Gallery: Now the past has a brand new future
- Credit: Archant
Opening back in 1951, The Mildenhall Museum tells the story of this West Suffolk town and its nearby villages from pre-history to nearly the present day.
Situated on the edge of the Fens and the edge of Breckland, Mildenhall and the villages around it were settled long, long ago.
And early man knew this area well.
Stretching from 500,000 BC to 1960 its artefacts, ephemera, photographs, and exhibits chart the history, the crafts, the way of life and industries of the Mildenhall area from its first settlers through to its Roman and Anglo-Saxon inhabitants an onwards to the modern age.
And after a decade of fundraising, planning, work and organising, the Mildenhall Museum is about to open its doors to the public following a year long £1.2million refurbishment.
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The artefacts are back in the building in King Street after a year in storage and are now ready to go on brand new, especially designed, display cases.
The building, now complete with new community space, research and educational facilities, a new lift for disabled access, a new kitchen, a new retail area, new storage facilities and new galleries, has nearly doubled in size.
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The chairman of the museum’s trustees Stephanie Palmer is keen to show off the developed museum to the public.
She said: “The museum dates back to 1951 when a local exhibition was held in Mildenhall’s old town hall. It was organised by local doctors and included the collection of Lady Briscoe who was a keen archaeologist from Lakenheath.
“In 1968 the museum moved to the Market Place and it moved here to its current location in King Street in 1983.”
With Heritage Lottery Funding and support from Suffolk County Council and Forest Heath District Council the museum shut its doors to the public in November 2012 for work on the redevelopment to begin.
Today the trustees and volunteers are due to open the doors once again of the museum this August.
Stephanie said: “We are planning a soft opening so visitors can see work in progress as we put back the collections and artefacts into their new homes and displays. The official opening will take place in October.”
“Before the refurbishment the museum was getting a bit cluttered. Now we have lots of extra space for visitors and exhibits.”
Inside the museum’s galleries are organised to take the visitor through the history of the area starting with prehistoric artefacts such as flint arrowheads and onto the roman gallery.
It is here the museum’s full size replica of the Mildenhall Treasure will be displayed.
Peter Merrick, chairman of the Mildenhall Museum Society, has been a volunteer at the museum for more than 25 years.
He said: “The Anglo-Saxon gallery will also house the Lakenheath warrior. This is a great coup for the museum. We are tickled pink.
“The grave is of national, if not international importance, and the British Museum’s policy nowadays is to display such discoveries as close to where they were found as possible rather than go to London.”
The warrior, who is thought to have died about 500 AD, was found buried at USAF Lakenheath in 1997 with a horse, bridle, sword and shield.
From the Anglo-Saxon gallery visitors will walk through the Fen and Breck gallery which includes exhibitions and displays on ancient trades and industries such as peat digging, game keeping and the development of agriculture.
The town gallery includes displays based on Mildenhall’s shops.
Retired businessman Joe Moore, secretary to the trustees, said the exhibits will include interactive activities for younger visitors.
He added: “The collection was a bit ad hoc before. The refurbishment enables us to change displays and keep the museum alive so each time the visitor will see and learn something different.”
Other display sections include the 1934 Great Air Race, which began in Mildenhall, Mildenhall during the Second World War and the development of the USAF bases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath.
The museum will also feature a domestic section which will include a Victorian scullery and laundry, a kitchen, as well as dairy and carpentry exhibits and a post-war domestic area complete with an early television.
The museum’s 60 volunteers will be kept busy in the coming months welcoming visitors as well as organising exhibits and displays.
Joe added: “People have been fascinated to see the museum as it develops. The interest has been huge.”
Stephanie, a retired dentist and founder trustee of the museum, said the response from the public has been hugely positive.
She added: “It has been a lot of hard work and taken up a lot of our time but we are all delighted with the result.”
The Mildenhall Museum will be opened in early August with an official opening by the museum’s patron The Earl of Iveagh due to take place in October. For more information visit www.mildenhallmuseum.co.uk