Haslemere Educational Museum, winner of the 2012 Kids In Museums Award, was founded in 1888 by Sir Jonathan Hutchison, an eminent London surgeon and philanthropist. He had set up a country home in the town when the railway was extended there in 1859, and was inspired to establish a museum for the community, particularly the children.
His vision, as recorded by Ernest Swanton, the museum’s first curator, was not to create a “museum of Haslemere” but rather a “museum for Haslemere”. Rather than dwelling on matters of purely local concern, the museum offers a whistle-stop tour through natural history, geology and human history, from the Big Bang to the present. According to Kay Topping, the education officer, the result was – still is – “like a mini British Museum”.
By the end of the 19th century, the museum had become a thriving centre of learning. Hutchison instituted a “museum examination” on the arts and sciences, which Julia Tanner, the current curator, describes as a “local GCSE”. Passing the examination greatly increased a child’s life prospects, as it gave them a recognisable badge of achievement.
Hutchison’s ethos is very much still in evidence today. Matthew Arnold, the pre-eminent Victorian man of letters, saw the purpose of education as “to instruct and delight”. Hutchison clearly shared these beliefs, placing great emphasis on what these days we would call “interactive learning”.
Wonderfully, interactivity at the modern-day museum is not about pressing buttons, but actually handling the exhibits. An afternoon spent at Haslemere Museum means holding a real dinosaur bone – yes, that’s right, and it’s about two feet long – and cuddling a stuffed bear by the name of Arthur, who is more than 125 years old. Continue reading on the Telegraph website