Marlborough to get a town museum

Written by Peter Davison on .

Clyde Nancarrow outside 132 and 133 High StreetClyde Nancarrow outside 132 and 133 High StreetMarlborough is to get a town museum. And the Merchant’s House will be expanding to occupy more of what was once the home of a wealthy silk trader.

The new museum will be located in rooms at 133 High Street - next to the Merchant’s House and above Clarks Shoe Shop – and is due to open this Spring.

It will tell the story of Marlborough from the time of the Norman conquest until the mid 20th century.

The plan brings to fruition an aspiration that the town has held for a quarter of a century.

Back in 1991, the Town Council agreed to give – at a peppercorn rent – 132 High Street as a town museum. The building had previously been occupied by WHSmith.

But after renovations began, it became obvious that the building was one of significant national interest. The painted vertical striped walls in the dining room, for instance, are thought to be unique in the country, while there are only half a dozen known examples of the painted balustrades which mirror the oak balustrades of the staircase.

“After the striped walls were discovered the focus began to shift,” Merchant’s House director Clyde Nancarrow told Marlborough News Online this week.

“The house was too interesting to be a general museum. It had to be conserved. And that meant the museum became a promise – one we are finally able to fulfil.”

The house that Thomas Bayly built in 1653 has – over time – become two properties. The Merchant’s House occupied the western two-thirds of the building – 132 High Street – and in 2000 the Trust was given the opportunity to buy the rest of the building – 133.

A mortgage was secured, and later paid off with a grant by Kennet District Council shortly before its dissolution. The Trust was finally able to begin conversion following a large donation from anonymous benefactors.

Clarks Shoe Shop, on the ground floor, will be unaffected by the new development. The Merchant’s House will expand into 133 on the first and second floors. This will return the original suite of three rooms – dominated by three large bay windows – at the front of the property.

While the building is oak framed and the furniture is made of oak, the Trust plans to furnish the new room with walnut tables and chairs, to reflect England’s enthusiastic embrace of the European wood following the restoration of the monarchy.

Three rooms over two storeys at the back of 133 will become the new town museum. One - it is hoped - will host the full collection of artist Colin Palmer’s 2008 architect’s illustrations of every building on Marlborough High Street, along with a large aerial photograph of the town from the 1950s, and other collections of paintings and photographs that chart the changing face of Marlborough.

One room will house small, valuable items like coins, jewellery and silverware, and a collection of Aldbourne Bells cast in the village.

Agricultural implements, clothes and uniforms from the Victoria era and later, memorabilia from two world wars, and artefacts from the railways which once came into the town will all form part of the collection.

The Trust is on the lookout for other items of memorabilia too, especially those relating to the town’s sports clubs, and to its place as a centre of commerce, including pub and shop signs to accompany the early 20th century Temperance Hotel sign in the collection.

The building is currently being rewired and fitted with innovative, energy-efficient infrared ceiling panels, which heat the rooms without taking up valuable wall space as radiators would. Artefacts will be displayed in glass cabinets with LED lighting. “It will be a 21st century museum in a 17th century house,” promised Clyde.

Initially the museum will open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10am until 4pm, while the level of interest is gauged. There will be a small entry fee, and the museum will be manned by volunteers.

Anyone who wants to get involved – by volunteering or donating artefacts – can contact the Merchant’s House on 01672 511491 or via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.