All the above objects were acquired with the assistance of the Friends.
History of the Friends of the Norwich Museums
John Henry Walter of Drayton Hall, Norwich, founded the Friends of the Castle Museum (later to become the Friends of the Norwich Museums) in December 1920. Concerned that works of art of both local and national importance were being lost to the people of Norfolk and Norwich, and to future generations, because there were no funds with which to purchase them, Walter an antiquarian collector and Director of Norwich Union, used his influential local connections to enrol 35 subscribers at two guineas each from amongst his personal friends, the aristocracy, gentry, local businessmen, politicians and antiquarians. A grant from the Board of Education and well wishers brought the total income for the first year to £151.40p. With this sum, two purchases were made; a Tudor door for £100 (now at the Strangers' Hall Museum) and an 18th century jug by William Absalom of Great Yarmouth for £12, leaving a healthy balance of £39.40p
The Friends and Norwich Museums Buildings
The first Norfolk and Norwich Museum was founded in 1825 in small rooms in the Haymarket, near Top Shop. Collections were made by the rich and leisured and the 'museum' provided a type of gentleman's club exclusively for the use of its paying members where information could be exchanged and personal collections displayed.
The Museum quickly outgrew these premises, and a plot was purchased, fronting an entirely new street in the city centre. Known initially as Post Office Street, it quickly changed its name to Exchange Street, after the new corn exchange was built there.
The second Norwich Museum in Exchange Street (1834) by John Brown, County Surveyor now Jarrold Commercial stationery and office equipment department.
The County Surveyor, John Brown, designed the building. The Museum occupied the premises for five years, after which expansion dictated another move to the newly named Museum Court on St Andrews Street. The site had been part of the Duke of Norfolk's Palace, abandoned by the family in the 18th century. A new building was constructed to hold the collections. In a daring move, the museum opened its doors to the general public free of charge on Queen Victoria's wedding day in 1840. The public behaved themselves and from then on, the public were allowed in free of charge. In the nineteenth century museums were seen as a means of educating and 'civilizing' people. This building was demolished in the 1970's for road widening and the eventual construction of the telephone exchange.
The third Norwich Museum, St Andrews Street. Constructed on part of the site of the Duke of Norfolk's old palace. Demolished.
Conversion of the Castle from the County Gaol to Museum
For centuries, the Norwich Castle had served as the county gaol. In 1884, the then Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt, announced the amalgamation of the city gaol on Earlham Road and the county gaol at the Castle into one purpose built establishment, the current Norwich Prison on Mousehold Heath. The Castle was offered for sale to both the City and County Councils for £10,569. Having no purpose in mind for the building and a dislike of spending public money, neither was willing to purchase it. The decision had been taken to allow the Keep to become an ivy-clad ruin when the Quaker banker and philanthropist John Henry Gurney outlined proposals to convert the Keep and prison into a public museum, replacing the cramped purpose built museum premises in Exchange Street and later premises in St Andrew's Street, at a cost of £5,000.
Gurney had consulted with fellow members of the Norfolk and Norwich Museum Committee, one of whose members was the prominent Norwich architect, Edward Boardman. Gurney and Boardman had researched other leading museums widely and consulted with experts in the field before putting their proposals to the City Committee. Gurney's generous financial contribution, a levied rate of 1/2d in the pound from citizens and the support of the Lord Mayor Sir Peter Eade, secured, after negotiation, the Castle Keep, prison and Mound, but excluded the Shirehall and County police station (since absorbed into the complex) A payment of £4,000 secured the building as the current Norwich Castle Museum. A further donation of £3,000 from J.H.Gurney ensured that Boardman's ambitious plans were executed in full.
Edward Boardman's adaptation of the building is often taken for granted. He is to be credited not merely for what he did but for resisting the temptation to re-create what was long gone, as other Victorian architects might have done. Instead he interpreted accurately the archaeological remains, whilst at the same time creating a building admirable fitted for its new purpose.
By the summer of 1892, the building work was completed and work began to fit out the interior and to receive the collections from the old Norfolk and Norwich Museum. Gifts of money and objects were received to augment the collections. Many of donors and their descendants initially joined the Friends of the Castle Museum and subsequently, as other museums were opened in the City, members of the Friends of the Norwich Museums.
The buildings and collections were given to the City in trust for its citizens and the Castle Museum became not simply a private repository, as it had been formerly, for the collecting passions of the rich, cultured and leisured, but a place of exploration and delight which was open free of charge to all comers for most days of the week. Collections donated and acquired at this time still form the backbone of the current collections. Many of these, such as the collection of Norwich School Paintings, are familiar to museum visitors today and remain a source of affection, delight and admiration.
By 1894, the Castle, restored and extended, was ready to open its doors to the public. In October that year, the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) officially opened the Castle Museum.
Strangers' Hall, the Bridewell and St Peter Hungate Museums
As a result of the foundation of the Friends of the Castle Museum, two more buildings were given to the city by individual Friends to become the Strangers' Hall Museum and the Bridewell Museum. The Friends name changed from the Friends of the Castle Museum to embrace these new additions, becoming the Friends of the Norwich Museums.
The first new Museum was Strangers' Hall given in 1922 by Leonard Bolingbroke, a local solicitor, who had rescued it from dilapidation. Included in this gift was a major portion of its contents. Strangers' Hall became England's first museum of domestic life.
Three years later, the shoe manufacturer, Sir Henry Holmes gave the Bridewell to the City as an industrial museum, illustrating the rich industrial heritage of Norwich and Norfolk. Sir Henry's contacts in the manufacturing world enabled him to equip the Bridewell with many of its present day contents.
The Church of St Peter Hungate in Princes Street was rescued from dilapidation by a group of Friends including the E.T.Boardman, architect son of Edward Boardman. Money was raised to restore the building and convert it to a museum of Church Art. It became the first Anglican Church to be turned into secular use. In 1998, the church was closed as a museum and its contents absorbed into the Castle's collections.
The Friends Early Collecting Policy
With the acquisition of each of the museums, the Friends formulated a deliberate policy of collecting objects relevant to their individual characteristics. Collections, which had been transferred from the old Norfolk and Norwich Museum, had a strong representation in archaeology, natural history, ethnography, geology and 'curiosities'. The Friends decided to augment the collections by including items poorly or not previously represented such as fine art, porcelain and silver, applied arts, textiles and furniture. To these the Friends added art and decorative arts of particular local interest such as Lowestoft porcelain, paintings by Norwich School artists and Norwich silver.
The expertise of early Friends was particularly helpful. Many gave advice, money and bequeathed their personal collections. Some organised exhibitions and headed the museums purchase committee. John Walter led the way, donating gifts of Nelsonia (in which Walter had a particular interest) ceramics, etchings, engravings and silver.
The Friends Today
Today, as the second oldest museum support group in the country, the Friends continue this loyalty and commitment to the Norwich Museums. As a thriving group of over 1,000 members, the Friends help to secure major funding from national and regional and local organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, the Re:source/V & A Purchase Grant Fund and many more funding bodies. Our contribution is vital to the improvement of the City's Museums, ensuring that some of the collections have national and even international status. From fine art and costume, archaeology to social history, decorative arts to natural history, the Norwich Museums are home to some of the best regional collections in the UK.
In recent years have funded the floodlighting on the Castle Keep, helped to purchase the Harford Farm Treasure and many other archaeological hoards enabling the Castle Museums collections of Roman, Iron and Bronze Age archaeology to be regarded as second only in importance to those of the British Museum. In 2008, the Hockwold Hoard, part funded by the Friends, received, as a result, support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, its 100th grant in Norwich.
The Friends support both the old and the new. We continue to augment the museums collection of modern fine and decorative art, including glassware, ceramics, paintings, jewellery and textiles, whilst also restoring the Fitch Room to its original purpose as a cabinet of curiosities containing diverse small collections given to the museum by Victorian collectors.
The Friends continue to fund exhibitions and educational initiatives, purchasing educational equipment and learning packs which can be used by children in all the museums to explore and learn about current exhibitions.
The Friends have purchased replica period costumes and weapons for use by children in the Castle Keep.
The Friends funding of a feasibility study persuaded the County Council to make over the Shirehall to the Museums Service for state of the art stores, offices and a resources centre, where the public may view the reserve collections. The Bridewell Museum has benefited from a new educational room and funding has been pledged to enable a Heritage Lottery fund bid to be made for major improvements.
The long awaited Strangers' Hall 'Mayors and Magnates' project was launched in November 2007 with seed corn money from the Friends attracting large financial grants to refurbish and re-display the building. Replica textiles were commissioned based on rare examples in the collections. I dozen 17th century Turkeywork cushions, bearing the City arms, were woven at the expense of the Friends.
The Friends have worked in partnership with the Norfolk Gardens Trust to create a knot garden at Strangers' Hall and Friends volunteers maintain and develop the garden as an enchanting and peaceful oasis in the centre of the city.
The Friends also work closely with the Costume and Textile Association to fund purchases for the textile collections and with the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum for whom the Friends purchased a stair lift for disabled access. The Friends have pledged money for two major schemes opening in 2008/09, the re-display of the popular Mammal Gallery and the 'Arts of Living Gallery', which will display a variety of decorative arts, costume and paintings in context. An annual grant from the Friends goes towards the conservation of paintings and a further grant of £10,000 has been earmarked for the photo recording and conservation of works of art on paper.
The Friends give between £30,000 and £80,000 a year in support of the Norwich Museums, a far cry from the modest £151.40p, which the Friends were able to give to the Norwich museums in 1921.
Financial grants are considered at monthly meetings and the Friends committee are able to respond rapidly to urgent funding requests, sometimes within a matter of hours, to acquire objects of importance to the Norwich Museums at auction.
An archive of past publications and newsletters is being developed and will be available here.