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- Local History
The Curtis Museum in Alton is home to one of the finest local history collections in Hampshire, exploring 100 million years of the region’s past.
Permanent exhibitions include a rare Roman enamel cup, ancient Saxon burials, hop picking and brewing, Cranford author Elizabeth Gaskell, the 1643 Battle of Alton - with a Civil War era helmet, breastplate and sword - and the notorious tale of Sweet Fanny Adams. There’s also a regular programme of events, complete with family-friendly and educational activities. When you have finished your trip to the Curtis Museum, why not pay a visit to our sister venue in Alton, the Allen Gallery. As well as housing one of the south's most outstanding collections of ceramics, the gallery has a welcoming café and accessible toilet facilities.
Things to do
The museum is a great place for the whole family to enjoy. Here are just a few of the things you can do during your visit:
- View the Alton Buckle, the finest piece of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship found in Hampshire
- Discover more about Alton and the surrounding area in our extensive local studies area
- Have fun with our children’s activities, including dressing-up costumes
- Browse the museum shop
History of the museum
The museum was founded by William Curtis (1803–1881) after he helped start the Alton Mechanics Institute in 1837, a society where he could share his interest in natural sciences with the men of the town. After creating a museum in the institute’s building in Market Street, Curtis helped raise money for the building that stands here today. Gradually the museum spread into every room, now housing, among other things, fossils that belonged to him.
This incredible find was discovered during the 1959–61 excavations of the Mount Pleasant Anglo-Saxon cemetery. It consists of a silver gilt body with filigree wires and niello inlay, set with Cloisonné garnets and glass. The centre panel design is gold filigree on a gold repoussé base. The buckle shows signs of considerable use and wear, the two silver gilt bars being ancient repairs. Buckles like this were used to fasten a belt worn around the waist or hips and were major items of male jewellery during the 6th and 7th centuries AD.
The buckle was found in the grave of an Anglo-Saxon warrior accompanied by a sword, shield boss, spear heads and numerous smaller items. It is the finest piece of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship to have been found in Hampshire and is among the most beautiful and accomplished Anglo-Saxon pieces to have been found outside the famous Sutton Hoo burial in Suffolk.
William Curtis the Botanist
The botanist William Curtis (1746–1799) was born in nearby Lenten Street. From an early age he developed a passion for natural history. His biggest accomplishment came towards the end of his life when he first published Botanical Magazine, which still exists. You can learn more about his struggle for success at the museum.
This charming corner of the museum, where nostalgia abounds, is packed with toys and dolls dating from the 18th century through to the present day. The gallery includes games and a selection of jigsaw puzzles, displayed at an ideal height for younger visitors.
Local studies area
We have a wide variety of information on the history of Alton and the surrounding villages. The local studies area is ideal for private research, school projects or simply for general interest. Choose from a range of press cuttings, extracts from published articles and information on local families and buildings. There is also reference material, including copies of directories, sale catalogues, maps and billheads from traders. Parish records and census information are available to view digitally. The photographic collection includes books of local places of interest. You can find out more about Alton and the surrounding area on the Alton Papers website.