Amazing Wiltshire Museums
This week is #MuseumWeek – a worldwide festival for cultural institutions on social media. So it seems a perfect time to talk about some of the amazing museums that can be found across Wiltshire. Whatever your interests - from archaeology to transport to modern art - you will find something that appeals and inspires.
Like many other spaces, museums have been closed for much of the last year due to the pandemic. They are now able to re-open and have been looking forward to welcoming back the public once again, having made all the necessary arrangements to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit following the latest national lockdown. You can find out more information about museums in the county by visiting the Museum in Wiltshire website.
There are so many great museums it’s difficult to know where to kick off, so to quote The Sound of Music, ‘let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’ by looking at some of the earliest objects from Wiltshire.
To find out about more about Wiltshire’s prehistory, you can’t beat Wiltshire Museum, Devizes and Salisbury Museum. Both are home to collections designated as having national or international importance, which tell the story of Wiltshire over the last 500,000 years.
Wiltshire Museum has beautiful gold items from the time of Stonehenge, some of my other favourites items on display are these exquisitely worked bronze age arrowheads.
Salisbury Museum’s award-winning Wessex Gallery includes the Amesbury Archer and finds from Stonehenge.
Both museums also have great temporary exhibition programmes, so there’s always something new to see. Currently at Wiltshire Museum is an exhibition of artworks representing the Wiltshire landscape and in Salisbury you can see the work of Richard Chopping, the artist responsible for illustrating the original covers of the James Bond books.
You can continue to indulge a love at art at the Young Gallery, located on the first floor of Salisbury library. There is currently a display from their permanent collection, but also hosts a temporary exhibition programme. You can find out more on their website and also see a virtual exhibition of their paintings by Edwin Young.
Chippenham Museum has also re-opened with an art exhibition in their temporary exhibition space ‘Spotlight On: Modern & Contemporary Art from the Collection’, which celebrates North Wiltshire’s creativity by showcasing recent acquisition from local artists. When you visit, you can also explore the town’s history from its early origins to the to present day.
More art is on show at Athelstan Museum, which tells the story of Malmesbury from its location in the Town Hall. A new acquisition , a watercolour of ‘Malmesbury Abbey’ by JMW Turner will be on display to public for the first time in the new refurbished mezzanine gallery.
For those like their history a bit more industrial, head to Trowbridge Museum, which is open for the first time since 2019 following a major £2.5M redevelopment project. Based in one of the town’s former textile factories, you can explore how the town has been shaped over the last 1000 years and see examples of the looms and other machinery used to make high quality woollen cloth. One of my favourite objects on display is this book of cloth samples.
More evidence of Wiltshire’s industrial past can be found at Crofton Beam Engines. Built in the early 19th century it pumped water to the highest point on the Kennet and Avon Canal, keeping the waterways running for the many barges that transported good across the country before the railway was invented.
Trains, planes and automobiles enthusiasts are also fully catered for within the county. The Atwell-Wilson Motor Museum, Calne www.atwellwilson.org.uk has a fantastic collection of cars and motorbikes dating from the 1920s onwards and at the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection, Salisbury, you can get up close to aircraft housed in World War One hangers, where you can explore the development of flight in the UK. At Steam - Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon, you can discover the story of the men and women who built, operated and travelled on the ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ as it’s often referred to.
With something for everyone there are so many reasons to visit one of Wiltshire’s museums. Many are re-opening this week, but dates and hours vary from venue to venue. Some may require pre-booking, so please check opening times and arrangements before you travel. You can find out which museums are currently open to the public on the Museums in Wiltshire ‘Good to go’ page
Conservation and Museums Advisory Service
Based at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, the Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) aims to promote excellence in the care and use of collections by providing conservation advice and practical treatments to heritage organisations and the public. It also supports museums in Wiltshire to meet professional standards and become sustainable, resilient organisations in order to preserve the County's heritage for the benefit of local communities and visitors.
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