The Willis Museum
The Willis Museum is now located in the Old Town Hall in the Market Place in Basingstoke.
It was established in 1931 by George Willis, a local clock maker, antiquarian and former Mayor of Basingstoke. His one time premises in Wote Street bears a commemorative plaque, and the original shop window, complete with recreated window display, is an exhibit at Milestones Museum. You can read more about George Willis by purchasing a copy of a small book written some years ago by one of the Friends called “Dear Mr Willis”. Information about acquiring a copy is available from the Publications section of this web site.
George Willis (1877 – 1970)
The Museum was originally housed in the old Mechanics’ Institute building in New Road, since demolished.
In 1975 the opening of the new Civic Offices made the old Town Hall, in the Market Place, redundant. In 1984, after a major refurbishment programme which provided an additional floor in the building, the Willis Museum was re-located to this prestigious and central location. In 2008 with the benefit of substantial funding by the Linbury Trust, founded by Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, the building was again re-vamped to provide the Sainsbury Gallery offering facilities to host major national exhibitions. At the same time a new café and shop were created.
Having been managed for many years by Hampshire County Council the Museum is now one of twenty three sites across Hampshire managed by the newly established Hampshire Cultural Trust.
We have included a wealth of information on our website about the history of the Museum, the building and Basingstoke itself.
The Museum displays exhibits on three floors.
The Ground floor offers major national and international exhibitions in the superb Sainsbury Gallery, together with the Cafe and Shop offering a light refreshments and a range of local books and gifts. You can also view the Romano-British stone coffin and its occupant, discovered at Winklebury when Basingstoke was being developed.
On the First floor, reached via the magnificent staircase dominated by the magnificent original chandelier, you will be able to learn about the history of Basingstoke over the last one thousand years by following the “time tunnel” from medieval times to the present day. One of the highlights is undoubtedly the oldest surviving wedding cake in the world. This floor also provides the Community Gallery offering space for short term exhibitions generated locally. Finally this floor offers an educational and meeting room facility in the Ellaway Room and the local resources study room, manned by volunteers.
The Top floor displays many of George Willis’ local archaeology discoveries, together with his personal and family artefacts, including a number of clocks and watches. The Gallery also has cases covering some of Lord Caernarvon’s Egyptian exploration and some rare World Globes and Navigation instruments. Finally there are many historical maps and pictures of local significance, a display covering a recent excavation at Basing House and of course the huge Mammoth Tusk discovered at North Warnborough in 1973.
A detailed look at what the Museum currently accommodates can be found on the Hampshire Culture Website.