…over a Hundred Years Ago.

This is not the first time Salisbury Museum has had to postpone special exhibitions – consider the year 1914 – the 50th anniversary of the opening of the St Ann Street premises.

A friend doing a ‘lockdown’ clear-out came across this hardcover book ‘The Festival Book of Salisbury – Published to commemorate the Jubilee of the Museum’. It was probably bought (for three shillings) by her grandparents.

The then ‘Resident Curator of the Museum’ and Editor of the book was Frank Stevens. He was the son of the former ‘General Curator’, E T Stevens and a nephew of Dr Humphrey Blackmore, who was Honorary Director at the time (and we know of his complicated romantic liaisons now, thanks to Martin Callow’s research). As we have seen from the blog about the Read family, the museum was then very much a private and family affair, with three Read brothers and four Blackmores all involved during the first fifty years.  

As the unpaid ‘Resident Director’ Frank Stevens would have lived in the accommodation built adjoining the galleries and office, just to the west, along St Ann Street.

  Frank Stevens . Attrib. C E Champion.

 Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. St Ann Street.  c 1960 ?

In the book he writes a foreword entitled ‘Invitation to the Reader’ and states he wishes the reader ‘to open the door and step inside. He will be thoroughly at home within these pages, and able to wander as he lists, just as if he were in truth strolling within the confines of his own city, with all the pride and independence of a citizen of New Sarum’.

The book contains a dozen scholarly articles on a variety of topics including The Great Bustard, George Herbert, The Giant and Hobnob, Fossils and Prehistoric remains of Salisbury and the ‘Old’ Salisbury Journal.

 In his ‘Au Revoir’ at the end of the book Stevens discusses museums thus ’The days of musty fusty museums are past, the era of the official guide has begun, and as far as we can, it is a “point of honour” to show you round, to find out your tastes and if possible gratify them. Perhaps you have no particular interest in Museums as a class. That is probably because you have never visited one where you have been looked after, and where the objects of interest have been pointed out to you’.  Do we recognise ourselves here, Stewards??

He signs off with this paragraph: ‘There is yet one other object in the Museum which is of supreme interest to us. It is a little box at the door: you should not miss it, and on it is a ticket which records the fact the visitors on average have contributed less than a penny apiece for the upkeep of this fine collection. Surely you can do better than that’. At this stage the museum did not charge entry and relied on ‘Subscribers’ (like our Members) and donations. Early minute books indicate that finance was always a struggle. A familiar story!  

It is not clear from the book what the museum planned for its festival which the foreword (written in December 1914) says is postponed ‘owing to the European crisis’. The Museum Committee having started the publishing process of the book, decided to continue with it. I guess by the time the war was over the idea of such a celebration no longer had any relevance. During the war the museum had received a large bequest from the late Dr Wilkes and plans were afoot for enlarging the premises.  

Rosemary Pemberton -with thanks to Frances Ryan and Peter Saunders.

We are tempted to say “Nothing Changes”…! Thank you Rosemary.