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Museum will open in Gravesham to showcase area's historical gems

Gravesham’s historical gems will finally be displayed for the public as the council pledges to bring a museum back to the borough.

Anyone that grew up in Gravesend will be well versed about Pocahontas and General Charles Gordon but often it is an insight restricted to what can be described on a tourism information boards or history pages on the internet.

However, this could all change thanks to a pledge by council leader Cllr John Cubitt to find a site for a museum in Gravesend by the end of his four year administration.

Council leader Cllr John Cubitt outside Gravesham Civic Centre
Council leader Cllr John Cubitt outside Gravesham Civic Centre

In an exclusive interview with the Gravesend Messenger Cllr Cubitt said the council had been in discussion with a number of local historians and heritage enthusiasts about how to tackle the project.

There are rumours, among some local historians, that hidden away in private collections or even in storage warehouses owned by the council there are hordes of precious historical artefacts all with links to the town.

Now plans for a museum are beginning to take shape there are hopes that never seen before objects could be brought into the public eye.

Cllr Cubitt said: “We’ve got plenty of artefacts to put into the museum. There are a number of local people that would be looking for us to take on their collections.

The statue of Native American princess, Pocahontas, in the grounds of St George's Church, Gravesend
The statue of Native American princess, Pocahontas, in the grounds of St George's Church, Gravesend

“I think the big question is where and what form it would take. It might take the form of having a permanent base or having an exhibition that moves around the borough.

“It could spend some time in the Old Town Hall, if we’re able to negotiate with the county, or we could have exhibits in the Blake Gallery or in the library.”

It has not been decided what parts of Gravesham’s illustrious and rich history will be focused on in the museum.

It is sure to feature Pocahontas and General Gordon but there will also, no doubt, be a call for the space to commemorate Gravesend’s links with the river.

Historian and Gravesend Library volunteer James Elford said the borough was blessed with a long list of possible exhibits and topics to focus on.

One of which could be the once thriving Victorian leisure resort Rosherville Gardens, which complete with lush green landscaped spaces, cafes and even a bear pit, had people flocking to the borough to enjoy a day out.

Rosie the bear in her pit at Rosherville Gardens
Rosie the bear in her pit at Rosherville Gardens

He said:“Gravesend has got the river, it’s got its pubs and the entertainment industry and especially, it's got places like Rosherville Gardens which is everyone’s favourite subject.

“So a display on the history of the entertainment industry and the tourism industry in the area would be very interesting.

“Gravesham is a microcosm, we’ve got a bit of everything and that’s our strength. The museum needs to have links to all parts of the borough, not just Gravesend.

"There needs to be references to Dickens and Chalk and Higham, so people can go out and visit and keep interest in those parts of our history alive.”

Mr Elford was particularly passionate about the museum displaying artefacts from archaeological digs in the borough.

Cafe Chantant in Rosherville Gardens
Cafe Chantant in Rosherville Gardens

These include a Roman burial site found by the Tollgate hotel in Gravesend, an Anglo Saxon dig-site in Northfleet and the remains of an 400,000-year-old elephant discovered during work to build the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, close to the site of Ebbsfleet International Station.

He said: “They would look great in a display and we’ve still got artefacts from Springhead after it was excavated in the 1960s and 70s. It would be more of a case of what you would have to leave out rather than what you put in.

“Another thing I’d like to see is exhibitions that are changing each year so that people from the area can put on displays themselves, such as photo exhibits, rather than a stagnant museum that doesn’t change.”

People gather at a service to commemorate the death of General Charles Gordon at the statue erected in his honour in the Fort Gardens, Gravesend
People gather at a service to commemorate the death of General Charles Gordon at the statue erected in his honour in the Fort Gardens, Gravesend

While there are often interesting exhibitions in Gravesend Library, in Windmill Street, there has not been a proper museum in the borough for more than five years with previous incarnations based in the Old Town Hall, in High Street and in rooms in the New Tavern Fort, off Gordon Promenade East.

Museums are expensive to run but Cllr Cubitt is passionate about the prospect of having one in the borough and said there were options to involve outside funding.

He said: ”There is an interest from historians in the local historical society and they are looking to start up a trust because, if we can get a structure in place,a trust would be able to apply for Heritage Lottery Funding.”

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