AN experiment to bring museums to the people by putting exhibits in shopping centres has proved successful.

More than 100,000 shoppers have now seen wild and wacky objects, including a furry fish and the world's smallest dog and cat, taken from 12 museums across this region.

The Curiosity Shop has been running for five months and has already attracted three times the number of visitors hoped for when the idea was conceived by museum managers in Hartlepool.

The scheme was rolled out across the Tees Valley and has been so popular that local authorities across Britain have been in touch with the aim of trying it in their areas.

The exhibits include a massive hippo skull, Dr Who memorabilia and a polar bear, and have been chosen to appeal to the whole family. The idea is to get more people interested in museums.

So far, the shop has set up in empty units in Redcar, Stockton and Hartlepool and it will be in Darlington's Cornmill Centre until October 29, when it will move on to Middlesbrough until Christmas.

Shop supervisor Ted Corser said: "The response has been superb. People have been telling us it is very different and strange. It is curious, they are asking why and that is what this project is about.

"We cannot make all 100,000 visitors visit their local museums, but if we can get a percentage to visit museums on a regular basis, we will have achieved what we set out to do."

Shoppers are lured into the shop by Peter, a 100 year-old stuffed polar bear who stood in a Darlington museum for more than a decade.

Inside, a menagerie of stuffed creatures is at ground level, for young children, alongside interactive exhibits.

Mr Corser admits some purists have turned their noses up at the scheme, but denied it was dumbing-down the museum service.

He said: "Young people get most of their knowledge from the TV. This is designed to reawaken their curiosity.

"Where else in the high street can you see a real polar bear?"

Among the exhibits is a furry fish manufactured by a taxidermist. Mr Corser said no-one knew where the "arctic salmon" came from.

"It belongs to the same family as the red herring," he said.