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Opinion: Guildford Museum Must Rediscover Its Old Magic

Published on: 17 Mar, 2022
Updated on: 20 Mar, 2022

Guildford Museum in Quarry Street.

By Gavin Morgan

Founder of Guildford Heritage Forum

Gavin Morgan

I have followed the fortunes of Guildford Museum all my life and it has changed very little.

In the late 20th-century a very energetic curatorial team made up for the lack of investment in the museum itself. Under Matthew Alexander there were publications, films, radio broadcasts and frequent events in the town centre.

The medieval Friary was excavated and a lot of research carried out into the castle supported by a healthy relationship with the Surrey Archaeological Society. Money was short but energy and enthusiasm was endless.

Guildford Museum no longer has a curator employed to understand the town’s history and bang the drum for heritage. On Matthew Alexander’s retirement in 2009 the role of curator was replaced by a Heritage Administrator. The Surrey Archaeological Society was inconsiderately booted out in 2016.

There have been two failed attempts at large (perhaps over-ambitious) lottery bids and now post Covid-19 it seems that the museum is just drifting, possibly in terminal decline.

However, the council is not about to sell the castle or the Guildhall and needs people to care for the museum and art collections built up over the last hundred years.

For the time being at least, the council is forced to spend a lot of money on heritage, and it needs to spend it wisely. Furthermore, Guildford needs a heritage service more than ever that helps us appreciate and celebrate what we have. Developers are knocking at the door wanting to change our town’s character. The High Street is crying out for attractions that will help it compete with the internet.

There are three very simple things that can be done. First, a good website is needed that pulls together information, provides guides for tourists and helps tell the Guildford story. Secondly events are a good way to attract large crowds and help the town centre as we prove every year at Heritage Open Days. (see video

Guildford Museum’s ground floor gallery

Thirdly, the town must change the museum galleries and improve the castle displays. Godalming has done it gradually, spreading the cost over 20 years. Guildford Museum still stages occasional exhibitions that vanish after a few months. Why can’t the same effort and money be redirected to changing the permanent displays?

In 2019 by the Local Government Association and Arts Council published a handbook called “Making the most of your museums”.

The forward stated “Museums are crucial to our sense of place and at their best, bring people together, expose people to new ideas and concepts, and instil a sense of pride in their communities. Councils value this – we are increasingly placeshapers, not just deliverers of services now.”

Guildford Museum needs to rekindle the enthusiasm that made it such an asset in the past. The historic county town of Surrey deserves a good museum

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Responses to Opinion: Guildford Museum Must Rediscover Its Old Magic

  1. Jan Messinger Reply

    March 18, 2022 at 6:57 am

    Well said, Gavin. Guildford Museum has the most outstanding collections rarely seen by all. I hope everyone reads the last paragraph of this piece. So very true.

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