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REVIEW of Guild talk Salisbury Museum 'Past Forward' project

Stratford sub Castle Guild 10 April 2024 - Adrian Green





Adrian Green, Museum Director, gave us a ‘preview’ of the work taking place at the museum. His entertaining, informative presentation was illustrated with personal photographs and images from the planning process.



He reminded us of the background to the project. Visitor numbers had plateaued at 17,000/yr. The museum needed to improve its offer to people. In 2014 the Wessex Gallery opened. Visitor numbers rose to 30,000/yr. Engagement with the local community groups and schools also increased. In 2019 the museum secured a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £3.2m for its £5.1m Past Forward Project to change the northern right wing of the building.

Note: The NLHF have since given an additional £700,000 due to inflation and individuals have donated c £600,000.                        


There are 4 strands to the work:

1) To conserve the building;

2) To create new galleries;

3) To upgrade the public facilities;

4) To increase community engagement.


The philosophy behind the display areas is to open the spaces, to have clear sight lines to view the objects and make it easy to navigate and enable browsing through the 800-year history of Salisbury. There will be better lighting, clear, simple yet detailed information content, with interactive displays and audio-visual films. Each room will display artefacts telling the story of everyday life and the history of the city.


The changes that have been made to meet the 4 strands are:      

1) A new History of Salisbury Gallery (The Devenish Bradshaw Salisbury Gallery);

2) A new Natural History Gallery;

3) The Ceramics gallery has been upgraded;

4) There are new lifts and stairs, and new toilets, with improved access;

5) The kitchen has been refurbished;

6) The Education Room and Volunteers Room have been refurbished.                                                                                     

Adrian gave a detailed breakdown of the new layout. The new Salisbury Gallery is named the Devenish Bradshaw Salisbury Gallery, in honour of Peter Bradshaw of the Devenish family. Peter has, and continues to be, a major funder of the museum.


There will be 3 rooms:

1. Medieval Room (13th-16th century) – housing the ‘Drainage Collection’, Working Trades exhibits, an Old Sarum/New Sarum exhibit, and examples of Laverstock Pottery;

2. Tudor, Stuart and Georgian Room (16th-19th century) – housing a Poverty and Social Reform display, a High Society and Costumes display, Local Manufacturing and Trades exhibits, The Downton Fire Engine, and a Paintings Wall;

3. Victorian and Modern Room (19th-21st century) – housing Manufacturing & Retail exhibits, several Military History Story areas, a Teacher Training College display, a display and exhibits from Little Durnford and the Devenish Family, a ‘Crisis’ display, referencing a Cholera outbreak, the Common Cold Research Unit, the Novichok attack and the Coronavirus pandemic.         


Each room will have its ‘highlights’ prominently displayed. All are rare and valuable. The Medieval Room has a 13C King chess piece, a stonework head from Clarendon Palace, a piece of 13/14C Laverstock pottery and a 15C pewter piece from Normandy.


The Tudor, Stuart and Georgian Room has a 1717 pestle & mortar, a pair of duelling pistols, a 1636 clock and the aim of displaying Constable paintings.


The Victorian and Modern Room has the 1912 Scout Car fully restored and the ‘Salisbury Giant’.


In creating the new Ceramics Gallery, the museum worked with Julian Richards (television and radio presenter, writer and member of Wessex Archaeology) to develop a ‘potted history of Britain’, with exhibits from Prehistoric, Roman and Medieval periods. The new Natural History gallery has clearer, head height displays, showing exhibits in more natural surroundings.

Medieval roof tile

Adrian fascinated us with some images of two unusual discoveries found during the conservation work: a Medieval tile from the roof and a Medieval label stop buried in the north wall.

Medieval label stop


The intended opening of the new galleries is scheduled for summer 2024 (July?).

Ed. Since this review was written, the Museum's Newsletter no. 153 announced a 'Grand Public Opening' on Saturday 13 July.


The talk concluded with a lively Q&A session. I am only able to give you a brief summary here from the detail of the talk, so apologies if any readers feel I have omitted something vital.


There was a generous Gift Bowl donation. Adrian reminded us that the best way to support the Museum is with a ‘Membership’. Members get unlimited free entry to the museum, exhibitions and all its family events, free entry to partner museums (Dorset, Wiltshire, Lydiard House and the STEAM Museums) and free entry to Stonehenge, plus a 10% discount in the shop and café. Further details can be found on the museum website: https://salisburymuseum.org.uk/support-us/membership/ 


Terry Ereira

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