Elmbridge Museum at 30


'I think it of the greatest possible value for every district... to keep the records of the past together.'

Philip E. Pilditch

Becoming 'Elmbridge'

In 1991, Weybridge Museum became ‘Elmbridge Museum’. This landmark change reflected the museum’s expanded role in preserving, teaching and promoting history across the entire borough of Elmbridge with its vast collection of over 40,000 items, a task it had been performing since 1974 when the borough was created.

Yet, the museum’s own long past is itself interwoven into over a century of local history, and has formed a key part of the area’s changing identity over the decades. In this exhibition to celebrate 30 years of ‘Elmbridge’ Museum, we examine the personalities, places and events which have shaped the museum’s aims from its formation in 1909 right up to the present day.

The Elmbridge Museum at 30 display is at Cobham Library from August 2021 – March 2022.

Click here to plan your visit

Origins in Weybridge

The Weybridge Mutual Improvement Society and Literary Institute
Late 1800s

Elmbridge Museum’s roots go back over a century, to the late 1800s. After the Weybridge Mutual Improvement Society and Literary Institute set up a series of successful exhibitions to promote conservation of the local area, the formation of Weybridge Museum gained widespread support amongst prominent members of the community.



Gaining Funding
1908

In the early part of the 20th Century, the borough of Elmbridge didn't exist. Instead, localities such as Weybridge, Walton, and Esher were split into a series of 'Urban District Councils'. With the support of local campaigners and the Weybridge Mutual Improvement Society, the Weybridge Urban District Council set up a committee to oversee the start up of a local museum.



Opening
23rd June
1909

Weybridge Museum started out next to the council offices in one room of Aberdeen House in Church Street. It was opened by Sir Charles Holroyd, Director of the National Gallery, to much popular local press.
A large part of its early work surrounded natural history and local archaeology finds thanks to the interest of the first Curator, Dr Eric Gardner and his first assistant Miss Ethel Harting.



Starting Out: Key Personalities from the Early Years

  • Sir Phillip Pilditch
  • Dr Eric Gardner
  • Ethel Harting
  • Dorothy Grenside

An Early Donor

I was a very prominent local personality in the early 1900s, and my passion for preserving the local area had gained me notoriety. I was involved in many campaigns to preserve common land in and around Weybridge, often appearing in local newspapers.

When the idea of a Weybridge Museum was first suggested, I was a keen supporter – especially because one of the main purposes of the Museum would be to preserve the natural history of our area. I eventually donated four paintings to the early Weybridge Museum collection, and £5 towards the museum’s start-up – a generous sum, equivalent to about £617 today.

The First Head Curator

I was the first Head Curator of the new Weybridge Museum, working there for over 40 years of my life, from 1909 to 1951.

I specialised in Archaeology and Local History, and had a particular interest in the fascinating Chertsey Abbey and Oatlands Palace finds. Our collection now contains early letters addressed to me, keeping me informed on the ground-breaking Chertsey finds in the 1910s. During the First World War, I was briefly away from the museum, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Macedonia.

In the museum, I also enjoyed delivering my expert talks on the subject to local audiences as early as the 1920s, spreading the word about important local archaeology.

The First Curator of Natural History

I had been part of Weybridge Museum since it first began, initially acting as an assistant to the Head Curator, Dr Eric Gardner. I then became the museum’s first Curator of Natural History, working in the role until 1926. This was thanks to my extensive knowledge surrounding the topic, as my father J.E Harting was a well-known local naturalist.

My dealings with the Museum, however, go back to long before its doors first opened, as I was on the Weybridge Urban District Council Committee that was formed to oversee the museum’s formation.

My great hobbies were botany and painting, and I often combined the two. During the late 19th century, I poured a great deal of time into painting 170 watercolours of plants found in local areas, the full colourful array of which are preserved in the collection today.

Assistant Curator and later Honorary Curator

I was an active member of the local community long before I started work at Weybridge Museum. In December 1912, I appeared in an amateur dramatic performance of “Merely Mary Ann”, held in Holstein Hall which used to stand in Weybridge High Street (this photo of me is from that very production!)

I came to help at Weybridge Museum in the middle of the First World War, in 1915. I was shortly afterwards appointed Assistant Curator, working alongside Dr Eric Gardner and Miss Ethel Harting. Following the death of Dr Gardner in 1951, I became the Honorary Head Curator at Weybridge Museum. I worked diligently in this role for twelve years, until my retirement in 1963.

But retirement was not the end of my engagement with local culture and heritage, and I continued to keenly disseminate knowledge about our local history by writing many articles for local magazines and acting as the first woman on the Surrey Archaeological Society’s Council. My success as a historian only continued to grow, and eventually I had a country-wide following through my popular radio appearances and lecture tours. I regularly returned to Weybridge Museum, the place it had all begun, to deliver talks.

A Growing Collection

Explore some of the items from the earliest years of Weybridge Museum

Mesolithic flint 'strike-a-light' This was found in the garden of Ripley Police Station, with other similar implements, and donated in 1908.

'Rides and Drives to Places of Interest In the Vicinity of Oatlands' Printed & published 1883 by J. North, the pages are illustrated with engravings. This was donated to the Weybridge Museum collection in 1909.

Catalogue of the Exhibition of Arts, Industries and Manufactures It was opened at the Mutual Improvement Society and Literary Institute, Weybridge, 1874, an exhibition which was a precursor to Weybridge Museum being set up. This catalogue was taken into the collection in 1908.

Poster illuminated by Mrs. Dorothy Grenside This poster advertises a lantern lecture given by Dr. Eric Gardner on the Romance Tiles of Chertsey Abbey, April 20th, 1923.

Portion of stone 'Fleur de lys' from Chertsey Abbey This was donated on June 25th 1909, only two days after Weybridge Musuem was officially opened by Sir Charles Holroyd, Director of the National Gallery.

Round costrel with pierced lug shoulders and ring neck, probably used to hold wine The yellow crackled glaze on this costrel is smoke-blackened. Like the Fleur de lys, it was also donated upon Weybridge Museum's opening in 1909, having been found in the River Wey. It is thought to be from the former Oatlands Palace.

Watercolour of a rhododendron from Woburn Chase in Addlestone. This was painted on the 14th July 1897 by Miss Ethel Harting, and is one of 170 other botanical watercolours painted by her in the collection.

Click here to discover more about the watercolours of Ethel Harting on our Object in Focus page
Plan of the new Weybridge Museum above Weybridge Library, Church Street, 1966Plan of the new Weybridge Museum above Weybridge Library, Church Street, 1966

The Museum Grows

The story of the museum from the 1920s onwards is one of growth. In 1933, the merging of Walton and Weybridge Urban District Councils meant that the museum’s local history remit expanded to cover the Walton area, and the museum took in a huge number of historic items from the former Walton Museum after the Second World War.

The 1960s saw further advances, with paid staff being appointed after the retirement of Tony Martin, the last honorary curator, in 1965, and the museum moving into a larger home above Weybridge Library in Church Street in 1967. This coincided with major excavations of the former Oatlands Palace site from the 1960s-80s, led by the curators of Weybridge Museum and resulting in a huge amount of palace finds being preserved in the collection.

Learn more about the landmark Oatlands Palace excavations here

Constructing the new museum

The laying of the first floor beam at the new Weybridge Museum building, 1966.

Constructing the new museum

A crane and builders constructing the first floor level of the new Weybridge Museum building in 1966.

Constructing the new museum

A crane with a floor beam, building the new Weybridge Museum in 1966.

Constructing the new museum

A lorry with a crane in Church Street, constructing the new Weybridge Museum building in 1966.

Constructing the new museum

Work on the ground floor of the new Weybridge Museum building, with two men on a ladder, 1966.

Constructing the new museum

Three men working on the ground floor level of the new Weybridge Museum building in 1966.

Constructing the new museum

The ceiling of the new Weybridge Museum building from the office door, during construction, 1966.

Constructing the new museum

A view from the office window towards the south windows of the new Weybridge Museum gallery, while under construction in 1966.

Constructing the new museum

A view from the office window down into the court during the construction of the new Weybridge Museum building in 1966.

Expanding the Museum: Key Personalities from the Years of Change

  • Tony Martin
  • Brian Blake
  • Avril Lansdell
  • Morag Barton

The Last Honorary Head Curator

I had previously acted as Dorothy Grenside’s assistant for some years, and after her retirement in 1963 I was appointed as Honorary Head Curator, a post I held until 1965.

During my time in this role, the plans for the museum’s expansion into its new building in Church Street were begun. I soon realised that the work of the Museum would now require a full time professional Head Curator. In 1965, I therefore retired in order that a new full-time, paid Curator could be appointed.

I was a keen local historian, and my involvement with local history continued long after I left Weybridge Museum. I had been a founder member of the Walton and Weybridge Local History Society in 1964. An architect by profession, I had a great interest in old buildings, particularly Oatlands Palace. I was consequently heavily involved in the research excavations of this site in 1968, along with many fellow members of the Walton and Weybridge Local History Society.

The First paid Head Curator

I took over from Tony Martin in 1965, becoming the first paid Head Curator at Weybridge Museum. I was only in post for around three years, with my assistant Avril Lansdell taking the reigns as Head Curator in 1968.

Excavation of Oatlands Palace

During my time at the museum, I oversaw some of the largest changes to happenso far. In 1966, construction began on the new museum building in Church Street, and in 1967 Weybridge Museum officially reopened here, on the floor above the library. The space was much larger than Aberdeen House, and allowed us to expand our exhibition content, learning activities and events for members of the local community.

Much like my predecessor Tony Martin, I had a great interest in preserving local archaeological finds and am the reason that so much of the former Tudor Oatlands Palace survives in the collection. I had been a founding member of the Oatlands Palace excavation committee (O.P.E.C), and, while Head Curator of the Museum, I agreed that 250 boxes of nationally significant finds from the ongoing excavation should be stored in Elmbridge Museum’s archive at Elm Grove.

Head Curator from 1968 - 1989

I initially worked at the museum as an assistant to Brian Blake in 1965. Upon his retirement in 1968, I became the Museum’s Head Curator.

I had a huge influence on the museum at its new home in Church Street, compiling scrapbooks to assist me with historical reconstructions of domestic life over the ages. Some of these scrapbooks are now themselves part of the museum’s historic collection!

I was very interested in textiles and clothing, creating a regionally significant collection of local costume dating from the 1750s. I eventually left the museum in 1989, having worked there for over 20 years and overseen much change, including the expansion of the museum’s remit to include the entire newly-created borough of Elmbridge in 1974.

You can explore some of the amazing photographs and items from my time at Weybridge Museum in the following sections.

Assistant Curator from 1968 - 1984

I was the Assistant Curator to Avril Lansdell, starting out at Weybridge Museum in the same year that she started her role as Head Curator.

I aided Avril in the curation of new exhibitions using the growing museum collection, and also helped with learning sessions and historical events over the years. There are many photos of me dressed up in an array of historic costumes during my time at the museum, from the Elizabethan to the Victorian eras, for local fairs and history fetes.

In 1977, I curated my own exhibition at Weybridge Museum called ‘Wings Over Brooklands’. It looked at the significance of Brooklands’ long aviation and motoring history, and was supported by the Vintage Aircraft Flying Association. The exhibition was a major success, and led me to establish Brooklands Museum, which has become a popular museum with a huge collection that can still be visited today.

Learn more about Brooklands Museum

Avril Lansdell's Influence

Key items from the Museum in the 1960s

November 1967 The new Weybridge Museum gallery when it was opened, showing the Oatlands Palace Statue of Venus on the left, the single heaviest object in the collection.

May 1971 School children working in Weybridge Museum. Avril Lansdell's domestic historical reconstruction can be seen in the background.

April 1978 Photograph of Mrs Reta Page, a museum assistant, helping set up a reconstruction of an Edwardian nursery at Weybridge Museum.

May 1975 A group of children and Mrs. Avril Lansdell showing the frieze and model village which they made at the Museum Children's Club.

1959 A pair of clip on earrings of mottled pink and a round design, made in Hong Kong in 1959. These were accessories which matched other items brought into the collection at the same time, forming part of Avril Lansdell's costume collection.

1970 Avril Lansdell talking to Miss Ward, both seated at a table in Weybridge Museum. Historic paintings can be seen hanging on the wall behind them

1980s Avril Lansdell wearing Elizabethan costume at an Elizabethan fair at the Oatlands Park Hotel. The Mayor is on the right. Both ladies are talking as they stand next to the Museum's stall selling the Museum's publications.

March 1974 Barbara Hepworth standing with John Stonebanks at a lecture for Weybridge Museum, in Weybridge Library Hall.

1966 Coloured drawing of the north side and east end of the new Museum Gallery at Church Street. It shows two cases containing costume and accessories, and the north side shows the Saxon cases.

May 1971 Two school girls working in Weybridge Museum.

Summer 1981 The Oatlands Palace display, natural history gallery and Penny Farthing display in Weybridge Museum Gallery.

Summer 1981 The school room, shop and Oatlands Palace displays in Weybridge Museum.

Summer 1981 The sales desk, wall painting, and natural history gallery in Weybridge Museum's gallery.

1978 Avril Landsdell (left) and Doreen Carey at Weybridge Museum, from a collection of 528 photographs of the local area taken by the Surrey Herald and later donated to the museum's collection.

Paper bag from the former Elmbridge Museum shop, c.1990s.Paper bag from the former Elmbridge Museum shop, c.1990s.

Changing Names

The borough of Elmbridge was born in 1974, when Esher and Walton & Weybridge Councils merged. Weybridge Museum now expanded to cover the history of 17 localities in the new borough – including Cobham, Esher, Claygate, Oxshott, Thames Ditton, Molesey, and more.

The name change to ‘Elmbridge Museum’, however, only happened 17 years later, in 1991. This reflected its new expanded role in the community, and is echoed by the museum’s branding of merchandise and posters from late 20th Century.

The relatively late expansion is the main reason why the largest part of the museum’s collection is largely from Weybridge and Walton, although since the creation of Elmbridge, efforts have been made to take in items from across the wider borough’s history.

The re-opening of Elmbridge Museum on 10th December 1996 by Loyd Grossman, showing him cutting the ribbon across the Museum entrance, as seen from the Vestibule.The re-opening of Elmbridge Museum on 10th December 1996 by Loyd Grossman, showing him cutting the ribbon across the Museum entrance, as seen from the Vestibule.

Refurbishment

In 1995, while under the management of Neil White, Elmbridge Museum was given a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to aid Elmbridge Borough Council’s modernisation of its gallery space.

By this point, the museum had gained a reputation for its excellent temporary exhibitions, with the new displays telling the history of human settlement in the area since prehistoric times and including the introduction of a local studies room and ‘children’s corner’.

The refurbished gallery was opened to much popular press coverage by Loyd Grossman on 10th December 1996.

Click through these pages to see photos from the grand opening of the modernised gallery space.


The interior of Elmbridge Museum during refurbishment, May to December 1996, showing empty Pre-historic Elmbridge and Oatlands Palace display cases with boxed objects on the floor.The interior of Elmbridge Museum during refurbishment, May to December 1996, showing empty Pre-historic Elmbridge and Oatlands Palace display cases with boxed objects on the floor.
The refurbished Elmbridge Museum shop with four display recesses and the shop counter to the left, at the re-opening on the 10th December 1996.The refurbished Elmbridge Museum shop with four display recesses and the shop counter to the left, at the re-opening on the 10th December 1996.
A person stocking the shelves of the Elmbridge Museum reception desk and shop, during Museum refurbishment, May to December 1996.A person stocking the shelves of the Elmbridge Museum reception desk and shop, during Museum refurbishment, May to December 1996.
The refurbished Elmbridge Museum on 10th December 1996, showing the Temporary Exhibition with sculptures and vases in the wall cases and jewellery in the central island case.The refurbished Elmbridge Museum on 10th December 1996, showing the Temporary Exhibition with sculptures and vases in the wall cases and jewellery in the central island case.
The refurbished Elmbridge Museum on 10th December 1996, showing the temporary display gallery with the Mount Felix plaque on the wall by the shop counter.The refurbished Elmbridge Museum on 10th December 1996, showing the temporary display gallery with the Mount Felix plaque on the wall by the shop counter.
The refurbished Elmbridge Museum, showing the Industry case, with the Education display on the right.The refurbished Elmbridge Museum, showing the Industry case, with the Education display on the right.
The Mayor of Elmbridge, Loyd Grossman and Neil White, Museum Manager, at the opening of the refurbished Elmbridge Museum on 10th December 1996, with the red ribbon across the Museum entrance, and press photographers in the vestibule.The Mayor of Elmbridge, Loyd Grossman and Neil White, Museum Manager, at the opening of the refurbished Elmbridge Museum on 10th December 1996, with the red ribbon across the Museum entrance, and press photographers in the vestibule.
A school visit by Hurst Park School, Molesey, to Elmbridge Museum in early 1997. This was the first school visit to the museum that year and since the major refurbishment.A school visit by Hurst Park School, Molesey, to Elmbridge Museum in early 1997. This was the first school visit to the museum that year and since the major refurbishment.
A school visit by Hurst Park School, Molesey to Elmbridge Museum in early 1997. This was the first school visit to the museum that year, and since the major refurbishment.A school visit by Hurst Park School, Molesey to Elmbridge Museum in early 1997. This was the first school visit to the museum that year, and since the major refurbishment.
A visitor looking at reference books in the local studies area of the newly refurbished Elmbridge Museum, c.1996/7.A visitor looking at reference books in the local studies area of the newly refurbished Elmbridge Museum, c.1996/7.

Into the Present

The evolution of the museum has continued into the 21st Century. During the 1990s to 2000s, a number of temporary touring exhibitions were set up with the aim of bringing local history outside the museum walls and into community spaces. This strategy was a success, and saw many landmark exhibitions which gained popular local press coverage and a wide attendance, including displays at the newly built Civic Centre in Esher.

In 2014, the decision was taken to close the museum’s gallery space and operate entirely as an outreach museum. Staff at the museum now work from their office inside the Civic Centre, with display cases spread across a variety of public locations throughout the borough. This enabled the museum to reach borough-wide audiences unlike ever before.

Today, Elmbridge Museum works with community groups and local history societies to produce a large programme of temporary displays across five locations. We regularly work with audiences to ensure exhibitions are led by them through contributions such as oral histories. The digital presence of the museum continues to grow, with this new website launch in June 2021 providing a platform for the entire community and making local history collections accessible to all.

Learn more about the museum's key aims and work today

Modern Collecting

The moratorium on museum acquisitions was instated in 2005 due to low storage space, but since then a number of special items of particular local interest have been collected. Explore the headings below to discover more about these special items.

Today, the museum team adds to the contemporary local history collection in other ways, such as through digitally recorded and stored oral histories given by locals. In 2011, a new Collections policy identified over 4000 items which could be transferred to other more relevant museums, to create space in the museum stores. This Effective Collections project is still underway, and you can read about it here.

Gold finger mourning ring

Mourning ring

Mourning ring inscription detail

This ring dates back to 1670. It has a thin, flat band with a skull on the exterior. It is inscribed on interior with ‘Prepare to follow FV.’

Research suggests that it was possibly purchased by Matthew Carleton or his wife in mourning for his cousin Sir Francis Vincent of Stoke D’Abernon. It was discovered locally in 2008, and donated to the museum.

Learn more about the ring in our blog.

White ceramic drinking mug

Mug with Charter Mark symbol, formerly used in Elmbridge Museum and taken into the collection in 2010.

This white ceramic drinking mug has a blue ‘Charter Mark’ symbol on the front and back.

Since 1996, sixteen Charter Marks have been awarded to Elmbridge Borough Council. The awards are the Government’s recognition of excellent public service and are held for three years. This mug was in use by museum staff before being accessioned into the collection in 2010.

Fragment of a brooch

13th-14th century medieval brooch fragment, donated by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2019.

This fragment of a silver-gilt annular brooch, dates back to around the 13th-14th century.

Despite its age, the brooch is the most recent item to have been accessioned into the collection, being discovered in Cobham and donated to Elmbridge Museum by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2019.

Learn more about the brooch in our blog.

Explore Further

Elmbridge Museum is just one of many key organisations to have shaped the identity of Weybridge High Street over the years.

Why not discover more about the history of Elmbridge's many changing high streets in our Historic High Streets exhibition?

Go to the online exhibition

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