Across the country, forced lockdown caused many a household to redecorate, re-purpose, and refresh their homes. Some television shows do the makeover using just paint and a lot of MDF, completing a room in three days.
At Horsham Museum and Art Gallery it was no different. Except for the Museum it was 10 rooms to refurbish and a 600 year old building, as well as dealing with precious objects ranging from 150,000 year old stone tools, dinosaur bones and undrunk beer bottles. Also it took over three months to empty the rooms before the work could even begin.
From Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 October the public were invited back inside to see the big reveal as the Council’s Horsham Museum & Art Gallery reopened its doors to the public for the first time in some 18 months.
The Museum will now be open 10am-4pm from Thursdays to Saturdays throughout the rest of 2021 with a view to extending its opening hours in spring 2022.
What can the public see? One major change is that the Museum has more stories to tell on the ground floor making them more accessible. The rooms are more open, creating a COVID comfortable space and the building’s original features have now been revealed after lying hidden behind display cases for many years.
The aim of the ground floor is to tell Horsham District’s story, the things that unite this 200 square miles of Sussex, stories that reveal a common thread from Steyning to Rudgwick, Amberley to Billingshurst. Stories about music, folk songs, gardening, sport, mapping the District, and that is just in the first room that leads from the newly repurposed hall.
The ground floor displays provide a fascinating overview of the District’s past, with emphasis made on the objects, rather than complex narratives. Here the new colourful panels guide and encourage the visitor to discover objects seen afresh in brightly lit display cases, from medieval Horsham hoards, medieval tiles with a knight on horseback from Pulborough, or the unique fossil dragonfly wings, or even a dinosaur and a 7,000 year old stone flint named after the town, to a Southwater-made WWII chess set. Every object has a story to tell.
Upstairs the changes continue from a gallery about the written word that tells the District’s rich literary history by showing published books. Who knew that a farmer from Sullington, Richard Hains would write pamphlets published in 17th century in London, on economics and work houses. Very influential at the time and the Museum holds a rare example.
For some, a star attraction may be the new costume gallery. At the heart of it is a new specially made glass display case that allows you for the first time to enjoy a 360 degree view of the costumes.
In just over five months, the Museum volunteers have stripped, repaired and carefully painted ceilings and walls and old display cases in a variety of colours that bring out the character of the building and objects. They now sit in newly created displays spaces that sallow the 600 year old building fabric to be displayed, whilst many of the windows have been opened up to allow views of the beautiful volunteer-maintained gardens.
Horsham District Council Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture Cllr Roger Noel commented:
“I am delighted to welcome back both local communities and new visitors alike to our beloved Museum and Art Gallery.
“My thanks go out to our team who have worked so hard to make sure that the Museum is reopening refreshed with such amazing new displays, collections and exhibitions.
“The Museum reopening is all the more poignant as it also marks the retirement of our long serving Curator Jeremy Knight after over 33 years’ service to the Council.
“The Museum refresh marks the last major project by Jeremy who used the knowledge built up over his long tenure to design, research, select, and display the exhibits to tell the story of the District’s heritage and to enable new stories to be told with ease.
“Over his long tenure Jeremy has shaped Horsham Museum and Art Gallery into the unique cultural facility that we have today, and it is this legacy which will stretch far into the future for generations to enjoy. I join many others in wishing Jeremy a long, happy and healthy retirement.”
“I would urge as many people as possible to come along and pay a visit to enjoy all the hard work that has gone into this refurbishment.”
Newly recruited to the role of Associate Curator is Nikki Caxton who joins from the V&A Museum in London.
For more details about the Museum and Art Gallery and to sign up to our email newsletter please visit: horshammuseum.org.
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