Heritage Open Days – exploring hidden heritage at Chippenham Museum and beyond!

on Tuesday, 22 August 2017. Posted in Museums

One of the main motivators for me wanting to work in museums was to satisfy my curiosity. What’s beyond that rope or behind that locked door? How are the collections looked after when they aren’t on display? What’s going on going on behind the scenes? Basically I’m just really nosy!

Taking a peek behind the scenes at Chippenham Museum

One of the best bits of my job is getting to visit museums across Wiltshire and find out about all the exciting developments that are going on.

Last week I managed to get a peek behind one of those locked doors at Chippenham Museum where they are creating a new exhibition space to hold a programme of changing temporary exhibitions. The project is funded by the Arts Council England through the South West Museum Development Programme and work is being carried out to upgrade the space to meet national security standards. Once this has been completed they will have a fabulous, flexible space that will be able to hold bigger and better exhibitions. Crucially it will enable the Museum to borrow objects from the Nationals, such as the British Museum and the V&A, for the first time, meaning that important collections that tell the story of town can be brought back to Chippenham.

Before – the galleries contained objects relating to the Victorian history of Chippenham. Many of these items have been re-displayed in other parts of the Museum, while those that are a little more delicate will be ‘rested’ to protect them from light and ensure their preservation for the future.

During – the old displays have been removed, revealing features of the original 18th century town house.

The new gallery’s inaugural exhibition ‘Creative Chippenham’ will open on 20th November 2017 and continue into March 2018. This will be a ‘celebration of local creativity’, showcasing the talents of artists and craftspeople that have lived in and around Chippenham, including Howards Hodgkin and Robin Tanner. Many of items have been acquired for the Museum by the Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Creative Wiltshire’ project.

Plans for 2018 also include an exploration of Chippenham’s Georgian history, with a ‘Little Bath’ exhibition featuring loans from other museums.

Some of the exciting objects that will be shown in the new space’s first exhibition later in the year, purchased as part of the Creative Wiltshire project.

Chippenham Museum will be offering the opportunity to see behind the scenes to everyone.  On Saturday 9th September, staff there are giving free tours around parts of the building that are not normally open to the public – this includes the collection stores to find out how the collections are cared for and to see items not normally on display. More information and booking can be found here.

The tours are happening as part of the Heritage Open Days (7th- 10th September 2017)  – an annual festival where groups across England organise over 5000 events to explore hidden places and try new heritage experiences, all for free. The Museum is also coordinating other events during these dates, details are on their website.

Heritage Open Days are the perfect excuse to indulge your heritage-snooping tendencies, with a huge array of events, visits and tours available across Wiltshire that expose less well known aspects of history and open buildings that may not be accessible at other times.

Our very own Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre is taking part – with behind the scenes tours on Friday 8th September. You can have a nose at what happens behind the doors of the conservation laboratories where archives and museum collections are preserved, explore the old documents in our strongrooms or find out how are archaeology team look after the County’s historic landscapes. Information about how to book your place can be found here.

There are plenty of other things to see and do right across the county – in museums, gardens, churches, private residences, parks, town halls, the countryside, historic houses and even pubs! You can search through all the listings on the website but here are a few examples that caught my eye:

Calne Heritage Week

Not content with just four days Calne is organising a week of events, including  talks at Calne Heritage Centre, bell ringing taster sessions and guided walks.

Sevington Victorian School

Discover what lessons were like for Victorian children, under the watchful eye of Miss Squires, at the wonderfully preserved school at Sevington.

Sevington Victorian School

Military History Walk, Lyneham

On Thursday 7th September REME Museum (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) is offering a 7 mile walk around MoD Lyneham. The Museum earlier this year following the move to its new home and tells the fascinating stories of those that served in the Corps.

Trowbridge Museum

On Saturday morning, 9th September, you can visit the top floor of Home Mills – once the home of industrial textile production, the building now houses Trowbridge Museum. 

The top floor is currently unused and empty, with wonderful light and great views across the town – find out about the Museum’s plans to refurbish and expand into the space.

Heather Perry, Conservation and Museums Manager


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