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The Priest's House Museum, Wimborne Minster

Founded: 1962        Governance: Independent Trust        Scope: Local history     Visited: Spring 2013

Well, in fact I not only visited the Priest's House but worked there as Documentation Assistant from 1991 to 1992 and well remember the fun of trying to tie up some very random bits of paperwork with the artefacts they were supposed to relate to. My very favourite was an index card that read only 'OBJECT' Donor: Commander ?' The Priest's House occupies a glorious hodge-podge of a building on Wimborne High Street, gazing across at the Minster a few yards away; the core of the house is very late medieval or Tudor with 18th-century infilling at the front and other bits added on, and it became a museum thanks to the generosity of the last owner, the redoutable Miss Hilda Coles, who established the Museum Trust and became the first Hon. Curator, retreating to live in an upstairs flat. Even when she ceased to be Hon. Curator, she was still in the habit of coming downstairs at night and rearranging the displays according to her own satisfaction. 

The PHM gathered a fairly standard sort of local history collection typical of many small semi-agricultural towns until East Dorset District Council decided to take it under its wing in 1990. Stephen Price, late of the well-regarded Local History Department of Birmingham City Museums, came as Curator and having a penchant for architectural history looked at the building he was now responsible for in an entirely different light, realising that much could be done to illuminate the history of the town through the history of the Priest's House itself. The process of refurbishing the building, which required emptying it of its displays and objects, revealed more clues and gradually a set of themed rooms emerged based around research into different aspects of the house's past - an interWar ironmonger's shop, a Victorian stationer's, an 18th-century parlour and a Stuart dining room took their place among the more standard displays of farm equipment and kitchen bygones. The building also had an old forge at the back and if you go there now and look hard at some of the tyre dogs and smithing implements you'll see the little paper ID tags I added to them nearly a quarter of a century ago. Stephen never quite achieved his ambition of rebranding the PHM as 'The Museum of East Dorset Life', but it did gather a reputation for innovative work in the local museum field. It looks a bit different now, of course (and a good thing too after twenty-odd years), but it remains to be seen whether the virtually inevitable withdrawal of much direct support from the local authority will have a detrimental impact on a museum which is very well-supported by its community. 

Again, I wasn't very active with the camera on my last visit so need to go back. The mummified cat in the upstairs passage still gives me a bit of a shiver even though I know it fairly well, having had the job of dusting it at one point. It's almost impossible to photograph ... However you do have a shot of the museum's famous garden, a long, narrow strip of land leading behind the house to the River Allen.

The Priest's House Museum, WimborneThe Priest's House Museum, WimborneThe Priest's House Museum, Wimborne
The Priest's House Museum, WimborneThe Priest's House Museum, Wimborne

Shame about the reflection here, but ... they're brandy and whiskey barrels.
They deserve a photo.
The Priest's House Museum, Wimborne
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