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Maidstone Museum's revamp to go ahead after £100k fundraising

Ambitious plans to revamp part of a town centre museum will see a "dry and dusty collection" replaced with more interactive and child-friendly displays.

The Friends of Maidstone Museum have filled in the final bit of the fundraising jigsaw by reaching their target of raising £100,000 towards the project that is expected to cost £600,000.

Maidstone Museum
Maidstone Museum

The funding will pay for a new archaeological gallery to replace its "dry and dusty collection". It is hoped the new gallery will be more interesting for visitors and will increase footfall. It will include audio recordings, digital displays and more child-friendly offerings.

The borough council has agreed to put in £380,000 and £100,000 has been donated by the William and Edith Oldham Charitable Trust, a charity set up by the former Mayor of Maidstone, Paul Oldham, to honour his parents.

The Kent Archaeological Society is also chipping in with £20,000.

Mike Evans, of the Maidstone Museum Foundation, said: "The museum has a huge wealth of archaeological treasures, because Kent has been populated for so long.

"But the present gallery is perhaps rather a dry and dusty collection.

"The intention is to create a new modern gallery where much more emphasis is on presenting how the objects fitted into the daily life of the people at the time."

The existing 'dusty' archaeological gallery
The existing 'dusty' archaeological gallery

"For example few people realise that during the last Ice Age, the ice which covered much of Britain did not reach as far south as Kent, which at the time was still connected to the Continent by land.

"So the archaeological history of our part of the country is very different from the rest of the UK."

A board with representatives from each of the donors is to be set up to guide the project, and it hopes to produce designs for the new gallery within six weeks.

There is an over-arching long-term ambition to rework much of the museum, following the creation of a transformation plan in 2018.

But in view of the funding requirements, the improvements are being approached in a more measured way – gallery by gallery.

The first phase, the revamp of the archaeology gallery, is to be named Lives in Our Landscape.

Bronze Age gold torcs will form part of the display
Bronze Age gold torcs will form part of the display

The new gallery will be on the ground floor in the large space formerly occupied by the museum cafe, which has been closed for more than three years.

It will display objects made by the earliest type of humans in Kent from around 600,000 years ago to the Tudor period just 500 years ago.

The current archaeology display cabinets are the oldest in the museum and were put in place at least 40 years ago.

The objects are arranged chronologically, but tell no coherent story about either the time or the place where they originated, or about the people who made and used them.

The new gallery will bring these ancient civilisations to life, using state-of-the-art scientific analysis to enable digital reconstruction of individuals and up-to-the-minute research to understand and interpret the lives they lived and the societies they were a part of.

Sadly not all our history is pleasant: Iron Age slave chains
Sadly not all our history is pleasant: Iron Age slave chains

It is expected the new gallery will also display more of the museum's collection than is on show at the moment – which is only about 7% of its treasures.

It will be fully accessible with eye-level text for wheelchair users and children.

Audio recordings will be provided to those who are sight-impaired, with large font options and tactile displays.

There will be a dedicated area within the gallery for school use – important as the museum is already visited by around 9,000 schoolchildren each year.

The museum has one f the best collection of Anglo-Saxon artefacts in the country: here is a crystal ball and sieve spoon
The museum has one f the best collection of Anglo-Saxon artefacts in the country: here is a crystal ball and sieve spoon

Lyn Palmer is the museum's public programming manager.

She said: "The current gallery is the oldest display in the museum, being just ‘stuff in cases,’ with no real stories about the people who made, used and discarded these objects.

"Early humans have lived in our area from about 600,000 years ago, so it’s a massive timespan to cover, but we’re confident that we can engage, excite and involve visitors in these stories, encouraging a ‘sense of place’ and knowledge of where we came from."

A Roman statue of Minerva, discovered at Plaxtol
A Roman statue of Minerva, discovered at Plaxtol

She said: "The new gallery will highlight objects from Maidstone, but will also include objects from around the county.

"For some time periods, we have one of the best collections in Britain – the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic) period and the Anglo-Saxon period for example.

"We are currently working with specialist researchers to examine our collections and to create their stories."

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