The forgotten story of Chard Museum and its collection
Arthur Hull from Avishayes started to keep his diary in 1826. It was a time of great change in Chard with new roads and canals being built. As a part time surveyor items of interest that the local community found were brought him. Along with other items he bought, he began to form what he called his ‘collection of curiosities’. At first, he kept these in a cupboard. As his collection he used a room in his Newhayes farmhouse. On his death in 1880 he left his collection to Chard Borough Council.
The Council found space in a small room in the Town Hall. It was rarely visited and items deteriorated or were borrowed and never returned. In 1917 the entire collection was offered to Somerset County Museum in Taunton. It remained there for the next fifty years until the newly-formed Chard History Group began to campaign for a museum to record and celebrate Chard’s achievements. Their efforts were soon successful.
We are often asked what was Godworthy House before it became the Museum. Watch and listen to Betty Aplin, a former resident, describe her life in one of the four cottages.
A gift to the town from the estate of Benjamin Wyatt, a Chard agricultural merchant, enabled the Council to buy and restore a derelict building in High Street dating from the 16th century. This building, once four small cottages, was named Godworthy House, after the Wyatt’s farm of that name near Membury. Part of the property was offered to a newly formed ‘Museum Council’ and much of the Arthur Hull collection was returned from Taunton. With the acquisition of new items donated by Chard people, Chard and District Museum was ready to open and received its first visitors on 20th July,1970
From the beginning the Museum’s aim was to expand. The whole of Godworthy House was soon taken over. A former public house next door to the Museum, the New Inn, (previously known as the First and Last) was adapted to accommodate new exhibits and its old skittle alley was used to house displays.
1985 marked the 750th anniversary of the granting of the town’s first Charter during the reign of King Edward 3rd. Events were held in the town throughout the year to celebrate this milestone. To mark the occasion the Museum reorganised its main hall to show a series of ‘snapshots’ of the town’s history since 1235. One highlight of the ‘Chard 750’ celebration was a visit by her Royal Highness, Princess Anne. She spent much time touring the Museum before the new displays opened.
Godworthy House now houses the ‘History of Chard’ timeline and display’s devoted to the work of John Stringfellow, Margaret Bonfield, James Gifford, James Gillingham and of course, Arthur Hull. They have become known as the Chard 5.
Godworthy House with the thatched roof in disrepair. Circa 1965.
Preparing to replace the old thatched roof. Circa 1965.
Recognition of the gift from Benjamin Wyatt sits in Godworthy House
Part of the New Inn before its renovation. Circa 1975.
Godworthy House now .... Circa 2019