Charlbury Museum 1949–2021

The History of Charlbury through… the history of Charlbury Museum 1949–2020

1939–45 The destruction caused by the Second World War aroused a growing demand in Charlbury for safe storage for historic documents and objects.
1947 Oxfordshire Rural Community Council encouraged local exhibitions, to revive local memories in the old, to enthuse the young in the history of their own birthplace.
1949 Loan Exhibition 31st March to 2nd April at Charlbury School. 650 people attended. Exhibits included a model of the Market House presented by the makers, young local tradesmen Charles Gomm and Bill Harris, and a breast plough, both still in the Museum). Silhouettes of the Albright family were loaned and returned to the family: see 2016 below. In May the Charlbury Society was set up “for all interested in the past, present and future of the town”, with one main responsibility – to appoint a Curator for the new Museum.
1946 The Corner House and its garden were donated to Charlbury Parish Council) by Mr and Mrs Charles Morris of Lee Place, as a community centre and possible site for a war memorial hall.
1949–52 Mr Bromehead, a retired geologist, was the first Museum Curator, in charge of 100 items in an attic two staircases up in the Corner House. Running costs depended on what was found in the visitors’ box.
1952 The attic floor was found to be unsound, so public visits were discouraged.
1952–57 The post of Curator was vacant 1952/53. Dr and Mrs Kennedy of Browns Lane were Curators from 1953, but Mr Wyatt took over from Mrs Kennedy in 1957.
1959 The fiery Mr Wyatt of Spring Cottage was Curator. He encouraged the Charlbury Society Committee “to make a hazardous expedition by members’ torchlight” to inspect the Museum in the attic. They said “what a pity it was the museum was so little known: perhaps it should be on the ground floor”.
1962 The Corner House Committee allocated to the Museum two outhouses facing the barber’s shop, which were leased to the Charlbury Society for a peppercorn rent, provided all alterations and running costs were met by the museum. Mrs Lucy Shilson nee Bowly, who had been born at the Corner House, performed the opening ceremony. Oxford City Council consulted the Charlbury Society on how to set up a local history museum in Oxford.
1964 A boiler house was added to the outhouses and opened by the Hon. Elsie Corbett. She and Miss Susan Thomson of Spelsbury donated a dilapidated farm wagon to the Museum, which stood in the garden under a PVC covering with a series of temporary planning permissions.
1967 A coal store was added to the Museum, much to the dismay of Mr Wyatt, who thought the town’s archives deserved better than “dank dark abodes”, and resigned in 1969.
1969 Reg Smith of Sunnyside, Church Street, was appointed Curator, later with help from Ron Prew, who took over as curator from 1995–2010. Reg Smith was a keen collector of local historical items and documents, and donated considerable quantities of items to the Museum. Ron Prew kept meticulous records of items donated to the Museum in various ledgers and sought out old photographs and new items from townspeople.
1982 Jennifer Bartlett recruited volunteer stewards to welcome museum visitors. Until then the key had been kept in the county library or pharmacy and had been lent to any passing visitor: one or two minor thefts had resulted.
1991 After major expenditure, the new Reg Smith Room was opened by the Director of Leisure & Art at the County Council, with displays about local trades and industries, including a blacksmith’s forge.
2000 The District and Town Councils and the Corner House Committee with the Charlbury Society launched The Corner House Museum Appeal, to build an extension as a permanent wagon shelter, to restore the wagon and other objects. Bev Bradley was appointed architect.
2002 The appeal raised £39,000 and the Wagon Room was completed and formally opened by Martyn Brown, Head of Museum Services Oxon CC. New slate floors were installed in three rooms and in the 4th a false ceiling was removed to provide more wall display space. All rooms were redecorated and an army of volunteers cleaned and rearranged all the exhibits. A post-box from Enstone Road was installed in a wall of the Wagon Room, and Room 3 was displayed as a kitchen with a fireplace from Wellington Cottages. Ron Prew and his colleagues worked for hours to perfect the displays. Michael Jones, a qualified conservator, had volunteered to restore the wagon in his spare time free of charge, and he and his team began their painstaking work in a distant barn, kindly lent to the Museum but without power or heating.
2003 The Museum garden was redesigned and dedicated to the memory of the late Gillian Naish who was Secretary to the Museum for many years. Through her generosity the Museum had acquired a copy of Vernon Watney’s Cornbury and the Forest of Wychwood, an extremely rare book published in 1900.
2006 HRH Princess Anne unveiled a plaque on the outside wall of the Museum to mark 750th anniversary of Charlbury’s Town Charter. She also signed the Museum Visitors’ Book.
2010 Celia Faulkner was appointed Curator By this time the Charlbury Society had agreed that the Museum should manage its own budget, though the Society continues to appoint the Curator and the Museum Committee at the AGM. Celia continued Ron Prew’s fund-raising efforts, i.e. an annual plant sale and coffee mornings. She persuaded the Museum Committee to purchase a laptop computer and museum- quality software so that the contents of the museum could be catalogued and tracked more easily.
2012 The Museum mounted an exhibition on the 1950s and organised a Jubilee Walk round the town identifying the original uses of various buildings, to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
2014 The Museum mounted an exhibition to mark the centenary of the start of WWI. Steven Barker from the new Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum addressed the stewards’ annual get-together. The British Legion laid on afternoon teas on a day when over 90 people visited the Museum. Many people provided photographs or information on their families and later a book was produced to record the results of this exhibition, and is still available for sale.
2015 The Museum mounted an exhibition to mark the Bicentenary of Charlbury’s British School. The Wagon Room became a Victorian classroom with six school desks. The School Association laid on Sunday afternoon teas for visitors.
2016 The Museum purchased silhouettes of the Albright family at Mallams’ auction house when the contents of Albright House were sold. They had last been on display in 1949 at the Loan Exhibition (see above).
2017 The Museum mounted an exhibition based on Allen’s Drapery in Church Street and the documents found in the tin trunk donated by the current occupants of that building. A Sewing Bee was held in the Morris Room and Charlbury WI laid on Sunday afternoon teas.
2019 On the 70th anniversary of the Museum, the stewards met in April to celebrate with an anniversary cake, and a talk on the history of the Museum so far. In June Diana and Peter Bennett arranged a Family History Day with many museum documents and photographs on display, which was very popular with visitors. On 30th June Celia Faulkner died suddenly, having worked for months on plans to return the restored farm wagon to the Museum. In October her husband and son were able to witness the return of the wagon over the Museum fence, into the garden and finally into the Wagon Room with the skilful help of Michael Jones and the Charlbury Beer Festival volunteers. The post of Curator remains vacant.
2020 The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to the planned celebrations to display the wagon to the town and to those who worked on the funding appeal and building work in 2002. The Museum remains closed until visitors can be welcomed safely. Meanwhile members of the Committee kept the Museum in the town’s consciousness by writing about exhibits, memories and stories of the town on the wonderful town Website, and later publishing a 66 page booklet of these articles, which is still available for sale.
2021 The Museum has five rooms displaying exhibits and two small storerooms crammed full of objects and documents still to be catalogued. More and more local organisations ask the Museum to store their archives, eg the Charlbury Society and the Gifford Trust. With the advent of the wagon, there is very little room for changing annual exhibitions, and the committee has asked the Town Council for more display and storage space for the Museum. Discussions are continuing.

Funding: The Museum acknowledge with gratitude the financial help provided over the years by the District and Town Councils and the Charlbury Society for special projects. The committee raise running costs through admission fees supplemented by fund-raising events such as the annual plant sale and coffee mornings. The Museum is working slowly towards accreditation with the Arts Council, which would give more access to grant-funding bodies.

Town support: The Museum could not continue to exist without the work of generations of volunteers, as committee members, as stewards welcoming visitors, tending the garden and organise the Plant Sale, carry out cleaning, decorating and various maintenance within the building, advising on local history and family history, donating photographs and family archives of local interest.

JAJ 5.2.2021