids, '' says John. The displays also form a rich social commentary.
Battlefield teeth from Waterloo were removed from dead soldiers to make dentures. John says: ``Sometimes they were extracted from men only injured, too!''
Most impressive is the 1923 surgery and workshop of Birkenhead dentist Rex Stewart, recreated to near-film set standard. John says: ``He was a great local character. After his death I visited his wife in the Lake District and she said `I've got all Rex's stuff here and I don't know what to do with it'. ''
p Liverpool Dental Hospital, Edwards Building, Daulby Street, Liverpool.
Pre-booked appointment only; contact Jan Chesters, dental hospital technical manager (0151 706 5263).
THIS World War II bunker seems not to register with many tourists to the city. In the Western Approaches command centre, most famously led by Admiral Max Horton, teams of officers, Waafs and Wrens worked under enormous pressure to foil the U-boat threat. . Within the labyrinthine 50, 000 sq ft of rooms and corridors include the Main Operations Room, Admiral's office and teleprinter stations.
p Western Approaches, 1-3 Rumford Street, Liverpool (0151 227 2008). Open Mon-Thur until Oct 31, 10. 30 am -4. 30pm. Entry: adults pounds 4, concessions pounds 3. 45, family ticket pounds 9. 95.
THE lawn mower is one of those great British inventions which like so much of our home-grown phenomenal engineering industry is practically extinct. Fighting back is Brian Radam, curator of the British Lawnmower Museum in Southport, the only one of its kind in the world. This small museum, set up in 1990, is repository of our justifiably renowned lawnmower heritage.
The names associated with lawn mowing read like a roll-call of premier British engineering: Rolls-Royce, Royal Enfield, Daimler, Hawker Siddeley, Perkins and British Leyland. Brian, who was an apprentice at mower maker Atco's Ormskirk and Longton factories, was horrified at seeing so many well-built lawn mowers scrapped and decided to save the best examples. Located above Southport's first DIY shop, owned by Brian's family, he initially restored vintage mowers. ``We've display 150 mowers, the oldest dating from the 1850s. There are also oddities like leather boots for horses pulling mowers, so their hooves didn't damage the grass. '' The museum also boasts Lawnmowers of the rich and famous, including Atco's wedding gift the Prince and Princess of Wales. Others come from TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh and quiz host Nicholas Parsons.
p British Lawnmower Museum, 106-114 Shakespeare Street, Southport (01704 501336). Open Mon Sat (not bank holidays), 9 am 5. 30pm. Entry: adults pounds 1, children 50p. Guided tours by appointment.
Fort Perch Rock and Military Museum
BUILT in 1829, and nicknamed the Little Gibraltar of the Mersey, the fort sits heroically on Black Rock with its 32ft high walls. Constructed as a defence during the Napoleonic wars, wrangles over funding meant it was finished well after threat was over.
The battery only fired in anger twice: firstly at a Norwegian sailing ship on the outbreak of World War I (the cannon ball landed in Crosby) and secondly at a fishing boat which had accidentally entered the closed Rock Channel in September 1939. Exhibits include an extensive World War II aviation relics collection. p Fort Perch Rock, New Brighton (0151 630 2707). Open daily noon dusk. Cost: adults pounds 2, OAPs pounds 1, children 50p.
HAVE you ever wondered what life is like on a submarine? To experience being aboard a real sub yourself, you can visit HMS Onyx one of the fighting vessels preserved at Historic Warships, Birkenhead. This is home to the largest collection of 20th century warships in Britain, including Onyx and the frigate HMS Plymouth. The museum also looks after HMS Bronington, one of Britain's last wooden-hulled minesweepers. Perhaps most intriguing is the German U-boat U-534.
p Historic Warships, East Float, Dock Road, Birkenhead, . Open daily, 10am5pm. Entry: adults pounds 6, children pounds 4, OAPs pounds 5. Tours of U-534 bookable in advance pounds 8. 50 (no children under 12).
Cheshire Military Museum
THE exploits of the internationally-renowned regiments linked with Cheshire are celebrated in this museum alongside Chester Castle: the exploits of the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment, Cheshire Yeomanry, and representative collections of the 3rd Carabiniers and 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, and the Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School. Some fascinating mementoes and scenarios dating from 1689 to the present of the regiments are displayed. To keep the young involved there are also interactive and hands-on exhibitions.
p 7 Castle Street, Chester, Cheshire (01244 327617). Open daily, 10am5pm. Entry: adults pounds 2, concessions pounds 1.
Catalyst: Science Discovery Centre
THIS museum offers the chance to discover science and technology behind the chemical industry which has dominated this part of the North West for so long. Catalyst boasts more than 100 interactive exhibits and reveals the impact of chemicals in every day life through scenes from the past. There are hands-on exhibits and multi-media programmes. Children of all ages will love the external, glass-sided lift. Catalyst: Science Discovery Centre, Mersey Road, Widnes, Cheshire (0151 420 1121). Open Tue-Fri (and bank holiday Mons), 10 am -5pm. Entry: adults pounds 4. 95, children pounds 3. 50.
Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker
DARE you experience the nuclear four-minute warning? Hack Green opened in 1941 and with a staff of 268 became crucial in Britain's Cold War radar defence to warn of attacking Russian bombers and rockets and enable RAF fighters and missiles to be scrambled. Later it became a secret bunker to rule the North West after a nuclear attack. p Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker, off A530 Whitchurch Road, near Nantwich (01270 629219). Open daily 10. 30 am 5. 30pm (after Oct 31 11 am 4. 30pm, closed Dec). Cost: adults pounds 5. 50, children pounds 4, family ticket pounds 18.
Dr Steven Snape, the archaeology museum's honorary curator. `If ever I have a bad day, I remember what I used to be doing, ' says the former corporate tax accountant Picture: FRANK LOUGHLIN; The causeway to Fort Perch Rock