The Museum tells the story of the town, the immediate parishes and their people. Many generations have seen this corner of the Blackmore Vale grow from a Neolithic settlement to the bustling Gillingham of today.
Museum Opening Times
Currently closed due to Government restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
For visits at other times or Group visits, please contact the Curator by Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or write to
Gillingham Museum, Chantry Fields, GILLINGHAM, Dorset SP8 4UA
The Museum is governed by the management committee of Gillingham Local History Society (Registered Charity no 1014970).
Restaurant and toilet facilities are available in the Waitrose Supermarket on the opposite side of the road.
The whole exhibition area is on ground level and therefore suitable for wheelchair access. Parking (with disabled bays) is available in the adjoining public Car Park.
Gillingham Digital Archive
Some of the Museum's many records are now kept as the Gillingham Digital Archive. This organises records which exist only in digital form or are more conveniently stored and made available as digital records rather than as hard copies.
Many of these are records of Gillingham from recent times – from the 1970s onwards,time which is already slipping into the historical past, and might easily become overlooked and lost. Categories of information include newspapers, advertisement features, digital photos, and video records, but also includes compilations of earlier records and images from our existing Museum catalogue. To learn more, download the Gillingham Digital Archive.
About Gillingham Museum
The Gillingham Local History Society was founded under the umbrella of the Gillingham (Dorset) Parish Council in 1953 to find a home for the Freame family collection of local historical documents and artifacts. These had been given to the town by Mr Sidney Carter, who was the benefactor of the items from the will of the last surviving Freame.
At first the collection was housed at Gillingham Modern School and could only be viewed by special arrangement. In 1958 the Local History Society was fortunate in being made a gift of a pair of small cottages in Church Walk by Mr Ernest Samways, a local chemist.
The cottages served very well until the 1980s when it was realised that more modern premises were needed to support the growing town, and to provide the contents with better controlled conditions.
After much discussion it was decided to build an extension to the new library which would meet the access and conservation criteria required to meet the 21st century. After much fundraising and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in their very first round of awards, the Museum was finally officially opened in October 1996.
The Exhibition - by way of a tour
Upon entering the museum you will first encounter the Geological section which shows the creatures that lived locally when the area was under the sea with examples of sea monsters, crocodile and other fossils from prehistoric times. Also within this section there is an explanation about the brick making industry which exploited the local clay deposits. This industry was active for over 150 years within Gillingham and surrounding area. In addition there is a large format view of the High Street from the 1890s, together with the same view today which shows how the town has retained much of its original charm.
Working around the museum, set in chronological order, we are pleased to show a series of panels commissioned from Joan Haig. This includes an Iron age settlement as it may have been in the Common Mead Lane area. This is adjacent to a Roman skeleton from Todber and a panel here illustrates the dig undertaken by a Gillingham group in 1967. Another panel depicts life on a Roman farm of a period relating to a site in Gillingham. These panels are accompanied by cases displaying finds associated with the sites and panels and a touch screen presentation about King John and the Forest.
Moving on to the Saxon and Norman period - During this period a Royal Forest was established and the Kings of the time - particularly King John and King Henry III - built King's Court Palace, an extensive hunting lodge. The illustration of King's Court Palace is by no means fantasy, and the existence of each major building shown is backed by documentary evidence. The nearby 1624 Forest map was copied from the original deposited at the County Archives by Count Guy de Pelet. There are information points for those with time to read more of the background on this subject.
The coming of the Railway is next and includes the original wheelbarrow and spade used by Miss Seymour to turn the first turf in 1856. Gillingham industry, most of which followed in the wake of the railway, is covered alongside.
Oake Woods bacon factory and Eden Shute's butter factory are also featured in this area.
The enclosed room features a Victorian display.
In the passage is the 1790 fire engine with a display case and an information point alongside, full of other fire brigade memories. Other subjects covered in this area are the town and silk mills; law and order and an 1880 map of Gillingham. Lion stationary engines were manufactured by Charlie Maloney in Station Road in the 1920s and one is on show.
One of our most popular exhibits is the display of John Constable's Gillingham paintings and sketches. There is a colour copy of each which are reproduced as near to actual size as possible. There is much information on his friendship with the Rev John Fisher and his family, together with the reasons for his visiting Gillingham. The display is accompanied by a touch screen presentation.
This is a brief introduction to a number of our displays and exhibits and is not intended to be exhaustive.
We hope that you will shortly be able to visit us in person.