City museum marks 90 years

This Gideon Yates image is from around 1880-1840.
This Gideon Yates image is from around 1880-1840.

This month marks a special anniversary for one of Lancaster’s museums, as museum manager Heather Dowler explains.

Lancaster City Museum is celebrating its birthday during November. It is 90 years old!

Opened in 1923, the museum was originally just in the upstairs room, in the old Council Chamber, and has grown over time to take over the whole of the building.

Of course the building had had a long life even before it became a museum. The Old Town Hall was built between 1781 and 1783 with an open ground floor that was used as a market.

The building grew and developed over time, the ground floor was glazed in, and in 1888 Paley and Austin were commissioned to extend the building to accommodate the Board of Health, Police Offices and Magistrates’ Court.

The Old Town Hall was a hive of activity until of course, the New Town Hall was completed and the Corporation moved out in 1909.

The building then passed through an assortment of people and purposes until in December 1922 permission was granted to establish a museum.

The museum was founded ‘for the collection and preservation of material relating to the history, antiquities and topography of Lancaster and district’.

It was also to supply students of local history with material for study.

Although we would probably add words like inspire, discover, enjoy and include art within our collecting, the core purpose of the museum today is not that far removed from that original aim.

The museum certainly met a need and was very popular. During the first four years of it being open, 130,000 visitors were recorded with 866 people visiting in the first week.

Those visitors would have seen exhibits of Roman antiquities, Saxon and Medieval items along with objects later in date including the mortar and pestle used by Sir Edward Frankland.

Visitors today can still enjoy some of those original items which have remained on display, including the Roman milestone from Artle Beck and the mysterious roman stone Burrow Heads.

Encouraged by local support and good visitor numbers the museum continued to grow, adding to its collection and the space it occupied.

The large room that had previously been the Court Room opened in June 1926, and displayed, among other things, the ship models of the Thetis, Wennington and Waterwitch.

There were also by this time a number of local portraits on display including Sir Richard Owen, Dr Whewell, and Sir Edward Frankland.

In 1929 the King’s Own royal Regiment Museum opened in the building. During the 1970s the museum finally took over the space that had previously been occupied by a bank, meaning that the building was in its sole use.

Although the museum building cannot grow anymore our collection continues to with more than 53,000 objects now in the collection.

With a busy events, talks and exhibitions programme the museum continues to be a hive of activity.

Check the council website for latest exhibitions and events at