In 1861 a public museum was founded in Weston-super-Mare by founder, William Mable. William Mable, a shoemaker by trade, came to Weston-super-Mare from London in 1852. Fascinated by the excavations then taking place on Worlebury he began to put together a collection of “specimens of natural history”. William’s aim was “to secure a museum for the town of Weston, free to the public at all reasonable times”.
Mable was a believer in the power of education and around 1859 he was one of the founders of a school in Carlton Street for disadvantaged young working boys. Education was still not compulsory at this time and many children did not learn to read or write. In 1861 he donated his collection to the school. In 1863 the nearby Emmanuel Church raised the money to build a hall in memory of the late Prince Albert, husband to Queen Victoria. Mable’s Night School and collection moved in. In 1868 a large new room was added to the Albert Memorial Hall to house Mable’s growing collection.
William Mable died in 1887. His broader vision of a Public Museum finally came to pass in 1901 when a purpose-built Library and Museum was built on the Boulevard – the work of celebrated local architect Hans Price.
After nearly 75 years of close association the library and museum services were separated following Local Government reorganisation. The Museum moved into its present premises in Burlington Street and was renamed “The Woodspring Museum” and reopened 30th June 1975. From this date the Museum Service’s collecting area became the District of Woodspring and not just Weston-super-Mare. The premises had formerly been the workshops and store for the Weston-super-Mare Gaslight Company, having been developed in that role from a jumble of earlier buildings. The Gas Company moved out to Drove Road in 1970 and Weston Borough Council bought the building in 1973.
In 1985 The Museum acquired a Victorian cottage standing at the eastern end of the building. It has been furnished in the style of 1901 and adapted to house the Museum’s wonderful collection of toys. It is known as Clara’s Cottage after Clara Payne who lived there for many years. From 1996 North Somerset Council took over from Woodspring and the Museum was renamed “The Time Machine” until 2002, when its name changed yet again to “The North Somerset Museum”.
Weston -super-Mare Town Council acquired the Burlington Street building in 2012 and wasted no time in making a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to make major improvements. The bid was successful and the building has undergone a major redesign, and the collection is presented in an entirely new way. Now known as “Weston Museum” we are once again telling the story of Weston-super-Mare and North Somerset to a whole new generation of residents and visitors.
William Mable would probably be surprised and not a little delighted that his vision of a Museum for the town of Weston-super-Mare is still very much alive. The new Gallery for Temporary Exhibitions is named in his memory.
His collection has been added to over the years and the exhibits rewind the clock to allow visitors to discover how people made North Somerset their home, reaching back as far as the Iron Age and moving in chronological order right up to the 20th Century.
The family friendly museum caters for all ages and through inspiration, learning and enjoyment you can explore the galleries and exhibits to understand the past and ask questions about the present and the future. Weston Museum is community orientated as well as offering a delightful environment where you can simply enjoy a wander around our exhibitions and take part in our learning and events programmes.