Building has begun on the new Wessex Gallery at the Salisbury Museum, which will make it clear for the first time exactly why Salisbury and it’s nearby World Heritage Site hold a unique place in British history.
The new gallery will be of international importance, telling the story of Salisbury and the surrounding area from prehistoric times to the Norman Conquest. Realm Projects, the Nottinghamshire based builders who worked on the Hepworth Wakefield and The Jewish Museum, have been contracted to complete the works.
“By Christmas this year the major construction work will be complete,” said museum director Adrian Green with a gleam in his eye. “In roughly seven months, the new Wessex Gallery will be ready.”
The permanent collections at the Salisbury Museum have been something of a best-kept secret for many years. And yet the pretty Grade 1-listed museum, which faces the front of Salisbury Cathedral, has all this time been faithfully guarding some of Northern Europe’s most important archaeological finds, including many from Stonehenge.
Then in 2012 the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded Salisbury Museum a grant of nearly £1.8 million towards the development of a new archaeology gallery. In the summer of 2014 the Salisbury Museum will step out of the shadows and into the light.
Adrian Green, Director of the museum and himself an archaeologist said: ‘We are absolutely overjoyed to be creating what will be a world class gallery of archaeology.”
The permanent collection includes the outstanding Pitt-Rivers Wessex Collection, and the “Amesbury Archer” alongside many artefacts from Stonehenge. Here, piece by piece the story of England’s deep past unfolds. From antler picks to animal bones, flint tools to stone tools, beautifully carved chalk plaques to highly decorated grooved ware pots and beakers - the craftsmanship is truly remarkable.
Over 250 pieces are being loaned by the Salisbury Museum to the new Visitor’s Centre at Stonehenge, opening in mid December 2013, in a unique partnership between Salisbury Museum, Wiltshire Museum and English Heritage.
“We are developing an integrated approach to the interpretation of Stonehenge” said Adrian Green. “It means that the Salisbury Museum will be able to create exhibitions directly relating to new displays in the Stonehenge Visitor Centre. If you like, we will all be part of the same extended conversation.’
The Wessex Gallery at the Salisbury Museum will place the story of Stonehenge within its wider chronological and regional context. There will be a particular focus on the people of the past and the stories they tell. The most notable is perhaps the Amesbury Archer – a person dating back to 2,200 – 2,400 BC who was found with the oldest gold objects in Britain. The gallery will also explore the stories of the archaeologists who uncovered the past – such as William Stukeley, who was one of the first to link the druids with Stonehenge.
From Stonehenge itself key objects will include the gneiss mace-head found by Colonel William Hawley in 1924 and a bronze-age axe and dagger, which match the carvings on stone 53 discovered by Professor Richard Atkinson in July 1953.