One of the great joys of having a base in the Cotswold is the proximity of my favourite motoring museum of all time, the Cotswold Motoring Museum in Bourton-on-the-Water. At a time when more and more museums seem to be subscribing to the adage that ‘less is more’ and hiding the bulk of their collections away, the Bourton museum seems to squeeze more in every time we visit. Nor are the exhibits hidden away behind ropes and barriers. Barring the hundreds of small items that really do have to be in display cases, everything is either out on display or attached to the wall as appropriate, giving the visitor the chance to peer up close at the collection and leaving one with the rather nice feeling of being regarded as an adult capable of treating the artefacts with a bit of respect.
The Museum dates back to 1978 when it was opened to house the collection of print manager, Mike Cavanagh who was returning from South Africa, bringing with him his personal passion for motoring memorabilia and cars. From the outset, the Museum was a glorious miscellany, with the cars themselves surrounded by vintage display cases crammed with motoring-related items. On my first visit, I was captivated, particularly by the racing car teapots which seemed to lurk in the corner of every display (I think there are nineteen, but I might have missed a couple). Original enamelled signs covered every wall (there are over 800 of them now) and the legends on the exhibits were written in a way that seemed to answer the question you were just about to ask.
After twenty years, the Museum was purchased by the Civil Service Motoring Association Club who made the incredibly wise decision not to muck it all up but to build steadily on Mike’s work. The building – once a water mill powered by Bourton’s River Windrush – was repaired and improved, ensuring that the contents stayed safe and in good condition, and the collection expanded in a way that was wholly consistent with what was originally there. If they hadn’t built a new gallery to allow the Museum to grow further and cover the 1960s and 70s, you wouldn’t be able to tell where the original collection ended and the new one began, and the CSMA have maintained the unobtrusive and unpatronising interpretation (I particularly like the cardboard labels tied to the cars with recollections by the original owners – so much more fitting, and no less hard to do, than something run up on a graphics package).
In addition to the things you’d expect to find in a motoring museum, including cars, motorbikes and garage impedimenta, there’s a number of excellent and evocative collections that have found a home under the Museum’s roof: caravans (all decked out with period contents), pedal cars, toys and vintage cameras all feature, and on our most recent visit, a 60s themed special included one of the original DJ booths from the Radio Caroline pirate ship. Yes, pirates, vinyl, pedal cars and vintage cameras – if it wasn’t so close to home, you’d never get me out of there. It’s also the home of Brum, the children’s TV favourite.
The shop is excellent, too, with a wide range of souvenirs for all ages and levels of classic car obsessive. The Museum is right in the middle of Bourton-on-the-Water, which puts you in close proximity to any number of good eateries; that means that parking is limited to the big town visitors’ car park, although the Museum can usually arrange for visiting classic car clubs to park a few choice vehicles immediately outside. I could go on for ever about individual exhibits, but better you go and see for yourself. As you’d expect, the Museum has its own informative website and Facebook page.