Horrible Histories Creator Brings Terrible Tales To Life

Horrible Histories creator Terry Deary has helped Moyse’s Hall Museum bring Bury St Edmunds’ gruesome history to life for children.

Medieval Moyse’s Hall Museum’s ground floor makeover not only features six Terrible Tales by Terry Deary, best-selling author and creator of the hugely popular Horrible Histories books, but also some grisly and gruesome interactive displays for children and adults. 

Step inside a gibbet cage (made for the museum by blacksmiths Kingdom Forge), try on a ball and chain for size, experience the smells of history including the wretched tanner’s pits, handle thumbscrews and try on manacles, and pick up a Norman sword. 

You can even trace the artefacts in The Red Barn Murder including the murder weapon and the disease box where visitors can smell a pus ridden hand is likely to be a museum favourite!

The museum’s motto for the new interpretation of the museum is plenty of pee, poo and blood and they have succeeded with a dissection table based on the game ‘Operation’ but in Georgian style. You can delve inside a body to find intestines and the heart among other horrors. It’s family friendly guts and gore.

Using information from the museum and his own research Terry Deary wrote six Terrible Tales which complement the museums’ artefacts. All told in first person from the perspective of the subject or another character.

The Battle of Fornham is told through the eyes of a blacksmith, a nun tending to the body of St Edmund tells of his grisly end. The stories of Mary Tudor, Queen of France (who is buried in St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds), the Red Barn Murder, the Nichols Murder, witchcraft and Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, all feature. Every story links back to an artefact, bringing the museum’s stories to life.

“The most interesting things in museums are the people and their stories. Once you know the stories behind the objects then they come to life,” said Terry Deary.

“And, as we all love shocking stories, we usually enjoy the objects with a ‘horrible’ history. Moyse’s Hall has plenty of those, so it was a disgusting delight to work on the new presentations.”

The Terrible Tales are the perfect gruesome fit for the museum which displays items from the famous Red Barn Murder including killer William Corder’s scalp and a book bound in his skin and the gibbet cage for John Nichols who was executed in 1794 alongside his son Nathan for the murder of his daughter Sarah. 

The museum, which celebrated 120 years as a museum in 2019, also has one of the largest collections of witchcraft paraphernalia, dating back to the early modern period. 

Heritage Officer Dan Clarke said: “Everyone who works in museums, and a few history teachers, I dare say would say Terry Deary changed everything for museums – giving history as it was rather than sanitised. For most people, particularly in their 20s and 30s, Horrible Histories were their introduction to history.”

It’s a project that staff from the museum have been working on for five years. They first approached the publishers of Horrible Histories to see if they could hold one of their exhibitions, but the museum was too small. To their surprise the museum received an email the next day from Terry Deary himself who was interested in working with them because of his interest in the Red Barn Murder on which he wrote a book in the 1970s. Woodbridge-based illustrator Glenn Pickering created 24 illustrations to complete the new terrible Tales interpretations.

Terry freed up two weeks in between books to write the special Terrible Tales. A special book is planned for summer/autumn 2020. The makeover has been made possible with funding from The friends of Moyse’s Hall Museum and from councillors' locality budgets.

The makeover means the number of exhibits on display has increased by 40%. The ground floor of the museum explores medieval times up to the Tudors, which follows the time of the Abbey of St Edmund until its dissolution and there are some wonderful artefacts on display including the Edmund Jewel, a mosaic which has been beautifully restored and back lit which contains stained glass from the original Abbey of St Edmund. This year is the perfect time to plan a visit as the town celebrates the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund, the Abbey ruins can be found in the nearby beautiful Abbey Gardens.

Visitors can also explore the gallery dedicated to the Suffolk Regiment. From Ireland to India and from Afghanistan to the Normandy beaches ... the battles, traditions and stories of the Suffolks (1685-1959) are told here. The gallery gives a glimpse into a much larger collection located just outside the town centre at the Suffolk Regiment Museum.

Moyse's Hall Museum is also known as home to a world class collection of exquisite collections of clocks and timepieces including rare items bequeathed by musician and clock collector Frederic Greshom-Parkington and fine art by Sir Peter Lely, Angelica Kauffman, James Tissot, and England's first professional female painter Mary Beale.

To find out more about Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds visit 

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