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A new future for Crawley’s past

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Crawley Museum Society came into being in 1977 as a result of the restoration work at Ifield Watermill, which was undertaken by a group of volunteers – the project saw the watermill brought back to life from a state of near dereliction.

Today, Ifield has a working mill wheel, and along with the tranquillity of the millpond area and surrounding wildlife, it continues to be a major attraction for visitors when it is open during the summer.

The collection at the original museum built up, with local people kindly donating objects and this eventually meant that new premises were needed.

Crawley Borough Council swung into action to create a purpose-built annexe to the Victorian Goffs Park House, and this opened as the Crawley Museum Centre in 1992.

It was run by the volunteers of the society and apart from its regular opening times; it has also offered group visits for a wide-range of ages, from Beavers to local U3As.

Helen Poole, Curator of Crawley Museums, said: “It seems that history has repeated itself, however, and the centre is now too small. Also, many people were still unaware of its beautiful setting on the edges of Goffs Park.”

In conjunction with Crawley Borough Council, a bid was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable the museum to move into new premises in the centre of town to a building known locally as The Tree.

The Tree is a medieval timber-framed house located on the High Street and The Boulevard. It was once the Manor House in Crawley and was built in the early 15th century and rebuilt in the
mid-16th century.

With a modern exterior, it has been renovated as part of a regeneration scheme – its name commemorates an ancient tree which stood outside for hundreds of years and was once one of Crawley’s landmarks.

With the help of £1.15 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, combined with £765,000 from Crawley Borough Council, plus donations, in 2017, Crawley will have a museum to be proud of in the centre of the town.

The vibrant new displays aim to show the diversity and heritage of Crawley, going right back into pre-history, but coming up to date with the modern new town.

Professional staff work alongside the team of expert volunteers, and there are vacancies among the team if people are interested in being part of this exciting new venture.

Helen Poole encourages educational visits and said: “We welcome visits from school parties by arrangement. Stewards’ will provide a guided tour of the museum to pupils and will fit in their discussion.’

“Whatever area of the curriculum that you are interested in – past examples of themes include the Victorians, archaeology, World War II, and ‘how to start your own museum’.”

In addition, the Museum Society are also able to provide discovery boxes at a cost of £10 for a half-term for teachers for use in the classroom on the themes ‘home’, ‘washday’ and ‘childhood’.

Discovery boxes include a range of objects, centred around their theme, all for handling by children and teachers alike and they include support materials.

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=”600″]Ifield Watermill will open on National Mills Day which takes place annually in May. If you are interested in borrowing a discovery box, a list of contents can be emailed to you so that you can check the suitability of the objects. For more information about the museum and the discovery boxes, visit:[/box]

By Rachel Whitlam

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