In her own Words: Project Manager Carrie Blogg on the new Museum of Somerset

By Carrie Blogg | 14 October 2011
A photo of a glowing tree inside a modern museum
© Lawrence Bostock (Somerset Heritage Service)/Alain Locker (Somerset Photo News)
In her own Words: The Museum of Somerset, a £6.93 million development at Taunton Castle which opened on September 29, has restored the 12th century landmark and modernised the county museum. Project Manager Carrie Blogg tells us the inside story...

"There has been a museum at Taunton Castle for more than 100 years but, after years of minimal investment in both the building and the displays, the museum had become outdated.

The galleries were providing inadequate and inaccessible display space both physically and intellectually. It was no longer meeting the needs of today's audiences, and it wasn't doing justice to the museum’s internationally-important collections.

The brief for the design team was to design a modern museum that would unlock and interpret Somerset’s rich history and heritage in innovative and sustainable ways for the benefit of Somerset people of all ages, as well as for visitors to the county.

The creation of the museum has also been central to the ambitious plans to redevelop Taunton, with the venue standing at the heart of a new cultural quarter.
 
A key aim is to make Somerset and its history meaningful and relevant to people today.

The museum tells the story of Somerset from prehistoric times to the present day using real objects combined with evocative films, sounds and images, and the voices and words of Somerset people past and present.

An example of this is in the Military Museum gallery, which tells the history of the Somerset regiments from the 17th century onwards.

The story is brought right up to date with a poignant tribute by Judy Gaden to her son, Tom Gaden, who was killed whilst serving in Afghanistan in 2009.

The museum is alive with the sounds of Somerset – from the gentle birdsong that greets you as you enter the first gallery, to sounds of prisoners and clanking chains in the gallery which recounts the story of the Monmouth Rebellion. They are quite chilling.

The voices of Somerset people from 100 years ago sing out in the gallery telling the story of Cecil Sharp and Somerset’s folksong tradition.   

In the tranquil Reflecting Gallery, you can listen to the soothing sounds of Somerset life – a village cricket match, church bells – while reading quotes about Somerset and its people.

One of the highlights of the new museum is the Frome Hoard, which is on public display for the first time. 

Another new object is a 180-million-year-old fossil plesiosaur, discovered in 2003. It is the first complete plesiosaur skeleton found in Britain for more than a century.

There are also lots of interactives and audio-visual installations to enjoy.  A particular favourite with visitors seems to be the ethereal image of a Roman bather, projected on the wall behind the Low Ham Roman mosaic.

It's a mosaic from the 4th century and is the earliest example of large-scale narrative art ever discovered in Great Britain.

The project has opened up nearly 50 percent more space to the public, including some of the oldest parts of Taunton Castle. The new museum has 25 percent more gallery space.

There is also a large temporary gallery capable of staging national touring exhibitions and a learning centre, and improved visitor facilities like a new café and shop.

The Heritage Lottery Fund were the main funders. They granted £4.8 million. Somerset County Council, which runs the museum, contributed £1.8 million.

There has been a lot of media attention on the openings of major regional museums this year.

The Museum of Somerset may not compete in scale, but word is now getting out that the quality of the displays, the strength of the collections and the thought that has gone into its storyline and interpretation places it among the best of the new museums.

We have a BBC History Festival taking place at the museum tomorrow [October 15 2011], and by the end of it we are on course to have had more than 10,000 visitors."

More pictures from the museum:

A photo of a group of people in Medieval re-enactment soldier outfits posing in a castle
Re-enactors were on hand to celebrate the opening at the end of September
© Lawrence Bostock (Somerset Heritage Service)/Alain Locker (Somerset Photo News)
A photo of a man holding a set of ancient coins inside a museum
The Frome Hoard is one of the star attractions at the new museum
© Lawrence Bostock (Somerset Heritage Service)/Alain Locker (Somerset Photo News)
A photo of a screen and a mosaic inside a modern museum
Mosaics and audio-visual installations feature in a collection curators believe is one of the best in the UK
© Lawrence Bostock (Somerset Heritage Service)/Alain Locker (Somerset Photo News)
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