How the museum was born and developed
9 -11 Victoria Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6HZ - Tel: 01502 725600 email
In the beginning
The Sea
Natural Southwold
Transport to Southwold
Southwold at war
Christianity in Southwold
Arts & Crafts
Holidays & Leisure
Southwold the town
Southwold Shops & Trades

Until the 1930s Southwold had no museum. The only display of local artefacts was in a little room above the porch in St Edmund's Church which was becoming increasingly congested.

The turning point came in 1932 when a Mrs Goddard, the owner of a pair of adjacent Dutch-style cottages in Victoria Street, offered them to the town. The condition was that they should be converted into a museum.

  View from the rear before restoration   View from the front before restoration  
  The two cottages in the 1930s before restoration. Left, view from the rear and, right, from the street.  Click either picture to enlarge and see more views.    

Thus it was that a group of local enthusiasts came together specifically to create a museum for Southwold. They founded the Southwold Archaeological and Natural History Society with the object of realising that dream.

The cottages had been built in the second half of the seventeenth century. Photographs of them in the late nineteenth century show families living in some degree of poverty.

  The cottages in the late 19th century   View over Bartholomew Green  towards Victoria Street  in 1898  

Left: the two cottages as they looked in the late 19th century. The street on their right flank then formed a link between Victoria Street and the High Street. P1306.
Right: A view from the Church tower in 1890. The cottages are bottom left. P559
Click the pictures to enlarge.


By 1931, just before the building was donated to the town, its condition had deteriorated to the point where it had been condemned as unfit for human habitation. At that time it still had an earth toilet at the bottom of the back yard.

The Society's first task was to set up a trust to raise funds for renovation and then to see that through to completion. The cottages had to be virtually rebuilt. Most of the original roof timbers were retained and five oak tie beams were fixed across the interior to strengthen the whole structure. The end result was a single-storey, light, airy room.

The museum was opened by the Mayor just a year after it had been acquired on June 8th 1933 under the curatorship of Dr Dudley Collings.

  Official opening in 1933   Reopening in 2008
Left: Official opening of the museum by the Mayor, Mr E. Pipe, on June 1 1933. The ceremony took place at Saint Felix School. On the left are Mr and Mrs Goddard who donated the building. [P410]. Right: The official reopening in May 2008. Click one of the pictures for a closer look.    

The main and original part of the museum is a Grade II listed building.

An extension was added in 1959 and dedicated to the memory of Dr. Collings. A further small extension was built in 1962 and, in 1967, the Society purchased a two-storey carpenter's workshop, which had been built in the 1950s at the bottom of the back yard. This was needed to provide basic storage space for objects which there was no room to display permanently and to house the museum's growing archive of books, photographs and postcards. It also made possible the construction of a museum office.

In 1999 the museum underwent a programme of essential refurbishment and was equipped with a new lighting system and carpeting. However this was only a very partial response to what was becoming an increasingly pressing need - to bring the museum up to today's conservation and equal-access standards and to present the story of Southwold in a more coherent, accessible and attractive way.

Between 2006 and 2008 Southwold Museum closed for a £375,000 rebuild and redesign programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund with local match funding. In 2009 the museum was highly commended in the Museums and Heritage Awards for Excellence. The judges commented that this was a "small museum that just gets it absolutely right".

A further major programme of refurbishment was undertaken during 2014-15, with the installation of low-energy lighting and climate-control systems. Several new displays have been added and there is a greater emphasis on exhibiting objects, hundreds of which have languished in storage for decades.


Read the full letter by clicking on the cutting above.

This was the previous name for the Southwold Museum & Historical Society. Our plaque was lovingly and painstakingly carved in oak by a talented local woodcarver. The night he finished, he blew the dust away and straightened up to admire his handiwork. Then the awful truth dawned...

Few people ever notice the slip. Those in the know cherish it and wouldn't have it carved any other way!

Click the picture to enlarge

Shoring up the gable
Initial structural work on the front and flank walls in 1931. Click either picture for a closer look.

Rebuilding the flank wall in 1931

New exhibits have been added in 2015, with the emphasis on displaying some of our unique objects.

Click the photos for a better view




Southwold Museum & Historical Society, 9 -11 Victoria Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6HZ
Tel:01502 725600 email

A Charitable Incorporated Organisation, Registered Charity No 1159790,

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