A museum which charts 10,000 years of life in and around a Northumberland market town is to reopen its doors to the public today, after a major revamp has transformed it into a fit-for-purpose, 21st-century attraction.
The new-look Bailiffgate Museum and Gallery, in Alnwick, was officially unveiled by the Duke of Northumberland at a special ceremony on Tuesday evening, following an extensive overhaul.
The ambitious facelift comes on the back of a £308,000 cash injection from the Heritage Lottery Fund and has been the culmination of two years of thinking and planning.
Bringing history to life, the stories of Alnwick and district’s earliest days, its turbulent past and its changing industries are all told in new and exciting ways, through interactive displays, videos and the chance to see, hear and handle the past.
It represents a significant milestone for the museum, which first opened its doors in 2002.
And those involved believe that the refurbishment will give the attraction an even brighter future.
The Duke, who is patron of the museum, said: “I think the transformation is brilliant. It couldn’t have been done any better.
“We are delighted that our Heritage Lottery Fund grant has enabled us to portray the rich history of Alnwick and District in such an attractive and exciting way.
“The story of this changing town and landscape has many chapters and we believe we have encompassed them all.
“We hope that this wonderful asset will now continue to be fully used by local communities and also that it will bring in more visitors to enjoy our unique heritage and culture”.
Highlights of the new displays include 10,000 year-old relics, a recreated printer’s workshop based on that of Alnwick-born William Davison and a Victorian schoolroom.
A photographic exhibition, Shots from the Heart, in which local people have captured the daily working life of Alnwick, is one of a number of events planned to celebrate the launch.
Museum trustee Jane Nolan said: “We have created a colourful and friendly space with displays that tell the stories of Alnwick and district in a really accessible way.
“We have new information panels that tell some astonishing tales from our history.
“They are set out so that visitors can travel through time from 7800BC through to the present day.
“Timelines help to place local events in their historical context, both in the UK and internationally.
“There are also activities, from dressing up to brass rubbing, a video jukebox with films that give fascinating glimpses of Alnwick and District in the past and films of our community projects.”
“We hope it will bring in more visitors and bring in more people from local communities to come in and enjoy the building, enjoy the heritage and the different groups we have.
“We also hope it will attract more volunteers, trustees and more Friends.
“We hope that it will add to our future sustainability.”
As well as a visitor attraction, the museum is also a hub for local people and community groups, from pre-schoolers to local writers and poets, and a popular destination for school trips.
The museum is keen to encourage younger visitors and the refurbishment offers plenty for children, including the chance to see Finlay, the mischievous mouse.
Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “The Bailiffgate Museum and Gallery will be a wonderful place for young people to come in and learn about their local history, including the area’s traditional skills, customs and unique dialect.
“This project is a testament to the dedicated and passionate volunteers, who have helped create an excellent resource for the local community and visitors alike, showcasing the rich heritage of Alnwick and making sure it is preserved for future generations.”
The museum officially reopens to the public from 10am today and children can visit for free by printing off a special voucher from the attraction’s website.
Visit www.bailiffgatemuseum.co.uk or call 01665 605847.