A Flambards Experience

The Post Office, Flambards village © Macdonald Powell

In order to fully appreciate my surprise this weekend, you have to understand the relationship I have with the idea of Flambards. To me, Flambards is represented by a small plane that flies back and forth along various sweeping Cornish coastlines throughout the summer months, tugging behind it a long banner with the Flambards logo and 'The best day of the week' emblazoned across it. It's triggered many a conversation about what banner might be more worthy or amusing, viewed across so epic a landscape. But mainly I wonder why, when in a county like this, with so much open air to explore, people end up in a theme park.

On Saturday, to my horror, my friends unexpectedly drove me through Flambards' grandiose gates. We had decided to attend a lace-making convention, and I hadn't bothered to ask where it was being held. On our way in I noticed signs for the Victorian Experience and idly thought that it might be worth a visit. And this is where I have to retract all my bold and spiky statements about this particular tourist attraction. The following is based solely on the museum section and is no comment on the Thunderbolt, the Hornet Coaster or the Rockin Tug big kid rides, which my weak stomach and I went nowhere near.

Lights dimmed from display to street lanterns, feet passing from carpet to cobbles and the distant sound of a street musician with a wind-up organ. As my friend said, immediately you're cast into a land which is no longer a muggy Saturday morning in late September, but mid-week, chilly November, dusk. And the hairs on my arms stood on end.

Lugg's General Store, Flambards village © Macdonald Powell

Passing from shop front to shop front, selling everything imaginable. Piles of (not particularly convincing, but once you're in the swing of it, forgivably average) fake meats, fruits, pies, loaves of bread, iced cakes, strings of sausages, packets of biscuits and tin upon tin upon tin are piled up over high, dark wood counters and in orderly filled shelves. Boot buckles and bundles of hair pins, boxes of neck collars and neatly paper packaged eyelets, hot water bottles for pockets and muffs and packets of Thunderbolt, the Bryant & May Flaming Fusées, boxes of corset shields and laces and hooks and eyes, striped ribbon on rolls, ice-skates and decorated pill boxes, real human hair nets and egg and spoon race apparatus stored in colourfully adorned parcels. All this meticulously lining the window displays that hold your gaze for long moments while you attempt to absorb the minutiae, the proclamations, the luxuriant typefaces and the fastidious attention to the detail of it all.

William White's Apothecary, Flambards village © Macdonald Powell

And it just goes on and on, until, when you're almost exhausted, you reach William White's Apothecary. Bought for a song (£13,000) by Flambards back in the late 1980's, this unbelievable reliquary - comprising of a shop, it's fittings and the entire contents - concludes your journey. Clearly, the creators have given some thought to the authenticity of the whole Victorian experience, but also want to point out to you that time has passed, you're back in the 21st century: the entire chemists shop has been lifted from its original location, cobwebs, dust, insects and all. And this is exactly as it was found, after it was boarded up and forgotten when William White died in the early 20th century.

If you're ever in these parts go and be surprised at how effective such an exhibit can be. So many museums go to much trouble to modernize and appeal to younger audiences, but actually this rather old-fashioned means of display is still impressively potent.

Be sure to laugh a little at the weirdly fixed smiles of virtually all the dummies in the displays. It takes the edge off the spookiness of it all. Even the clearly on-the-verge-of-death Mrs Burns beams, wrapped in white and sitting rigidly in bed, laughing uproariously with her husband.

For Flambards Victorian village, go here.
For directions how to get there, go here.

The Bedroom - Upstairs at Mr Burns', Flambards village © Macdonald Powell

The Dressmaker, Flambards village © Macdonald Powell