New vision to help transform Banbury’s ‘fantastic’ museum

Simon Townsend, museum director at Banbury Museum, is excited about the latest development plans
Simon Townsend, museum director at Banbury Museum, is excited about the latest development plans
Share this article

Banbury Museum has shared its two-stage development plans to transform its building into a venue to be enjoyed not only for those living here, but others across whole the country.

Since it opened back in 2002 the museum has welcomed more than 200,000 visitors through its doors each year and bosses unveiled their plans to Cherwell District Council’s Executive last Monday, which will see a gallery improvement, refurbishment of the Waterways Gallery currently over the Oxford Canal and a new museum entrance.

Dr Andrew Murrison MP pictured with Dale Johnston, exhibitions Manager at Banbury Museum at the official launch of 'Feeding the Frontline' in 2014

Dr Andrew Murrison MP pictured with Dale Johnston, exhibitions Manager at Banbury Museum at the official launch of 'Feeding the Frontline' in 2014

The first stage of the project is estimated to cost £500,000 and is the first major work to be done at the museum since it was turned into a charitable trust in 2013.

Simon Townsend, museum director, said: “We have been fundraising to finance the first stage of the development and expect to be continuing that throughout the rest of the year and hope to begin in 2017. These four stages are pretty exciting and with improving the exhibition galleries, we did a lot of public consultations and various questionnaires so know how important the temporary exhibitions are so we want to invest in the area.”

The ground floor galleries will be redesigned to create a larger gallery for special exhibitions.

It will be a 30 per cent increase and allows the museum to show large exhibitions or local, national and international significance.

The Waterways Gallery refurbishment will feature updated interactive displays which tell the story of the canal and how Tooley’s Boatyard, the oldest dry dock on the inland waterways, survived into the 21st Century.

The recent programme including Frost, Family and Friends, showing the work of Sir Terry Frost and Feeding the Front Line which showed Banbury explosive role during the First World War have all be popular with people coming through the museum doors and Mr Townsend hopes the museum will be able to do much more in the future.

He added that the museum will hope to work more with Oxford’s prestigious Ashmolean to help bring more visitors from the county and the capital.

He said: “The Feeding the Frontline exhibition was fantastic because we created a story which is very much a part of the town’s history. It was great for the community and told a very important story in Banbury. This is the type of exhibition we really want to continue because the public are really keen on these shows.”

The plans are available to view on the museum website so to keep up to date visit www.banburymuseum.org

As well as the first stage of development, the second stage will also look to take the museum into the 21st Century.

Designed by Oxford Architects, the new build project will provide a new museum gallery, designed to show larger exhibitions and improved spaces for lectures, films and private hire. This extension will be located in the space which is currently the museum’s loading bay, and would also complement the Castle Quay Shopping Centre extension.

Mr Townsend said: “The museum is 15-years-old and designed back in 2000. The world has changed a lot in that time and brings 200,000 visitors through the doors each of those years. We are now looking at ways to bring in more people and make it fit for the next decade or more.

“We are eager to offer a high quality programme of fantastic exhibitions and really good collections and work with the community in schools and care homes. We want people to see what they want to see when they go to London for example.”

Over the past two years, more than 4,000 schoolchildren have also visited the museum and its aim is to reach all schools in the region to continue their offer of getting youngsters learning more about Banbury’s history.

The town has got a vast history during the English Civil War, with Charles I making his base in Oxford and Banbury’s Olde Reindeer Inn in Parsons Street dating back to the 17th Century.

Mr Townsend said Banbury has got its own story to tell with the Civil War, especially as some battlefields fought on during the conflict are in the area. He said: “Banbury is really special. It is a very attractive town with a very interesting history especially with the Civil War. It is so exciting as there are so many interesting sites. It is great to see children who have spent time here with their school during the week are bringing their parents back at the weekend. There are some fantastic places near Banbury and we have to make sure we keep them alive.”

Leading the board is former Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry and among the board of trustees is Alexandra Williams of AW Pictures Art Gallery and Susan McCormack, director of public engagement at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

Dr Helen Forde is a member of the board of trustees and said: “I am very much encouraged by the development of the museum because it is an opportunity for developing cultural heritage. It is not just Banbury as we have got south Warwickshire and south Northamptonshire.

“Everywhere in the country has history and Banbury is no different. There is an amazing amount of history here, as well as the English Civil War, there is the development of the town and a strong radicalised with early conformist and Puritan traditions.

Dr Forde added that since the museum was made a charitable trust it has meant it has been able to apply for grant support from other bodies such as The Arts Council.

She said: “Things are going extremely well. The support from the local authority is still very important to us and they have been extremely helpful and still supportive financially. Their removal from the museum means we now have the opportunity to apply for other funding grants that we were not able to before.”

Bob Langton is chairman of the board of trustees, and added: “Our museum is going through an exciting period of transformation.

“We have ambitious plans to make the museum and its galleries even more appealing to a wider audiences throughout the region. Thanks to the generosity of local people our appeal for funding these plans has got off to an excellent start.”