Growth of our museum

Growth of Banbury Museum

My article is designed to provide some details about the years from the 1940s to the Millennium.

In January 1955 the Oxford Mail reminded its readers that Banbury had the nucleus of a museum and art gallery. This was inherited from the Mechanics Institute situated in Marlborough Road in 1947.

At the time the intention was that a collection should comprise items drawn from a radius of ten miles around the town.

The responsible body was the Libraries and Museum Committee of Banbury Borough Council. Chaired by Alderman Tom Haskins its members were very aware of space limitations. Exhibits had to be confined to an area next to the Reading Room.

These included such diverse items as Grimsbury’s stocks, an iron mantrap and incredibly the skeleton of cat discovered during repair work at the Reindeer Inn. Perhaps the most remarkable was the walking stick used by Thomas Colley of Banbury who in 1816 walked more than 1,000 miles in 20 days.

Tom Muskett was both Chief Librarian and Curator and fully realised that items such as a hand-loom from Shutford had to be stored in the Municipal Building’s basement.

Despite this valuable bequests by the late William Potts formed the basis of the collection. A momentous step forward was the return of the restored Globe Room panels from the Reindeer to Banbury in the autumn of 1964.

Cake and Cockhorse the magazine of the Banbury Historical Society was able inform members that these were being erected in a second floor room of the Borough Library and that the museum was being transferred to this floor.

The editor continued that ‘it is hoped that opportunity will be taken to redisplay the Museum exhibits boldly and imaginatively’.

A full time curator Mr Andrew Woodcock was appointed on 14th April 1968 and the reordered museum reopened In July of that year. This was made possible by the work of students from the University of Leicester.

At the end of 1973 it was clear that the museum should have a dual role. It was registered as a Tourist Information Centre with the English Tourist Board and temporarily located at the Marlborough Road building pending a move to more suitable premises.

Eight years later Keith Wood, chief reporter for the Banbury Guardian was able to caption a report with good news ‘Museum move is a real winner’.

In June 1981 the Duchess of Kent performed the opening ceremony which triggered huge interest. Curator Sarah Gosling reported that during a five month period 20,832 people had visited 8 Horsefair, which had been built back in 1900 by Mr Orchard of Bridge Bank Grimsbury for the Poor Law Guardians.

She went on to say that work with schools had grown and special events were regularly organised. Preservation of memories was encouraged by the collection of photographs submitted by interested people and the recording of oral histories.

Relocation also meant more space for special exhibitions. Topics included the history of plush weaving in Banbury and Shutford and its uses; and a celebration focussed on nursery rhymes with illustrations by Paula Rego.

In 1993 came the exciting news that a watercolour of the Horton Hospital painted by Charles Driver in 1870 had been discovered and was going to be displayed at the Museum.

Equally encouraging was the decision a year later to stage an exhibition to mark the end of an era at RAF Upper Heyford .

On the eve of the Millennium, Paul Warner in the Banbury Guardian gave an enthusiastic reception to the concept of the museum as a heritage centre linked to Tooleys historic boatyard as part of the Castle Quay development.

A fortnight ago the Museum Trust unveiled an exciting new development which will see Banbury Museum become part of what has been called ‘Banbury’s cultural quarter’.