I love my local Bromley Museum, admittedly it is a recent love affair and I have to own up to the fact I am a little bit biased as I volunteer there. I love it as a visitor, as a volunteer, as a mum with three kids to entertain, as a history lover with a curious and inquisitive mind. I want you to love it too, so I will tell you about it if you have the time to listen.
First of all I have to ask you, do you have a local museum? Have you been there? Do you love it too? I bet you have more than likely been to the British Museum for Egyptian mummies, the Natural History Museum for the dinosaurs and the Science Museum for Moon rock. But your local, hard to find, quirky museum of local history? Do you even know if you have your very own museum on your doorstep?
Many people in my borough don’t know we have a museum. There are lots of reasons why, my museum is not perfect. But I am not here to criticise, that’s too easy. I am here to praise and to boast, to tell you of its treasures and the reasons you should come.
We are in the process of applying for a Heritage Lottery grant, we want to be bigger and brighter and better. We want more people to come, more people to stay. Have a wander and a chat, discover new things, recall half-remembered old things. We want to meet you, you who have your own story to tell of the local houses and streets, stories of Roman pots found in your garden, of high street shops long gone and toys much missed, tales of grandfathers in the War. We love to share at Bromley.
I think the thing I love most about Bromley Museum is the building itself. It is call the Priory, it never was a Priory, it was actually a Rectory. It is Grade II listed and its story begins back in 1270. That is not why I love it, dates are dry and facts can overwhelm. You have to see it. It is an historical mash-up, a 13th Century heart, a 14th Century extension, a 17th Century servants wing, an 18th Century wine cellar, a rather bizarre 1960s carbuncle which was once Orpington Library.
Everywhere you look there are clues to a former time and former lives, a Tudor fireplace, a small crypt, a spiral staircase hidden away. As a volunteer I get to enjoy some of these areas that are not on show. It was once a home, there are amazing pictures of how the rooms looked in 1930s and 40s. It has that echo of a home, how the guests must have been impressed with such Medieval grandeur, what parties these walls have seen.
All this splendour speaks nothing of the treasures placed inside. Pre-history, Roman, Anglo-Saxon sit side by side here, a Roman lead coffin from Keston, a mammoth’s tooth from Green Street Green, Neolithic flints point the way to our earliest ancestors.
Of course we have our local heroes here too, David Bowie’s jacket (currently drawing in the crowds as part of the latest V&A blockbuster) and you can’t mention Bromley Museum without praising the fabulous John Lubbock. Friend to Darwin, his next door neighbour, his collection adorns our Avebury Gallery. He helped save our historical monuments, he gave us Bank Holidays. The reason why he will always make me smile is the story of his pet wasp that he carried round on his shoulder. What’s not to like?
There are personal items too, donated by local loved ones which have amazing stories to tell of strength in the mess of War and fascinating lives lived in fascinating times. There is a photograph I came across in the Museum store, a couple married in the midst of the Second World War, they are pictured in the front garden of their home in Beckenham. In front of his best suit and her simple wedding dress there are cabbages. This garden has been given over to growing vegetables. Daily survival, the threat of War all too plain to see. Yet there is a marriage, a celebration, a time for hope. I love this moment. It makes me so sad to know the newly wed husband was killed in 1945, just before the War ended. But his relatives keep this memory alive and we care for it to share with others.
We are tracking our local ancestors, the objects they have left behind speak to us. You have to look hard and listen well, but the stories are there. Why traipse to London when you can come to the Priory and see what your local Roman neighbour used everyday to cook his dinner.
So you can see why I love my Bromley Museum. I have not even begun to tell you the full detail of the treasures we hold. I want you to come and see them for yourselves. Find your own favourites and maybe stay a while.
Come and make a Faberge egg, or a Windy Day Wand, we always have something on at Bromley. You can while away your afternoon with a Mammoth Scene or come a play with our Tudor Toys.
Or if you like to sit and contemplate, to let this busy world wash over you, there are the Priory Gardens. You can glimpse Bromley Museum through the swaying trees and imagine what it would be like to live there.
Thank you for listening. I don’t mind sharing my love for Bromley Museum. If you come and love it a little bit too, that is fine by me.
Maybe one day I will meet you there and I will look at you and you will look at me and we will know you came because my words called you and you just had to come and see it for yourself.
Address: The Priory, Church Hill, Orpington, Greater London BR6 0HH
Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm (closed for lunch 12:30 – 1:30pm)
Saturdays 1st and 3rd of the month 10am to 5pm (closed for lunch 12:30 – 1:30pm)
Sundays and Bank Holidays Closed