Four months after the launch of one of the largest heritage trusts in the country, Somerset County Council and the South West Heritage Trust are celebrating some major achievements.
Heritage services previously provided by Somerset and Devon County Councils are now delivered by the Trust. It is one of the largest organisations of it’s kind in the country both in terms of its responsibilities and its geographical reach.
Since launching in November last year, the Trust has had some important successes.
The Somerset Remembers exhibition, which commemorated the centenary of the First World War, was seen by 40,000 people before closing in December. It was the museum’s most successful temporary exhibition ever. People of all ages visited the exhibition to learn about the experiences and sacrifices of those who were affected by the war.
Soon after the end of the Somerset Remembers exhibition, the extraordinary Alfred Jewel came back to Somerset for the first time in 300 years on temporary loan from Oxford. The exhibition of the Jewel at the Museum of Somerset in February attracted 24,500 visitors, equivalent to a third of all the visitors during the previous year.
The Trust has also been adding to its collections. In January an Anglo-Saxon carving of St Peter, possibly from Muchelney Abbey, was acquired thanks to a number of generous funders. It has been called an example of English carving at its finest, but is best known because its most recent use was as a cat’s gravestone.
Work to transform Somerset Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury has also been progressing rapidly thanks to major grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits Environmental Company and other generous donors. Main building works for this £2.3m scheme are due for completion in December, when the interior fit-out will begin. The museum is likely to become a flagship visitor attraction and a showcase for the county’s rural heritage.
Tom Mayberry, Chief Executive of the South West Heritage Trust, said: “These have been remarkable times for the new Trust. Our visitor numbers have beaten all records, and the loan of the Alfred Jewel was an unforgettable event. We want to build on our early success by making our wonderful heritage available to as many people as we can – both to people who already know and value it and those who have yet to discover it.”
Cllr David Hall, Deputy Leader of Somerset County Council, and a trustee of the South West Heritage Trust, said: “Looking back over the past few months I am thrilled to see the accomplishments of the Trust so far.
“In just four months, it has acquired a number of items of great significance for Somerset, has successfully bid for heritage grants and has ensured the people of Somerset affected by the First World War were remembered and honoured.
“Somerset’s heritage is being excellently preserved and promoted by the Trust and I look forward to hearing about more successes in future.”
The South West Heritage Trust was formed to deliver services previously provided by Somerset and Devon County Councils to ensure the rich heritage of both areas is protected, conserved and enhanced for residents, communities and visitors to experience and enjoy.
In Somerset, the Trust is responsible for a number of museums, the county’s historic records at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton and the Historic Environment Service, which provides conservation advice and information to local authorities and others, and manages a number of heritage sites across Somerset.