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A museum for Northampton

Gallery room with art on the walls and cases in the foreground displaying ceramics.

 

Founding

We have existed for more than 150 years as an important cultural centre in Northampton. Responding to a growing public interest in education, a group of local people came together in the 1860s to found the museum. It opened its doors to the public on 6 August 1866 in two rooms at the back of the Guildhall. This early museum relied on loans but started to gradually build a collection of art and history with the aim 'to illustrate the history and the products of the county and bring the wider world to Northampton'.

History of the collection

A permanent home in an old gaol

In 1883 we moved to our present location in part of the old Gaol building and in 1884 opened to the public with the curator T.J. George. In 1935 the new extension and art gallery was built which hosted temporary exhibitions from local groups such as the Camera Club. The collections continued to expand, with large significant collections being donated by prominent members of Northamptonshire society or purchased by the committee, such as the magnificent Mansfield collections of ceramics, and the geology collections of Lord Northampton and Beeby Thompson. Between 1967 and 2000, a group of artists working with the curator made a decision to collect Italian art. Dating from 1400-1800 this forms the core of our Italian Art Collection.

A growing museum

1988 saw a new extension built on the north side of the building, creating four new galleries across three floors and new stairs and lift access. The old Northampton rooms were completely redisplayed, becoming ‘Shoe Town, New Town’, exploring the town’s history from 1675 onwards. These new galleries were opened by the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana on 8 June 1989.

A museum fit for the 2020s

After some small refurbishments in 2012 we are now embarking on a new story with the museum expansion project. This project will configure all public spaces creating a museum fit for Northampton today. The museum remains true to its public and educational founding, creating an inspiring space for the people of Northampton and beyond.

Our expansion project story

We continue to collect objects and stories to fulfil our guiding vision and mission.

Our vision    

To be a focus for Northampton’s arts, heritage and culture and the international centre of excellence for shoe heritage, valued and enjoyed by all.

Our mission

Using our collections, knowledge and expertise, to engage with the people of Northampton.