Swanage museum doubles size of archive to cope with extra donations

Swanage Museum is doubling the size of its archive to handle the influx of items and provide additional meeting, research and exhibition space.

Among recent acquisitions is the archive of the former Swanage Grammar School which recently held its final reunion.

John Patrick and Bob Field at Swanage History Centre

Archivists John Patrick and Bob Field look round the new premises

“Better than we’ve ever had”

The museum has acquired the lease to a unit adjacent to the Swanage History Centre on the industrial estate off Victoria Avenue next to the railway. This is separate to the Swanage Museum in the town centre.

John Patrick, collections manager, said:

“A lot of local museums would be envious of this space. It’s going to be better than we’ve ever had.”

The archive team had been looking for additional space to house its growing collection, so jumped at the chance when the unit next door came onto the market.

Bob Field, Swanage Musuem archive

Art historian Bob Field examines an old chart

“Just as important as Cornwall in terms of signficant artists”

Bob Field, art historian, said:

“The exciting thing for me is that we will be able to display more of the paintings that we have.

“The Isle of Purbeck is not historically well known for its art but it should be. We are just as important as Cornwall in terms of the significant artists who have lived and worked here.”

Swanage Museum archive

Art work is currently displayed on the stairway

Additional space for visitors

The new area will be furnished to include a meeting room and provide space to host visiting groups and those attending open days.

Before covid the local history group used to have two research evenings a week and the archive is open by appointment more or less all the time.

Exterior of Swanage Museum

Funds for the project come from sales at the museum shop

Digitisation project

As well as the physical archive, the centre has embarked on a major digitisation project including a large collection of audio recordings which included a lost BBC programme.

The costs of the new unit will be covered by the takings from the retail side of the Swanage Museum, located in the Square. Many of the artefacts currently in storage will find themselves in temporary exhibitions at the museum.

Swanage Museum archive

Lots of items in the archive to organise

“Many years of chaos and neglect”

John said:

“We are suffering from many years of chaos and neglect. This new space should provide us with the opportunity to get on an even footing.”

A core group of four or five are responsible for updating the archive. They are constantly making new finds from among the items donated over the years.

Lathe at Swanage archive

A lathe that was probably used for local stone

Sextant at Swanage archive

A sextant for navigation once belonging to Second Officer J. Hill Brown – one of the items in the museum archive

“Wrong side of 70”

He added:

“Sadly, we have a lot of stuff in the collection which we have no idea where it came from, so we can’t give it any provenance. That’s something we want to improve.

“Most of us are on the wrong side of 70 so we are always looking for new helpers.”

Swanage History Centre

Swanage History Centre is expanding its archive

Further information

  • More about Swanage Museum and the archive at Swanage History Centre is available on its website

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