A Museum in the Making – Celebrating 175 Years of the Dorset Museum

This month we are celebrating 175 years when the concept of building a museum to house all of the treasures of Dorset’s rich history was conceived by a group of forward-thinking individuals.

Illustration of the Museum from The Building News, 26 January 1883
Illustration of the Museum from The Building News, 26 January 1883

It was on the 15th October, 1845 a group, including the Dorset poet, William Barnes; the vicar of Fordington, Revd Henry Moule and Revd Charles Bingham decided that in light of the development of the railways, and the subsequent discovery of specimens and artefacts within the disturbance, that it was ‘advisable to take immediate steps for the establishment of an Institution in this Town, containing a Museum and Library for the County of Dorset.’ It was at this moment; Dorset Museum was born.

Originally, two rooms in what is now Judge Jeffreys restaurant were dedicated to the museum project. Quickly, this space became too small and the museum was subsequently moved to No. 3 Trinity Street. It was here that Thomas Hardy famously described the museum in his novel the Mayor of Casterbridge:

‘It is an old house in a back street- I forget where- but you’ll find out- and there are crowds of interesting things- skeletons, teeth, old pots and pans, ancient boots and shoes, birds’ eggs- all charmingly instructive. You’ll be sure to stay till you get quite hungry.’

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Installation of the book shelves in the new Library

The museum remained in this ‘house in a back street’ until 1883 when the present building in High West Street was designed by architect Mr G R Crickmay.

It seems poignant that this anniversary coincides with the final stages of the Museum’s major redevelopment project, Tomorrow’s Museum for Dorset and the start of the installation of the displays and artefacts in the new building.

Last month saw the arrival of our specialist fit-out contractors The Hub who have started to install the shelving and displays in the new Library (which was once the Jurassic Coast Gallery) and the Thomas Hardy Gallery.

A team of conservators from Cliveden Conservation has also arrived this week to begin installing the Neptune mosaic from Fordington in the atrium space in the Museum.

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