The Grosvenor Museum in Chester was founded in 1885, and its origins are linked to the start of the Chester Society for Natural Science, Literature and Art, founded by Charles Kingsley in 1871. Charles Kingsley was a Canon of Chester Cathedral from 1871-3. He brought together many local naturalists, and the Society built up large and important natural history collections. The building of a local museum was first suggested in 1871, to house the collections and use them for teaching.
The Museums Act of 1845 authorised expenditure of a 1/2d rate for the purpose of establishing and running a Museum (provided that the population in the vicinity was over 10,000), for the instruction and amusement of the public.
In 1873, the Natural Science Society joined forces with the Chester Archaeological Society and the Schools of Science and Art to raise money for the museum. The plan was to build a museum with lecture rooms, to house the collections and libraries from all three groups.
A plot of land was bought in Grosvenor Street and £11,000 was raised, including a donation of £4,000 from the first Duke of Westminster. The architect was Thomas Meakin Lockwood of Chester.
The Museum is built of red brick with sandstone dressings in a free Renaissance style. On the facade, the reclining spandrels of the portal represent Science and Art, whilst the Dutch gables are carved with peacocks flanked by the talbot supporters of the Grosvenor arms. In the entrance hall, the mosaic decoration featuring the city arms, was made by Italian craftsmen from the Manchester firm of Ludwig Oppenheim, and each of the four Shap granite columns was turned from a single piece of stone.
The foundation stone was laid by the Duke on 3 February 1885, and he officially opened the Museum on 9 August 1886. Named after the Duke's family, the building's full title was The Grosvenor Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, with Schools of Science and Art, for Chester, Cheshire and North Wales.
A major extension was built in1894.These schools enjoyed much local support, and many local visitors today recall attending art or technical drawing classes in the building. There were even scholarships such as the Railes Memorial Trust, which provided one free scholarship in the technical day school to the value of £6 for the son of an employee in the Post Office.
Robert Newstead held the post of curator from 1886-1913 and then from 1922-47.He was supported in this work by his brother Alfred. Robert Newstead later became Professor Emeritus of Entomology at Liverpool University. He was also a scholar of considerable distinction in the field of archaeology, and was made a freeman of the city in 1936.
The City of Chester officially took over the administration of the museum in 1915, and total control of the collections and displays in 1938. Graham Webster was appointed curator after Robert Newstead died in 1947. The Society of Antiquaries reported in 1950 that they were "much impressed by the remarkable progress of the Curator since his appointment. Though the work of rearrangement is far from complete, sufficient has already been accomplished to justify the belief that, when the present plans have been carried out, the Museum will rank with the most modern and attractive displays of archaeological material in the country. "
Graham Webster devised the Newstead Gallery, which was opened in 1953 and named after Robert Newstead. In 1955 the first period room, the Victorian Parlour, was opened to the public in the Period House at number 20 Castle Street, which Graham Webster had saved from demolition.
In 1989 the new Art Gallery was created, and the museum came under the new Leisure Services section of the City Council. Major structural work in 1990 was the perfect opportunity to refurbish all the public areas, including the entrance hall and main galleries. The Roman Stones and Natural History Galleries were redisplayed and a new Silver Gallery created. In 1992 HRH The Prince of Wales re-opened the museum after refurbishment. In 1993 the Webster Roman Stones Gallery won the North West Museum of the Year Award. In 1999 the Museum was awarded a £300,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to undertake a scheme of access improvements to the ground floor, which included installing a disabled toilet and stair lifts, and building a new conservatory to house the shop. The museum now has over 100,000 visitors each year.
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