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7 February 2018: Chelmsford MuseumStylised version of the universal symbol for a museum

Nick Wickenden from Chelmsford Museum was the speaker at today’s evening meeting of our local National Trust Supporter Group.

The museum was founded in the middle of the 19th century, when it was known as primarily a museum for stuffed birds! Nick showed a slide of what is thought to be a painting of the inside of one of the rooms, which was certainly full of the said stuffed birds.

It moved to Oaklands House in 1930; the site it occupied previously has since been redeveloped. An extension was built in the 1990s and now houses the Essex Regiment Museum on the ground floor. Although the two museums are on one site with a single entrance and are usually seen as a single museum by visitors, constitutionally they are separate. The City Council owns the collection in the Chelmsford Museum and the Essex Regiment Museum collection is owned by trustees.

The original Oaklands House is now closed for complete refurbishment. Since it is a listed building, the existing internal walls have to be maintained but there will be a lot of changes to the way the collection is displayed. When reopened Oaklands House will also contain a café, which will have longer opening hours that the museum and will be accessible by those visiting Oaklands Park.

Nick explained the thinking behind the new layout and facilities and took us on a virtual tour.

Visitors will walk into a welcoming area with access to both Chelmsford Museum and the Essex Regiment Museum. The first floor of the Chelmsford Museum will house a number of rooms concentrating on Chelmsford’s history. These will start with the first settlers in the area, during the Stone Age. This will include some of the geological exhibits as well.

Next is a room devoted to the Romans, who founded a stagin post here as Chelmsford is half way between London and the old Roman provincial capital at Colchester. Visitors will, for example, be able to see how a Romany hypocaust worked.

This is followed by a room on the Saxons. The interior of the room is designed to have echoes of a Saxon roundhouse but will be made of modern materials.

Other rooms follow and the visitor is eventually led back downstairs to look at exhibits on more modern times. A completely new exhibit will be “Bright Sparks”, celebrating Marconi, Crompton and Hoffman, who all helped to turn Chelmsford into the “Silicon Valley” of Victorian times, at the cutting edge of technology.

There will also be a new Natural History area.

The Museum did not embark on these changes without finding out what local people wanted from their museum. It turned out that they wanted it to concentrate on things of local interest. Thus, for example, less prominence will be given to the Museum’s collection of Georgian glasses, although some will still be on show in the café. Two things which were definite favourites were the beehive, which will be replaced by a new one, and Boris, the stuffed bear, who will be put back on display.

The emphasis will be on allowing visitors “hands on” experiences wherever possible. There will be facilities for school groups.