Looking back and looking forward

PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 March 2014

Young visitors enjoy discovering what life was like in a Victorian kitchen

Young visitors enjoy discovering what life was like in a Victorian kitchen


Sarah Ford discovers what’s in store for one of Somerset’s much loved visitor attractions

Find out more

The ‘Sowing the Seeds’ blog gives you a behind-the-scenes peep during the redevelopment. It also shows how to get involved, where events are happening and plans for the reopening. Follow somersetrurallifemuseum.org.uk

Looking Back Looking Forward runs at Somerset Rural Life Museum, Chilkwell Street, BA6 8DB, until 29 March, 10am-5pm. Closed Mondays. Free entry. 01458 831197.

For decades The Somerset Rural Life Museum has held a special place in the hearts of people who care about their county’s history and heritage.

Housed in a Victorian farmhouse in Glastonbury and complete with its original 14th century Abbey barn and traditional cider orchard, the place has a unique charm which has enthralled visitors for 40 years.

So when redevelopment plans were announced, it was unsurprising that some people received the news with a degree 
of trepidation.

However, visitors to an exhibition which looks forward to what the future holds for this captivating time capsule will be reassured that the redevelopment will be sympathetic to the existing fabric of the site. And what’s more, following the county council’s consultations with the community, the plans will build on what people have highlighted is important to them about this Somerset gem.

Looking Back Looking Forward is the final exhibition at the museum before it closes at the end of March and work begins.

The exhibition tells the museum’s story, from its origins as a working farm to the creation of the museum. The essential work and support of the Friends of the Rural Life Museum is celebrated here and there are visualisations of how the galleries will look after the redevelopment. The exhibition also includes the story of the Mapstone family, who lived and worked at Abbey Farm for over 50 years.

It was once one of the main cheese making farms in the area and today Abbey Farm provides a fascinating showcase in which to display parts of Somerset’s history. It is a free visitor attraction which draws in people from as far away as Australia keen on tracing their roots.

As she takes me round the exhibition, Project Manager Estelle Gilbert explains that Mrs Mapstone gave the Abbey Barn to Somerset County Council and the authority bought the farmhouse and some of the land before turning it into a museum.

“The museum tells the story of the farming year during the age of the horse and focuses on the crafts and industries that are special to Somerset like cider making, basket making and peat digging. We want to bring it up to the present 
day,” she says.

“There will be a new entrance so people will be coming in through the original front door and get more of a sense of the farm.

“The wagon shed will be turned into a community learning space and the new 
tea rooms will have lovely views across 
to Glastonbury Tor.

“I think a lot of people thought we were going to knock the farmhouse down and put up a new fancy museum – we’re not. We are keeping everything that’s special about it. This is a well loved museum 
and we don’t want to spoil the character. It’s about preserving it and retaining 
its charm.”

What the future holds:

The museum has not undergone major redevelopment since the 1970s. The improvements will cost £1.9 million, with £720,000 coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The museum will close on 31 March and the project is due to take up to 24 months. Plans include

*Maintaining the Abbey Barn in its present state, but making it more accessible/suitable for events

*Creating an indoor learning and activities space

*Creating more exhibition space in the farmhouse

*Installing a lift

*Refreshing the museum displays

*Installing insulation and heating in the cowsheds to improve the care of collections and make it more comfortable for visitors

*Improving access to the orchard

*Creating a new visitor welcome area, shop, café and toilets.

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