Braintree District Museum

At Braintree District Museum the story of the District, and its important place in our island’s history unfolds.

A visit to our Museum will explain:
Where the earliest peoples settled, and why
Why Shakespeare had no words to describe the individual ‘leaves’ of flower blooms
The reason one of our most famous streets came into being
Who founded the educational establishment which would become one of America’s most famous Universities
The influence the victims of religious persecution had on our textile industry
Why one particular village was so important to artists and designers
How we played a vital role in the war effort
………. And much, much more!!
With creativity and skill, the people of this area shared ideas which had a major influence on twentieth century life in England and the World.

The Museum’s galleries interpret the diverse local industrial heritage: the production of fabrics for state occasions during the past 200 years and innovations in metal window design and man-made textiles in which our District led the world.

In the seventeenth century, John Ray, probably the most distinguished British natural historian of all time, was born locally. His discoveries and theories are presented alongside ‘hands-on’ experiments for visitors to try.

In the twentieth century, an artistic community grew around great Bardfield, attracting leading artists and designers. Their rich contribution to regional culture is today recognised internationally. To complement the Museum’s collection regular exhibitions of work are held by past and present locakl artists and craftspeople.

The building itself, a converted Victorian School in Manor Street, is a unique setting for the story of our District and continues to be a centre for diverse and creative ideas. We have a full educational service, research facilities, changing Exhibition programme, gift shop and on site Café and with The Tourist Information Centre, Art Gallery, Library and Warner Textile Archive within a few minutes walk, what are you waiting for??

Come and visit us and help us to
Preserve the Past
Understand the Present and
Create the Future

The Museum is adjacent to 2 car parks and within a few minutes walk from George Yard multi-storey car park.
Trains run hourly from London Liverpool Street to Braintree station, only 5 minutes walk from the Museum.
Coach Park nearby, to be booked in advance.
Museum Information. Museum and Shop opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm including Bank Holidays. Admission: £2.00. Students, Senior Citizens and Under 16s: £1.00. 50% discount for Braintree District Council residents.
Disabled Facilities. All facilities and galleries, with the exception of the Mezzanine, are accessible to wheelchair users.
Refreshments. Herb Garden Cafe on site (Closed Mondays). A wide range of restaurants and cafes within a few minutes walk of the Museum. Catering for group visits. Details from staff on request.
Freeport Designer Outlet Village is 5 minutes away by free shuttle bus (pick up point close to the Museum) or 2 minutes by train to Freeport station.

School Visits

Housed in what was Manor Street School, which opened in 1862, the Braintree District Museum is ideally placed for Key Stage I and II study of ‘The Victorians’. One classroom within the main building has been retained for role play teaching sessions whilst the separate Infants Building, which was added in 1897, is now a Learning for Life Centre where talks, demonstrations and workshops take place. The opportunity for children to have a realistic experience of a Victorian schoolchild’s lesson has proved an invaluable part of their learning experience and schools from all over the District, as well as the wider Eastern region, have made a trip to the Museum an integral part of their teaching programme.

As well as The Victorians, role play sessions for Evacuees are also part of the programme on offer as the town of Braintree was host to many children during the war years who were sent here from London, often together with their teachers, and again received their schooling at Manor Street.

The 17th century Naturalist John Ray was born in the nearby village of Black Notley and received his education in the town before leaving for Cambridge University. His life’s work was of immense importance in the natural world and Carl Linnaeus and Charles Darwin both used his studies to further their own research. Key Stage I and II children can visit the Gallery dedicated to his work and it is hoped that for 2007 we will be able to offer outdoor ‘hands on’ sessions at the Great Notley Discovery Centre to complement their visit to the Museum.

Key Stage III and higher and further education students are catered for with our Museum displays and research facilities, particularly for fashion and textiles, the town playing an important role in the development of artificial fabrics. More detailed research on the history of the Warner Company can be found at the nearby Warner Textile Archive.

The site is fully accessible with areas for children to eat their lunches as well as a shop with plenty of items for them to spend their money on! During school holidays we also offer a varied programme of activities in our Learning for Life Centre to cater for families and young people.

Museum Collections

The Museum started when the collection of a local clerk and historian, Alfred Hills and the Courtauld family were displayed within Braintree Town Hall after it opened in 1928. After a succession of different homes for the collection, Braintree District Museum opened in the former Manor Street Infant and Junior Schools on 6 October 1993.

The lives of the early people of Braintree District are shown through the Museum’s archaeology collections. They range from Stone Age flint handaxes to eighteenth century trade tokens. Extensive archaeology archives are held from the Roman town of Braintree and Medieval Cressing Temple.

The Museum holds collections of the textile industry that dominated the District, including the nineteenth and twentieth century companies of Courtaulds and Warners. In addition there is a good collection from the Crittall Manufacturing Company who continue to make metal windows in Braintree.

As well as a diverse collection of ceramics collected by the Courtauld family, the Museum hold a distinctive group of Castle Hedingham pottery designed by Edward Bingham. There is also a selection of works by the Great Bardfield artists.

The everyday lives of people in the District over the last 200 years are covered in the photography, local and social history collections.

The collections of Braintree District Museum are looked after by a team of staff and volunteers that provide:
Care, management and interpretation of the collections
An enquiry and identification service
Advice and assistance to the other museums and heritage centres in the District.

Group Visits

The District Museum welcomes visits from Groups during opening hours or out of normal hours, by prior arrangement only. These visits are tailored to each Group’s particular requirements, whether they have a specific interest or just a curiosity about the area in general.

A typical visit would consist of an introductory talk, the opportunity to look around the displays, followed by refreshments. These could be either a cup of tea/coffee and a biscuit or a finger buffet and a glass of chilled wine – particularly popular during the long summer evenings! Themed events also take place for the changing Exhibitions on display throughout the year, details of which can be found on our website, various publications and the local Press. Our well stocked Museum shop can also be open out of normal hours if requested, where you will find a wide range of gifts, jewellery and books, many of which are unique to us. Ideal if you are searching for that special present!

The content of the visit will depend very much on the Group concerned. Textile Groups in particular may wish to combine the visit with a look around the Warner Textile Archive, a short walk from the Museum, where the history of the Company is brought to life. Those with an interest in the Natural World may like to take a walk in the Great Notley Country Park or visit the local Public Gardens to give them an insight into the life and times of John Ray, the 17th century Naturalist who lived in the District and whose story is told in the John Ray Gallery at the Museum.

Whatever your interest, the District Museum will have something to fascinate and surprise you! Prices depend on the ‘package’ requested but vary from £3 for a visit with tea/coffee and biscuits to £6 upwards for a full buffet.

A Brief History of Braintree

The history of the Town begins at least 4,000 years ago with the earliest concentrated settlements near the River Brain in the Skitts Hill area and also around the present crossroads at the junction of the A120 with the north/south route from London to the East Coast. This latter area became the focus of the Roman Town. Saxon development moved the focus of the Town yet again, but it was the importance of the road routes through Braintree and Bocking which led to the proliferation of inns which served pilgrims on the route to Walsingham and Bury St. Edmunds.

In 1199 the Bishop of London obtained a market charter for the Town. Braintree, with its weekly market and annual fair, thrived as a place of importance. In the 16th century, Flemish Protestant immigrants brought weaving prosperity when many of the houses and former inns became homes to woollen weavers whose skills made the Town famous.

As religious intolerance and financial hardship took its toll, many people from Essex emigrated to the new world, including a group from Braintree who sailed on ‘The Lyon’ in 1632. The settlers established Braintree, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut.

The Town’s population suffered too in The Great Plague of 1665 which claimed 865 victims from a population of just 2,300, but the success of the wool trade in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century brought renewed prosperity and growth.

Woollen weaving was superseded by silk manufacture and the establishment of Samuel Courtauld’s factory in the 19th century brought the Town its greatest prosperity. Agriculture was flourishing and, with the building of the Corn Exchange in 1839, plus the arrival of the railway connection to London in 1848, Braintree was a thriving agricultural and textile town with Warners joining Courtaulds at the end of the century.

Engineering grew in importance during the 20th century with both Lake and Elliot and Crittalls becoming world famous – the latter for their metal framed windows.

The Town benefitted from the wealth of the Courtaulds who gave many of the Town’s public buildings including the Town Hall and School (now the Museum), hospital and public gardens which have changed very little from their original layout when established in 1888 from Sydney Courtauld’s original gardens.

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