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Secret Surrey: Elmbridge Museum, Weybridge

PUBLISHED: 17:34 12 May 2009 | UPDATED: 15:42 20 February 2013

The wall of faces from 'Heads and Tales' at Elmbridge Museum in Weybridge

The wall of faces from 'Heads and Tales' at Elmbridge Museum in Weybridge

Having first opened its doors in 1909, Elmbridge Museum is set to celebrate its centenary this year. Now in the hands of Elmbridge Borough Council, the museum is a veritable treasure trove of local history. MATTHEW WILLIAMS discovers more

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine January 2009

Having first opened its doors in 1909, Elmbridge Museum is set to celebrate its centenary this year. Now in the hands of Elmbridge Borough Council, the museum is a veritable treasure trove of local history. MATTHEW WILLIAMS discovers more

Why pay a visit...

Opened in 1909, by the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Weybridge Museum, as it was then known, began life where Lloyds Bank now stands, under the curatorship of local GP Dr Eric Gardner. The unpaid staff worked hard to collect and preserve the town's artefacts and stories. Fast-forward to today and Elmbridge Museum (renamed in 1991) is now part of the Elmbridge Borough Council and is now situated above Weybridge Library on the busy High Street.

The museum's large collections are extremely diverse, including prehistoric mammoth's teeth, stills from 1920s films made in Walton, sumptuous shoes, medieval archaeology and Victorian toys. Their latest instalment is 'Heads and Tales: The many faces of Elmbridge'. This display uses portraits to chart all the different people who come together to form a community and reveals the stories of some of the borough's more prominent residents.

What you can expect...

They are also no strangers to the odd famous face or two. The unmistakable tones of television presenter Loyd Grossman declared the museum open after its refurbishment in 1996, while the Mayor of Elmbridge and various local celebrities have also popped in from time to time. However, the most famous names here are rather more permanent visitors - that is to say, historic collections. Elmbridge Museum holds artefacts from a vast range of local notables: Henry VIII, Princess Alice, Sir Charles Hamilton, Goodbye, Mr Chips writer RC Sherriff, 1920s film stars and even Sir Cliff Richard.

Special interest...

The museum's collection of almost 400 tiles from Chertsey Abbey is arguably the most fascinating collection. Many date back to the 13th century, all richly coloured and intricately patterned. When Henry VIII dissolved Chertsey Abbey in the 1530s, many of the tiles were used in the building of his new palace at Oatlands. Apparently, centuries later, some even ended up lining the bottom of the Wey Navigation. The tiles are a great example of how objects have an ever-shifting life of their own.

Tell your friends...

...about how the museum now houses the famous nude statue of the Venus de Medici, rescued from Oatlands Grotto in the 1920s. After the Second World War, Weybridge Library moved to where the museum had been, and the museum moved upstairs. Unfortunately, the comely Venus was too heavy to be relocated. Rumour has it that she was often draped with a dust cloth, as her naked charms distracted the readers.

And the biggest secret of all?

The museum is almost 100 years old. On Saturday June 27, Elmbridge Museum celebrates its centenary and will be partying in style. Throughout the year, there will be celebratory events to mark this great milestone, including a retrospective exhibition. Museum staff will also be donning fancy dress to represent each decade, from Edwardian nannies to Eighties disco-dancers. So, here's to a party that will go down in history!

  • Elmbridge Museum, Church Street, Weybridge KT13 8DE: 01932 843573. Closed Tuesdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays. Entry is free.

Tell us your secrets...
We'd love to hear about the hidden treasures you've discovered in Surrey. E-mail or write to the usual address. Find more of Surrey's lesser known tourist hot spots here.

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