Yeovil's Museums

Yeovil's Museums

Through the ages

 

Probably Yeovil's first museum was located in the Angel Inn which stood on the corner of Hendford and Porter's Lane (now Westminster Street) facing High Street and the Borough - the site is now occupied by the Westminster bank building. 

In 1761 Mr Forbes, licensee of the Angel Inn, was the proud owner of a celebrated 'museum' in the kitchen of the inn. Included among Mr Forbes' curiosities was a panel now housed in the Community Heritage Access Centre at Lufton. It is of painted and gilded gesso on oak boards. In the Western Flying Post's edition of 1 January 1779, the Angel Inn was advertised as 'famed for its beautiful kitchen and repository of curiosities'.

The carved and coloured panel, photographed at left, is thought to date to 1603 and is believed to be possibly the work of Humphry Beckham (d1671) of Salisbury. It was once hung up in the kitchen of the Angel Inn as part of Mr Forbes' 'museum'. It depicts Old Testament scenes of Adam and Eve in the top left corner, while the remainder is devoted to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Adam and Eve are depicted holding nine leaves in front of them while a serpent entwines the apple tree under which they stand. Eve offers an apple to Adam, who is about to accept it. On his right are a stag, a unicorn and a lion, while below his bent left knee is an elephant. In the lower part of the panel is the beginning of the Abraham and Isaac story.

In 1761, Richard Gough wrote "The Angel Inn is celebrated over this County for its Kitchen, a large room originally intended for ye purpose, but by ye present Landlord, Mr (Edward) Forbes, furnish't with the greatest variety of curiosities, rare china, and earthen ware painted with different subjects, many American weapons and Animals, models of ships and ye Holy Sepulchre, various English Fossils and other natural curiosities, Lava from Vesuvius, Lamps from Herculaneum, etc., etc. Against ye Grate which is in ye proper form but extremely neat is fixt ye portrait of an old Serjeant, an Acquaintance of Mr F's on horseback. To keep up ye appearance of a Kitchen there is pewter and other parts of Kitchen Furniture about it, and some closets to serve as pantries, but ye work is done in a back Kitchen. Here are also two large tables of a beautiful but coarse yellow marble sprinkled with different coluirs, spots and veins, dug out of a neighbouring field of Mr F's, some coarser blocks of ye same are cut into steps. The Landlord discovers very little appearance of his profession and his whole delight consists in the singular room. The business is principally carried on by his nephew who is to be his heir."
Bodleian Library - Gough Nichols MSS Top.Gen. e23 ff 141-2. 'Private Museums' written by Richard Gough, c1761.

In June 1923, William Wyndham, a former Vicar of Yeovil, gifted 28 Kingston to the town, including his collection of Yeovil artifacts and Henry Stiby's collection of guns (see Gallery). At a meeting of the Corporation, Mr Wyndham was thanked for his generosity and the Corporation decided that the gift should be called the Wyndham Museum. The museum was originally the billiards room of 28 Kingston. The museum formed the origins of the later Yeovil Municipal Museum. When the house became the Rural District Council offices, the museum exhibits were divided between the Yeovil School in Goldcroft and the new museum in King George Street.  

The municipal museum was created above the Borough Library at the southern end of the new municipal buildings in King George Street, chiefly in order to display the Roman finds from the Westland Roman Villa site, including the mosaic floor.

Then, (I think) in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the town's collection of artifacts was housed in the Hendford Manor Coach House for many years.

Yeovil has a vast collection of artefacts relating to its history, in the custodianship of the District Council. Unfortunately, since 2011 these have been kept in little more than a storage facility on a trading estate at the edge of town (the Community Heritage Access Centre, or CHAC). Even the Somerset Museums' website describes it as "a museum store". The fact that CHAC tried to rebrand itself as "Yeovil's Secret Museum" is nothing less than insulting.

In 2011 the District Council, in a decision based purely on economics rather than the wishes of the electorate, and with an immense lack of foresight and judgement, relocated its town centre museum collection from the former Hendford Manor Coach House to the Community Heritage Access Centre in Artillery Road - on a trading estate at the edge of the town. Indeed, the word 'Community' is something of a misnomer since the community at large rarely visits because of its inaccessibility and not that many even know of its existence. Even fewer visitors to Yeovil will enjoy these artifacts of Yeovil's heritage. The word 'Access' is an even greater misnomer since, with no public transport links, its remoteness makes it almost inaccessible unless you have a car, you have to telephone for an appointment (I've never yet managed to get an appointment within two weeks) and it will never be seen by visitors to Yeovil because of its out-of-town location.

Once inside it is, most sadly, a glorified storage shed within the council's depot, with the town's collection crammed in with no apparent order. When there was a museum, the council decided that it should be a museum of south Somerset, but even though Chard, Crewkerne, Ilminster, Castle Cary and Bruton have their own museums, Yeovil still has only a remote storage facility to hide the town's heritage from view. It is time Yeovil had its own museum again.

With the council now investing huge amounts of money into regenerating Yeovil town centre to attract shoppers and visitors, surely a museum actually in the centre of Yeovil displaying the town's past through its artifacts, offering learning opportunities to the younger generation, a venue for talks on Yeovil's history, and so on, would be a major attraction. Many people, when visiting a town, will invariably visit its museum, but Yeovil presently cannot offer such an attraction. To be honest, with such a fantastic history spanning the ages, it is a disgusting shame that our heritage is hidden away, no matter what the cost savings. Effectively, Yeovil now does not have a museum - but it certainly deserves one. End of rant.

 

June 2021 - this website has now been re-branded as -
Yeovil's Virtual Museum, the A-to-Z of Yeovil's History

 

gallery

 

Henry Stiby's study at 5 The Park. His gun collection was donated to the Wyndham museum and is now (I think), most sadly, locked away in the council's store at Lufton.

 

The Wyndham Museum was originally the billiard room of No 28 Kingston. The museum was the gift of William Wyndham to the town and formed the origins of the later Yeovil Museum.

 

The Wyndham Museum in the former billiard room at 28 Kingston. The museum was later housed in the municipal offices in King George Street and then in the coach house of Hendford Manor. Today it is all locked up in Artillery Road and, although it is still accessible by appointment, how awful is that! Photographed before the dispersal of the exhibits in 1928.

 

Photographed in the 1960s, this was the museum in the municipal offices in King George Street. When I knew it in the late 1970s, this room housed the council's engineer's drawing office. The room was on the first floor, at the southern (South Street) end of the building.

 

Hendford Manor Coach House, photographed in the late 1990s, when it housed Yeovil's museum.