A successful year for Chippenham Museum, watch the video HERE
Major improvements to Chippenham Museum have seen an increase in shop sales and more positive comments from visitors says its staff.
Owner Chippenham Town Council has added a new entrance and visitor shop to the museum to provide increased space for souvenirs and products by local craftsmen and artists. In the four months it has been open, shop sales are 72 per cent up on the same period last year and are close to matching the total sales from all of 2017/18.
If the current rate is maintained it could almost double last year’s total by the end of the year.
More than 10,000 people have passed through the doors of former 18th century house, once owned former Lord Mayor of London Samuel Fludyer.
Curator Melissa Barnett says visitors still react with disbelief that the museum is free. “They are always impressed and now that we have the new entrance and shop sales of gifts and souvenirs made by local artists have gone up and the visitor experience is just so much better.”
This year has seen a project to design and make a First World War tapestry, which involved dozens of groups and schools from the town, and the research project into the Unity and Loyalty wards of the Red Cross hospital based in the town hall and The Neeld.
“Both projects were wonderful. With the hospital research, everything we found was new,” said Mrs Barnett, who has been at the museum for eight years.
“We had people coming forward with photographs and even one of the relatives of the cook brought in the hospital’s cookbook. It was fascinating to hear about what may have been Chippenham’s finest hour.”
The research will be published by the museum in a new book about the hospital.
Numbers have also been encouraged by the new gallery, partly funded by a £49,000 Arts Council England grant.
The town has only had a museum since 1963, which is unusual given many towns of its size already had one by the late Victorian era. “Chippenham didn’t have a historical society either,” said Mrs Barnett.
The museum has a small but dedicated staff, including collections officer Alan Fuller, education officer Andrew Skelton and museum assistants Claire Selman and Elaine Davis.
They are supported by a small army of up to 80 volunteers who put in 5,165 hours of work in 2017/18. “They really are a tremendous support, there is some real expertise among them,” said Mrs Barnett.
They work in the museum shop, catalogue items donated to the museum’s 35,000 object-strong collection and help with running some of the groups who meet there regularly, such as the under-fives Discovery Group every Monday.
There is also the 60-strong Friends group, founded by Mrs Barnett when she joined eight years ago.
Among Mrs Barnett’s favourite objects in the museum is a hurriedly-written First World War letter from a Chippenham soldier to his mother, scrawled on to a biscuit. “I just love it because it is so interesting,” said Mrs Barnett.
“I think a museum is about stories that have yet to be told,” she said. “I’m feel very honoured to work here.”
She and her team are hard at work putting the finishing touches next year and are also developing a space for artists from the area. But the thing she loves most about the museum are the requests for family information or queries on aspects of the town’s past from members of the public who wander in.
She said: “That’s why I love museums, I love finding things out. I’m trained as an archaeologist and that’s a bit like what museums are about, its going through the layers of history and finding things out.”
Town council leader Sandie Webb said the museum is a real asset to the town. “We are lucky to have someone like Melissa and her team. They work tremendously hard and bring real passion to telling the story of our town.”
The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm.