Weymouth Museum is delighted to have received a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund that will allow it to reopen ‘Covid safe’ later this month.

Weymouth has struggled to establish its museum since the middle of the 19th century.

Apart from some small privately owned museums, the first town museum was established in 1858 in the rooms over the Royal Baths in St Thomas Street.

The honorary secretary of the founding committee was William Thompson who was famous for taking the first underwater photograph.

In May 1858 the committee issued an appeal for objects “by way of Gift or Deposit”. They wanted, in particular, objects of local interest with the desire to form a museum which was not just interesting “but really useful and instructive”.

Unfortunately this first museum did not even survive for a decade. In January 1867 the committee of the Dorset County Museum noted that they had received several interesting specimens following the decision of the Committee of Weymouth Museum to break up that institution.

It was more than 60 years later, shortly after the Town Bridge opened in 1930, that Mayor Percy Boyle gave a speech setting out a grand vision for the Borough and noted that while a public library, a museum and public baths had all been asked for, they could not all be had at once. And, in December 1937, a suggestion that the wonderful Market House in St Mary Street be converted to use as a library and museum fell on deaf ears and the building was instead demolished.

In April 1945, Weymouth Civic Society held an exhibition at the Dorothy Café which brought to life the elegant days of Georgian Weymouth. It was noted that this exhibition was 'attempting in some measure to compensate for the deplorable lack of a museum which would illustrate the interesting history of the borough.'

Finally in 1970 the Council agreed on a plan for a new town museum as part of the town’s quatercentenary celebrations the following year.

Melcombe Regis Boys’ School and the Old Town Hall were considered as possible locations. The cost to adapt the school was estimated at £5,000, while the cost for the Old Town Hall was slightly more, mainly because of the need for damp-proofing.

After much deliberation it was agreed to ask the Chief Librarian, Jack West, to prepare an estimate of the cost of staging a temporary exhibition in the Boys’ School for five months in 1971. The Council would then review the possibility of establishing a permanent museum dependent on the public interest shown in the exhibition.

The exhibition was a great success and continued to operate until 1974 when the school formally opened as Weymouth Museum. Weymouth’s library service had been taken over by Dorset County Council that year and Jack West took the opportunity to retire as librarian and become the first Curator of the museum.

The new Weymouth Museum at the end of Westham Bridge became a much loved local institution but by 1988 the Council had plans for modernisation. These plans included the ‘need’ to demolish the school to make way for a new marina (although it is hard to understand why the building could not have remained). Plans were therefore made to relocate the museum’s collection to Brewers Quay as part of the new visitor attraction called the ‘Timewalk’.

In 1990 the collection was moved to the old brewery building and became part of the Timewalk exhibition. However it was later decided that the museum needed to be separated in order achieve charitable status and apply for registration with the Museums and Galleries Commission. It therefore reopened as a separate entity within Brewers Quay in 2000.

Since then the museum has been opened and closed and moved around the building during the various plans for redevelopment and is still managing to survive.

The museum will reopen on Thursday, August 20 and will then be open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 4pm until October half-term.