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VE Day and Wartime Memories Are Centre Stage as Guildford Museum Reopens

Published on: 18 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 20 Jul, 2020

Guildford Museum is reopening after a year of renovation with a temporary exhibition “Commemoration and Celebration” to commemorate Guildford’s Second World War experience of Victory in Europe Day, marking the 75th anniversary.

The display celebrates both military and civilian heroes. It will remain on display to also mark Victory in Japan Day on August 15, the day Imperial Japan surrendered, ending the Second World War.

Wartime objects and photographs with local relevance will be on display, including an impressive portrait on loan from our Guildhall of the Queen’s Regiment Parade before the Mayor of Guildford. It was painted from a photograph taken of this in 1945. Part of the exhibition is available online.

Local historian and writer David Rose has loaned the museum some wartime items and photographs for the exhibition including an air-raid warden’s whistle and an ARP lapel badge, a stirrup pump, and a Home Guard certificate that was presented to his late father who was a member of a Guildford platoon while working in a reserved occupation.

The museum will initially open with the Commemoration and Celebration exhibition and the Pre-history and Roman sections only. Further displays will be reinstalled and opened in the autumn.

Guildford Museum in Quarry Street

The renovation included structural repairs, damp-proofing, roof repairs, redecoration, a new fire alarm, an upgraded visitor point and toilet and an improved back-of-house space for preparing exhibitions.

During the pandemic lockdown, the Heritage Team kept audiences of all ages engaged and amused with creative and inspiring dedicated social media campaigns including “Museum from Home” campaign and “Guess the Object” videos.

They also began the “Collecting for Covid” initiative where residents were asked to capture and send in their lockdown memories, either digital or objects for archiving and to use as a record for future generations in the borough to understand the experiences during this unique time.

Cllr James Steel with museum staff in August 2019.

Cllr James Steel (Lib Dem, Westborough), lead for the Environment, said: “The work has completely improved the space, giving it a fresh, modern feel and we can’t wait to welcome residents and visitors again. We’ve missed you all.

“With so many of us effectively holidaying at home this year, why not come and visit and share more than 1,000 years of local history? Afterwards, don’t miss a stroll in our beautiful Castle grounds and maybe a bite to eat in many of our open restaurants, pubs and bars.

“The safety of our museum visitors and staff remains a priority and please rest assured all the necessary government Covid-19 measures are in place throughout. This means your experience will be a little different, just as it is for shopping and eating and drinking out now.”

He added: “Our digital programme and social media campaigns are ongoing and still available to see on our Heritage social media channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). We are keen to collect our communities’ experience of Covid to go in to our archive.

“I urge everyone in the borough to please send us in your memories however commonplace, including photos, pictures or objects because history isn’t just about the past, it is important we also capture our borough’s present and remember this unprecedented year and the incredible community spirit we all have seen and felt.

“Many of you will be aware of the council’s museum redevelopment project where we were considering building a new museum for the town. This was heavily reliant on National Heritage Lottery Funding which was withdrawn for hundreds of ventures across the UK, including ours, because due to the pandemic they needed to divert money to the Heritage sector. We are reviewing this ambitious project and by the autumn we hope to have some exciting news on how we will continue to tell the story of Guildford.

“The museum has ambitious plans over the next five years, including the addition of new collections and the story they tell. You are a part of Guildford’s history and we want you to have the opportunity to have your say on the future of the museum.”

Matthew Alexander, former curator of the museum and hon remembrancer, said: “I am pleased to hear the museum is opening again after a year of repair and refurbishment. I hope to be one of the first in the queue when it does, not only to view the exhibition but also to see what improvements have been made.

“It is understandable that the funding for a new building is not available in present circumstances, but much can be done with what we have. After four months of looking at images on a screen, it will be pleasant to see what museums uniquely offer: the real thing.”

Gavin Morgan founder of the Guildford History Forum added: “It will be great to see the museum opening again and hopefully the improvements will make it a more appealing destination for visitors to the town.

“I am encouraged to hear talk of ambitious plans in the next few years and a commitment to announce those plans, even if just at a high level, by the autumn. The High Street desperately needs the support of more town centre attractions and the museum is very out of date. The council should be commended for its efforts to seek lottery funding but we must now look at the many practical improvements that can still be achieved.

David Calow, hon secretary of the Surrey Archeological Society, said: “Congratulations, thanks to all the museum team for their hard work and best of luck. I look forward to seeing the new look.”

Entry is to the museum free. For more on opening times and exhibitions see here: https://www.guildford.gov.uk/museum

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