This is the perfect place to start your visit to the galleries. Here you can take a seat and watch two introductory films about our landscape and history narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Press the buttons and light up interesting features on our model map of the Vale. Open the drawers to discover examples of local geology, including fossils. Feel free to touch!
Here at the Vale & Downland Museum you can see everything from fossils to Formula One!
The New Arrivals Gallery
From Stone Age inhabitants to American GI’s, evidence for settlement and working life spanning 10,000 of human history is shown here. Examine our Anglo-Saxon skeleton and get your hands on mystery objects in our feely boxes. You can also access more detailed information on a number of local subjects via our touch screen Information Hub.
Here you will find an explanation of the Wantage tanning, sackcloth and rope-making industries that thrived until the early 1800s. Wantage became famous for its tanneries, having one of the largest in the country. In the centre of our Market Place stands a fragment of the Wantage Market Cross, erected in 1580.
The Ormond Gallery
This is the story of the Ormond Family and their involvement with the town over 150 years. We start with John Ormond, who trained as an apothecary and came to Wantage in 1784. Examples of his trade are displayed in the bow window. Enter Catherine Ormond’s parlour and discover more about the family. There is a long-case clock made in Wantage by William Wise.
Find out why the town became so lawless that residents had to arm themselves with pistols! What did it smell like when walking streets with no proper drainage or waste collection? See the original hand-drawn fire engine and fireman’s helmet.
Discover how the Rev. William Butler helped turn the town around and established schools and a convent. Find out the reasons for the Wantage Improvement Act of 1828. Listen to extracts from diaries of the time.
Peer in our Victorian shop window with a display of locally made goods. Visit Arbery’s the draper’s shop and try on some hats. Don’t miss the Pearly King outfit worn by Wantage draper, George Penney. George wore this outfit when raising money for charity.
The Wantage Tramway
Did you know the Wantage Tramway was the first steam powered passenger tramway in the UK to run alongside a public road? Take a seat in our replica tramcar interior and take a video journey on the tramway.
Lord & Lady Wantage & the Lockinge Estate
Learn about the agricultural revolution in the Vale and the influence of Lord Wantage and his ‘Model Village’ on the Lockinge Estate. See a beautiful dress worn to a party hosted by Lady Wantage and take a peek inside the doll’s house to see what Lockinge House would have looked like when the Prince of Wales came to visit.
Engineering has always been a key part of Wantage life. See how Lloyds Forge went from making wooden wheels to mending motor cars. Discover the history of Wantage Engineering and see how the tradition continues in the form of the 1994 Williams Formula One car, driven by Damon Hill. Don’t miss our model of the Great Western Railway running through the Vale; find out how it brought change throughout the area.
The Discover Gallery
Our upstairs Discovery Gallery provides many hands-on experiences for children. Visit our model of the Letcombe Brook and have a go at hook-a-duck. Have a seat and read a book or look closely at some artefacts through our video macroscope. You can also have a go at brass rubbing, puzzles and colouring sheets.
Finally, don’t miss our Victorian Kitchen where you can see a cast iron stove made in Wantage and examples of Victorian kitchen equipment. We also have a temporary exhibition space called The Squires Room, where you can see a changing and varied programme of exhibitions on local history and by local artists.