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.
Permanent exhibits in the Museum cover aspects of the main history of the town. These include the rise and fall of the cattle market, the history of the “milk factory” or creamery, where prize-winning cheeses were once made, and details of local literary connections with Thomas Hardy, William Barnes and Robert Young. We are showing a collection of Sturminster Newton crested china, pieces of which were popular souvenirs in the early 20th Century.
There is, also, a permanent display focusing on the famous mosaic (now in the British Museum) found at Hinton St Mary in 1963 that is thought to be the first depiction of Christ in mosaic form. This includes a painting of the whole mosaic floor by Janet Swiss.
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.
In 2020 and 2021 we have chosen three themes for special exhibitions: