King George III, female football referees and archaeology as Weymouth Museum returns

By Ben Miller | 11 December 2013

Volunteers have reopened Weymouth Museum after a two-year closure

A photo of a large modern museum with various maritime artefacts in the foreground
Weymouth Museum is looking forward to some plain sailing after a choppy couple of years© Andrew Knowles
Resilient volunteers who spent months preparing a display many thought would never resurface have been rewarded after the new-look Weymouth Museum, where highlights include a huge equestrian portrait of George III and the story of the first fully-qualified British female football referee, reopened to the public.

A photo of two ancient stone parts for a game next to dice and a number
Found by divers exploring shipwrecks off the Weymouth coast, these gaming pieces are back on display© Andrew Knowles
Housed in the 19th century Brewers Quay, the museum was forced to close in 2011. Now torpedo components rescued from the seabed and a recreated Victorian kitchen are back in a revamped show full of shipwreck artefacts from the past 200 years.

“We have taken this opportunity to reopen the museum on a reduced scale,” explains Richard Samways, of the museum.

"The building was closed for redevelopment which, for various reasons, did not take place.

“Now new redevelopment plans are being prepared which will include a brand new museum. And in the meantime the building has reopened for at least two years while all the planning processes are gone through.

“Our aim, of course, is to keep the museum before the public eye until a new museum materialises.

“We have made a selection from our collections for new displays which we hope will interest and at times amuse our visitors.”

Some of the items come from the Earl of Abergavenny, an East Indiaman ship which foundered off Weymouth Bay during a storm in 1805, resulting in 200 deaths. John Kelly recovered its remnants during 40 years of diving, accompanied by pieces from the wreck of a Curtiss P40 Tomahawk aeroplane, which crashed into the sea in November 1941. Its Pilot Officer, Harold Fraser English, survived.

Weymouth was once home to the Whitehead torpedo factory, whose products, such as a 21-inch example with an eight-cylinder engine, are owned by the museum. It also accommodates 21 boards listing all the vessels and lives saved by the town’s busy lifeboats since 1869.

Georgian Weymouth – a fashionable seaside resort enjoyed by George III – is remembered in a major section of the display, as well as pictures, prints, the contents of a cobbler’s shop, surgical equipment and transport relics.

Pat Dunn, a referee and campaigner for equality whose determination won through after a nine-year battle to win official recognition from the Football Association, is also honoured.

Although the museum will close for a winter break between mid-January and early April, Samways and the team have further expansion designs.

“We hope to plan the reopening of an additional gallery,” he says.

“Even during the closure period the museum’s information service will continue to operate, providing information and answers to local and family history questions relating to Weymouth and the area. We are entirely volunteer run.”

  • Open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10.30am-4pm. Admission £1 (free for under-16s). Follow the museum on Twitter @WeymouthMuseum and on Facebook.

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A black and white photo of a group of noblemen walking along a bay in 1929
Town dignitaries in 1929© Andrew Knowles
A black and white photo of a bakers in a town during the 20th century
The Co-op shop, on Park Street, as seen in 1900© Andrew Knowles
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