Since 1984, the Willis Museum has been housed in this impressive early Victorian building that was once Basingstoke’s Town Hall.
It is named after George Willis, a local clockmaker, antiquarian and former Mayor of Basingstoke, who became the first honorary curator when the original museum was established in the Mechanics Institute in New Street in 1931.
The building you see today replaced the original Mote Hall (meeting place) where Jane Austen attended dances. This replacement Town Hall was designed by Lewis Wyatt and was open on the ground floor, serving as the town’s Corn Exchange and Market.
Centrally located at the Top of the Town, in the Willis Museum you will discover Basingstoke and Deane’s past, from the rich archaeological heritage beneath our feet right up to the modern day. Throughout the year, we also run a programme of touring exhibitions, as well as fun events, workshops and activities for all the family to enjoy.
Things to do
The museum is a great place to visit stunning exhibitions in the Sainsbury Gallery, discover the local history of Basingstoke and take part in hands on activities as a family. Here are just a few things you can do during your visit:
- Visit regional and national exhibitions in the gallery
- Discover Basingstoke’s history from medieval to local times
- Look at and take a selfie with the Jane Austen statue
- Take part in a workshop or activity trail around the museum
- Browse the museum shop and visit our welcoming café. Bring your own cup for 30p off your hot drink!
The Sainsbury Gallery
In 2009, the building was partly refurbished with funding from, amongst others, the Linbury Trust which was founded by Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover. The Sainsbury Gallery was created to provide facilities to host major regional and national exhibitions.
The Basingstoke community gallery
Situated on the first floor, the community gallery showcases work by local people and groups. Both amateur and professional artists and craftspeople can apply to exhibit. Basingstoke Art Club holds a yearly exhibition whilst others use it to present their work in the community to a wider audience.
The story of Basingstoke
On the same floor, travel in time through Basingstoke’s more recent history. From medieval times to the postwar expansion of the town, look for the world’s oldest wedding cake – dating to 1898 – and the story of ‘Pickaxe’. Discover the growth of the town centre and reminisce in the 1950s kitchen.
The Archaeology Gallery
Including items collected by Mr Willis himself, the second floor archaeology gallery displays the borough’s more ancient past from Stone Age to Saxon. In the centre of the gallery are the 2.8 metre long mammoth tusk found near North Warnborough and artefacts from Calleva Atrebatum, Silchester Roman Town. The gallery also doubles as a meeting room and education space.
Jane Austen statue
Unveiled in July 2017 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her death, the statue was designed by Hampshire-based sculptor Adam Roud and cast at the Morris Singer Foundry in Lasham. The Austen family lived in Steventon until they moved to Bath in 1801.
Austen knew Basingstoke well and attended social gatherings at the Assembly Rooms in Market Place and regularly visited family friends at The Vyne, Oakley Hall and Ashe House.
Hot and cold drinks, ice creams, cakes and snacks are available from Café Willis.
Bring your own cup!
Get 30p off your hot drink in the museum café when you bring your own reusable cup! Simply present your cup to a member of staff to claim your discount.
The museum has ramped access to the front door and automatic and power assisted doors to the Sainsbury Gallery and Café Willis. It has a stairlift to the first and second floors with some restrictions, please ask staff for clarification. Please contact us on 01256 465902 before making a special journey.
Assistance dogs are welcome, as long as they are clearly identifiable.
The Willis Museum has a number of school sessions available or can accommodate other group visits. There are two exciting, self-led programmes available for KS1 and KS2.
Self-led learning resources
The Willis Museum has two exciting self-led programmes available for KS1 and KS2. Please read the information below on how to facilitate a self-led visit to this museum.
The resources below contain activities which are linked to the KS1 & KS2 curriculum. They are designed to be used flexibly so that teachers and educators can pick activity stations which are most relevant or interesting for pupils.
To facilitate a self-led visit you will need to:
- Download the KS1 or KS2 resources (1 per lead teacher/ adult helper). If you are bringing a whole class (34max) the class must be split into small groups of 6-7 across all the activity stations you wish to use. All groups must be accompanied by a teacher/ adult helper at all times.
- Download the KS1 or KS2 Activity documents (these will need to be printed off in advance).
- Download the Hazard Information Sheet *Essential Information which will help to plan your visit and inform your Risk Assessment.
- Call the Willis Museum to check availability & confirm your booking: 01256 465902.
|Resources - KS1||Download PDF|
|Activities - KS1||Download PDF|
|Resources - KS2||Download PDF|
|Activities - KS2||Download PDF|
|Hazard information||Download PDF|
If you need any further assistance please call the Willis Museum: 01256 465902
From the north, take J6 of the M3, or the A33 south of Reading; from the south, take J7 of the M3. Follow signs for Town Centre and brown signs to the Top of the Town. Parking is available in several car parks or in Festival Place Shopping Centre.
The museum is within walking distance of Basingstoke station. Follow signs for Festival Place Shopping Centre, walk through Festival Place and out of the south exit into Wote Street. Walk up the hill and the museum is in the town’s historic Market Place.
The 2nd floor gallery will seat up to 60 people in a lecture style layout and 20 people in cabaret/boardroom style.
The 1st floor Ellaway room provides a meeting space for smaller groups and activities. It can comfortably seat 12 people boardroom style, with scope for adapting the layout to suit different activities such as craft workshops.
For more information and to book please call 01256 465902.
The Friends were founded as a Registered Charity in 1978 with the object of promoting, supporting, assisting, and improving the Museum.
The Friends meet at 7.30pm in the Archaeology Gallery at the Museum on the third Thursday of each month, except August and December, to enjoy a programme of talks, normally with a local history theme. Annual Membership costs £12/person for the year commencing on 1 July.
In addition to our monthly meetings, we mount the occasional exhibition, arrange outings and hold social gatherings.
The Friends raise funds to help the Museum to acquire relevant exhibits and to improve the facilities.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we provide volunteers for the Museum to help staff the front of house services, staff the local resources study room and provide additional help whenever necessary.
For more information please visit: Friends of the Willis Museum in Basingstoke