Dr. Negley Harte, Programme Organiser of the Corsham Civic Society, former Chairman of the Trustees of the Devizes Museum, writes:
The Civic Society’s summer excursion at the end of June was to the Museum in Trowbridge, situated in the centre of the Shires Shopping Centre on one floor (and soon to be two floors) of a surviving old woollen cloth mill next to the little River Biss. To climb the stairs into the Museum is like escaping from the brash future into the calm past.
It is a quite remarkable museum. It contains many wonderful things, but the main interest of its collection relates to the textile industry, which was so important in Trowbridge in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, surviving into the twentieth century and not ending until the 1960s. There are spinning jennies, weaving looms, teasels for carding and all sorts of technological bits and bobs that were once of crucial importance in a thriving woollen cloth industry.
We were privileged to have as our guide Ken Rogers, the distinguished former County Records Officer, who many will remember speaking a couple of years ago to the Civic Society about cloth-making in Wiltshire and who has published a great deal on the subject. He in fact was largely responsible for establishing the Museum and for collecting many of its prize exhibits. He expertly explained the complexities of the making of cloth and its changing technologies.
The Trowbridge Museum was established by the notably civilised Town Council of Trowbridge in 1995, and it now provides some £200,000 a year to maintain the Museum, enabling it to employ professional museum staff in addition to the enthusiastic volunteer supporters. There are only two town museums in the entire country that support museums with professional staff – only two in the entire country. The other is in Chippenham, where the civilised Town Council supports that agreeable museum, both of the recent Curators of which have spoken to the Corsham Civic Society in the last couple of years. It is an unrecognised claim to fame of Corsham that it is situated a few miles between these two outstanding town museums.
We were only a small group visiting the Trowbridge Museum, but we included some local residents very well versed in Corsham – dare I mention, for example, Pat Whalley and Geoff Knapp, both of whom had surprisingly never visited the Trowbridge Museum before. All were astonished by the interest of the Trowbridge Museum and decided that it was a neglected gem.
It needs to be added that the philistine Wiltshire Council, based now even more grandiosely in Trowbridge, a stone’s throw from the town’s Trowbridge Museum, provides a grant of £35,000 a year to the County Museum in Devizes, a level of grant established many years ago. The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes wins plaudits and grants from national sources on some considerable scale but struggles to survive. We all loved out visit to the Trowbridge Museum; but may I ask, why does Wiltshire not do what Trowbridge does?