Corfe Castle’s tiny museum gets massive makeover

Dorset’s smallest museum, telling the story of Corfe Castle village, has a big future ahead of it following an 18-month revamp thanks to two large bequests from locals.

Since the start of 2022, a volunteer team has been working hard to give the Corfe Castle Town Trust Museum a new look with interactive displays and fresh exhibits.

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Corfe Castle Museum is the bottom floor of the smallest town hall in Britain

Two large bequests made revamp possible

Despite its small size, an estimated 50,000 people walk through the museum every year, although the true figure could be more, as it is now thought that at least half of Corfe Castle’s annual 200,000 visitors take a look inside the unmanned building.

A decision to revamp the museum, where some displays were beginning to look a little forlorn having been unchanged since 2000, was taken at the beginning of 2022 after the town trust received two large bequests from locals.

Bill Carter, a former Corfe Castle Town Trust chair, left nearly half a million pounds to be divided between the village hall and the town trust, and then Graham White, the former landlord of the Fox Inn who died in May 2021, left £10,000 to the museum in his will.

New artwork of Corfe Castle’s iguanodons is displayed along with their footprints

Second set of dinosaur footprints found

Louise Haywood, chair of Corfe Castle Town Trust said:

“We suddenly found we had loads of money and instead of thinking where’s the next penny coming from, we were able to create a more modern looking museum with user friendly displays.

“I wanted to give a lot of emphasis to the stone which has been so important to the village, but we quickly discovered that to tell the history of this remarkable village in such a small space is very nearly impossible – although we did give it our best shot!”

Dorset museum advisor Vicky De Wit played an invaluable role in bringing contacts together, including paleo artist Mark Witton.

Mark created a large-scale artwork of Corfe Castle’s iguanodon, based on the trackway’s dinosaur footprints, and in cleaning them up discovered two sets of tracks instead of just one.

A huge number of village treasures are packed into the tiny museum

Is it a dumbledore or a wopsy?

Exhibits have been donated to the museum by Dorset History Centre, Swanage Railway and one village resident whose grandfather discovered a Civil War cannonball in his garden in the 1950s.

Dorset Museum has also donated wooden toys and Roman artefacts for the displays and an original 1500s stained glass window from Corfe Castle also gets pride of place in the display.

Pupils at the local primary school researched and created short films detailing historic buildings around the village.

And local potter Rachel Fooks recorded an interactive display of Dorset dialect words, where tourists can discover what mollyhorning means, find out at what time you would eat nammet, or discover the difference between a wopsy and a dumbledore.

Corfe Castle museum dates from the 1960s, although there was an earlier museum dating back to Victorian times when the Purbeck Society collected artefacts which ended up in the county museum at Dorchester.

The town hall, museum and former jail house are on West Street, close to the castle

Village jail was called the Blind House

Louise Haywood said:

“It is based on the ground floor of the town hall, which was originally built for the mayor and barons after the Civil War, made out of stone nicked from the castle – but unfortunately it also had a thatched roof and burned down in 1684.

“It was then built up a bit to create a fancy town hall in brick, which was very special for this village. One half of it was the jail for the village which was called the Blind House – I can only assume it was for the blind drunk!

“We had quite a few pubs in the village – the Fox has been an alehouse since goodness knows when, it says 1586 outside but it is much older than that and was a place where they brewed their own ale.

“Other than that there was not too much naughtiness in Corfe Castle, it was mainly vagrants being moved on.

“It’s been rewarding to redisplay our gem of a museum and share the history of Corfe Castle village through new artefacts and reinvigorated displays. We’re definitely the small museum with a big story to tell!”

An interactive touchscreen display has been added to the museum

“A really thriving community”

Councillor Laura Beddow, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for culture and communities said:

“Dorset has an amazing range of museums, of all shapes and sizes and it’s great to see our small volunteer run museums making such significant strides to improve their offer and appeal to visitors.

“Corfe Castle is one of our county’s most historic villages but it’s also a really thriving community, so it’s fantastic to see that both young and older people from the area have been involved in researching and creating these exciting new displays.”

The museum is housed on the ground floor of the Old Town Hall at Corfe Castle – the smallest Town Hall in England – and is open every day with free entry.

An original stained glass window from Corfe Castle is more than 500 years old

Further information

  • Discover more about the Corfe Castle Town Trust Museum

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