Sturminster Newton’s Museum Society was formed in 1984, prompted by the death of Ray Rogers, former registrar of Sturminster Newton, a keen collector of archival material and a long-time campaigner for a museum.
The Museum was finally opened in the disused Chapel of the old Union Workhouse in Bath Road on 15th July 1989 by Miss Agnes Williams, the granddaughter of Montague Williams who built the chapel in 1890.
In 2019, Sturminster Newton Museum & Mill Society became Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust.
The Chapel suffered several problems as a Museum: it was on the outskirts of the town, had inadequate parking and very poor conservation conditions. It did not attract many visitors.
In 2007, the Trust (then, the Society) was able to, thanks to the generosity and enthusiasm of the community, raise sufficient funds to provide a deposit on a mortgage to purchase the current Museum building.
Subsequently, a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled the Trust to make some necessary internal alterations and refurbish the building as a museum. The new Museum opened to the public on August 1st 2008.
During the first three months of the year, the museum has restricted opening times (see opening times in the footer).
The Trust is preserving the heritage of Sturminster Newton and its surrounding villages by collecting and conserving objects, written material and photographs relating to the social history of the area. The Museum houses a valuable collection of archival photographs and legacies from Sturminster’s once thriving cattle market, cheese making industry and railway, now all gone. Amongst our collection, we house census information from years 1841 to 1901, available for viewing by appointment.
The Museum also has items relating to the cottage industries of buttony and glove making and other past trades in the town. The Museum has inherited a large number of items related to the Dorset dialect poet Robert Young, who was both a contemporary and friend of William Barnes and Thomas Hardy.
Upstairs, in the ‘Railway Room’, there is a scale model of the former Sturminster Newton station (closed in 1966) and the adjacent livestock market. Our model is working and provides young visitors with much entertainment. We are also displaying memorabilia relevant to the staff and station and information on the Somerset & Dorset Railway in general.
Also permanently displayed is the earliest map we have of Sturminster Newton and a collection of crested china pots. The small pots are labelled Sturminster Newton and bear crests supposedly relating to the area. These pots were popular holiday souvenirs from the late 19th C until about 1930. Their popularity coincided with the development of the railways which made possible affordable travel for ordinary people to seaside resorts and elsewhere. The map is dated 1783. It was drawn for the estate manager for the Pitt Rivers family and lists all their tithed properties and tenants in Sturminster and the surrounding area.
A new exhibition is centred on the Roman heritage of Sturminster Newton and its surrounding area and includes the former villas at Shillingstone, Fifehead Neville and, particularly, Hinton St Mary. Emphasis is on the discovery of the famous mosaic, famous because it is the first depiction of Christ in mosaic form, found at Hinton in 1963. It later took pride of place at the British Museum; now no longer displayed in London but being returned to Dorchester sometime in the future.
The history of Town Criers is the interesting theme of a display centred around the life and work of Kevin Knapp, Town Crier for Sturminster Newton who, sadly, is no longer with us. It includes his regalia and apparel with details of the materials used and the contribution of his wife and local lace makers.
A small hoard of post medieval coins discovered at Bagber is on display for the first time. Found by the Search and Recover Metal Detecting Club it has been designated “treasure” by the British Museum as it includes 16 silver and two gold coins, though almost all of them are rather worn suggesting that it was a “purse” hoard of used coins and not meant to be savings. They date from Mary I to James I.
Finally, our display on the lives of Dorset poets Tomas Hardy, William Barnes and Robert Young, all of which have strong connections with Sturminster Newton, continues for another year. The display contains personal items belonging to Hardy and Barnes on loan from the County Museum.