Museums around the Cotswolds that are FREE to enter
PUBLISHED: 11:06 10 April 2016 | UPDATED: 09:23 11 April 2016
Who said culture has to be costly? Here’s our pick of ten great museums in and around the Cotswolds that are entirely free to enter!
Stroud’s Museum In The Park hosts free exhibitions, workshops and activities throughout the year that are bound to be a welcome diversion. Set in the beautiful grounds of Stratford Park in a Grade II listed 17th Century mansion house, its permanent collection of over 4000 objects tells the fascinating story of the Stroud District’s rich and diverse history. The 2016 exhibition programme includes paintings by Mark Stopforth and Bob Davison, and photography by David Corio and Fred Chance.
Gloucester caters for aviation enthusiasts with the Jet Age Museum, offering an insight into the history of Britain’s aeroplanes with a focus on the part Gloucestershire played. On display is a wide array of aircraft including a replica of Britain’s first jet, the Gloster E28/39, as well as other Gloster-built aircraft including examples of Britain’s first jet fighter, the Meteor, and the Cold War-era Javelin, and a fully-detailed reproduction 1925 Gamecock biplane. Jet Age Museum’s document and photographic archive houses many treasures. As well as the Russell Adams Collection - a remarkable resource for the study of British aviation developments in the 1950s and early 60s - there are early Gloster and Dowty company documents, factory drawings, unpublished memoirs, the papers of a former chief designer and the log book of a former chief test pilot, together with many more photographs.
The Holburne Museum in Bath opened to the public in 1893, welcoming the curious in to explore Sir William Holburne’s collection, and now houses around 7000 fascinating objects for the 120,000 annual visitors to enjoy. Collection highlights include the 17th century Witcombe Cabinet; paintings by Vanbrugh, Hone, Gainsborough and Venne; decorative porcerlain, silverware and earthernware; and many more interesting pieces.
Although primarily an art gallery, The Wilson also serves as a museum housing archive items relating to Edward Wilson, Cheltenham, the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Emery Walker library and many more periods and figures of interest. Items are periodically displayed, with the most recent exhibitions showcasing Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon and a Crafts Council touring exhibition that showcases works by makers and designers who use craft as a platform for social comment and provocation.
Opened in 1962, Tewkesbury Museum is a community museum protecting and displaying the heritage of the town. Collections at the museum reflect the human activity in the region spanning the last 5000 years, with: Roman finds including a skeleton, metalwork, pottery and coins; a fine collection of Medieval material particularly from the Holm Castle excavations; Victorian and Twentieth century collections covering every aspect of civic, social and industrial life in the locality.
Only a short distance from the most quintessential Cotswold villages, Oxford is renowned for its University museums, and a trip to the famous city isn’t complete without a visit to at least one. The Ashmolean brings together contemporary and historical collections of art and archaeology all under one roof, with highlights including: drawings by Michelangelo, Raphael and da Vinci; paintings by Picasso, Turner, Rubens and Constable; Cromwell’s death mask, Guy Fawkes’ lantern, Ancient Egyptian relics including a statue of crocodile god Sobek, Lawrence of Arabia’s ceremonial dress, the Alfred Jewel and many other priceless pieces. The museum was created in 1908 by combining two ancient Oxford institutions: the University Art Collection and the original Ashmolean Museum, and is a popular destination for those with a passion for history and art.
Pitt Rivers holds a fascinating collection of over half a million archaeological and ethnographic objects from across the world, painting a picture of the varied and colourful cultures of human civilisation over the ages. The museum was founded in 1884 by Lt-General Augustus Pitt Rivers, who donated his collection to the University of Oxford with the condition that a permanent lecturer in anthropology be appointed. Since then, the museum has established itself as having one of the finest anthropological collections in the world, with highlights including: ceremonial brasses and ivories from the Kingdom of Benin; early masks worn by actors in Japanese Noh dramas; masks from Africa, Melanesia and North America; sculptures from all over the world in wood, pottery, metal and stone; boats, ranging from full-sized sailing craft to model canoes; baskets in all possible shapes and sizes; pottery from Africa and the Americas, including many pre-Columbian pieces; costumes from North America including Inuit fur parkas, magic objects including amulets and charms; jewellery and body decoration; tools and weapons; musical instruments and many more objects of interest.
The third of the famous Oxford University museums, the Museum of Natural History attracts over 300,000 visitors a year with its collection of zoological, entomological and geological finds. You can even bring along something you’ve found yourself to be identified by one of the museum’s experts! Founded in 1860 as the centre for scientific study at the University of Oxford, the Museum of Natural History’s growing collections underpin a broad programme of natural environment research, teaching and public engagement. Among its most famous features are the Oxfordshire dinosaurs, the Dodo, and the swifts in the tower!
Bradford on Avon Museum is a small volunteer-run museum showcasing the heritage of the Wiltshire town. Highlights include: the contents of a 19th century chemist shop; Stone Age and Bronze Age artefacts; fossils and minerals; Civil War, WWI and WWII objects, among many more pieces providing an insight into Bradford on Avon.
Athelstan Museum tells the history of Malmesbury, an attractive hill top town built to a Saxon road plan on the site of a 2,800 year old Iron Age hill fort and the area of North Wiltshire that surrounds it. The museum runs a series of short term exhibitions, most recently one showcasing J M W Turner’s drawings and paintings of Malmesbury, and there are lots of interactive things for children to do, with volunteers on-hand to explain and elaborate on exhibits.