Chelmsford Museum is aiming to set a new standard for local museums when it reopens to the public on Saturday 20 July.
The tired Victorian Grade II listed house has had a complete makeover and curators hope its new galleries will totally transform the museum’s relationship with the residents of the city. The new exhibition spaces are filled with interactive displays, immersive video installations and atmospheric audio to bring the story of the city and the wider region to life. Residents will be able to track in detail how their own streets have changed from the late 16th century to the present day using the latest digital technology and gain new insights into some of the rich history on their doorstep.
When the museum opens, visitors will get the chance to see a number of high-profile objects that have never been displayed in the region before. The secrets of the ‘Broomfield Burial’, a collection of precious Anglo-Saxon artefacts found in a burial chamber in the north of the city, will be revealed after lying in storage at the British Museum for much of the last century.
Museum manager Dave Finkle wants to rekindle interest in Chelmsford’s part in this fascinating era: “Thanks to the hard work of our curatorial team, these remarkable early 7th century pieces can come back to Chelmsford where their story can be told in a relevant and compelling way.”
A number of other significant objects will also be shown for the first time. These include the Little Baddow diadem, one of the earliest pieces of gold to have made its way to Essex, which will take pride of place in the ‘First Settlers’ room. The delicate gold strip was found by a metal detectorist in 2016 and will be displayed with a replica of what it would have looked like around 4,500 years ago.
Councillor Marie Goldman, cabinet member for Connected Chelmsford, says the new museum has been very much commissioned by the people of England’s newest city: “Chelmsford has a fascinating story and I’m delighted that its people have been so instrumental in telling it. Local museums must work harder than ever to stay relevant to their audiences. A great museum makes you feel an affinity with your own city; it’s a source of civic pride and a fantastic asset for Chelmsford.”
The revamp has been made possible thanks to a grant of almost £1.5 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The award has covered two thirds of the cost of the project, which includes not only the refurbishment, but new activities and events. A number of other organisations, including SHARE Museums East, Friends of Chelmsford Museums, Essex Heritage Trust, Countryside Properties, and New Hall School have also made donations.
Anne Jenkins, Director, England: Midlands & East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund says National Lottery players should be proud of their contribution: “The reimagining of Chelmsford Museum is exactly the kind of project we love to invest in – with a fantastic legacy for the community and a chance to revitalise interest in local history. We’re delighted with the new version of Chelmsford Museum and we’re hoping that its transformation and the way it has engaged the city’s residents along the way can help to inspire other local museums.”
The museum, which has already opened a successful café, has big plans to keep visitors entertained over the summer and beyond. Staff want the museum itself to play a more active role in the community. Dave Finkle thinks residents will be surprised by this new ambition: “Chelmsford Museum has always been regarded with fondness by regular visitors, but we knew there was a lot of work to be done to give our growing and vibrant city the experience it deserves. Museums can no longer be passive repositories of our past. With our new galleries and shop, exciting events, popular café and beautiful park, you can now have any number of great days out here and feel much more connected to the story of our city.”
Chelmsford Museum reopens at 10am on Saturday 20 July. For the latest information about the new galleries and events planned for this summer visit www.chelmsford.gov.uk/museums/.
Tuesday 16 July 2019.