About our Museum
The Vale and Downland Museum is located in the busy market town of Wantage in Oxfordshire, UK. The museum has been nationally acclaimed as an outstanding example of community partnership and attracts about 84,000 visitors per year. The range of services is broad, ranging from galleries interpreting the cultural heritage of the Vale of White Horse region, to a cafe with a delightful terrace and patio garden.
History of the Building
The site was originally part of the medieval manor of Priorshold. The plot of land and the house were leased to Wantage tradesmen after the dissolution of the priory in 1538. Archives of the Dean and Chapter of Windsor show that the site was let to Alexander Doe in 1662 and then to William Hazell, a wheelwright, in 1683. Lawrence Hazell, a clothmaker, was responsible for the major rebuilding of the house in 1780, commemorated by the date stone bearing his initials over the central first storey window. In the mid-19th century the house became the doctor’s surgery and remained so until 1974 – hence its present name, the Old Surgery.
In the mid 1970s, the newly-formed Vale of White Horse District Council bought the site and leased it to the museum trust. The Vale & Downland Museum Centre formally opened in 1983 and major improvements to the main gallery were completed in 1999.
In 2011 the owner of the adjoining Legges Cottage which housed the kitchen and archive store, decided not to renew the long term lease on the building. Following a fundraising campaign, a new extension has been built to house a new kitchen, office and archive store and to extend the upper gallery.
Today the museum entrance, Squires Room, Downland Kitchen and offices are in the converted 17th century cloth-merchant’s house. It is a Grade 2 listed building and a fine example of local vernacular architecture. Behind it are 20th and 21st century extensions with wooden crucks spanning two floors. The main museum galleries are housed in a 20th century building and in the 18th century Hunt’s Barn, kindly donated by Thomas More Eyston and moved from the nearby village of East Hendred.
Entry to the Museum is free but we ask visitors to consider making a donation in the box provided. The Museum relies on the generosity of its visitors and Friends to ensure it remains open.