The History of the Museum, Gallery & Collections
Keswick Museum was founded in 1873 by the Keswick Literary & Scientific Society. The town had been without a museum for 3 years because Peter Crosthwaite’s earlier museum (on Museum Square) had closed and been sold. One of the Literary Society’s first committee members was John Fisher Crosthwaite, Peter’s grandson.
At the end of 1874 the museum moved into the Moot Hall at a nominal rent and remained there for 23 years until its new home in Fitz Park was built, opening in 1898. This was the earliest purpose built museum in Cumbria.
The early collections focussed on natural history, including James Clifton Ward’s geological specimens from the first geological survey of Cumbria and James Edmonson’s butterfly collection. Canon H.D. Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, became a Fitz Park Trustee in the early part of the twentieth century. His fame brought donations and bequest from many quarters including members of the Southey family.
The Art Gallery extension was added in 1905 and was fitted with electricity. The Keswick School of Industrial Arts made the ‘electrolier’ light fittings which still hang in the museum today.
Keswick Museum & Art Gallery Trust was separated from the Fitz Park Trust in the twentieth century and the only remaining trustee is Allerdale Borough Council. The museum has been managed on their behalf by a company formed from a local community group since 2007. The museum was transformed by a complete renovation and extension, re-opening in 2014.
In July 1875 a Caretaker and assistant were appointed. At this time the collection was put into a Trust.The museum was not open to the general public at this time, but members of the Society and their friends were encouraged to visit and donations gladly received.
In 1877 the owners of Flintoft’s Model of the Lake District offered to sell it to the museum committee and it was successfully bought on behalf of the Trustees for £160. On 1st December of 1877 the museum was thrown open free of cost to the people of Keswick for the first time and several hundred visitors took the opportunity of visiting the museum showing its potential..The museum continued to grow and the expanding collection required more cases. The Curators intended to make the Keswick Museum “a complete exhibition of the natural history of the District”.
By 1882 the museum was opened free of charge to the public on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons in the winter. In 1883 the Museum was visited by 697 tourists who paid for admission and 139 visits by members of the Society and their friends.
By 1895 visitor numbers were falling and were down to 679. In 1896 the Town Council decided that notice would be given to the Society to give up the room occupied by the museum and the model. The Trustees with the agreement of the Society offered the museum and the model to the Urban District Council but the Council declined the offer. The Society then asked the Fitz Park Trustees whether they would ”view with favour the suggestion that had been made of a building being erected in Lower Fitz, in connection with the Hewetson Memorial, which would serve the double purpose of housing the museum and affording accommodation for a Park- Keepers lodge…and whether the Fitz Trustees would accept care of the museum (including Flintoft’s model) as a public trust on conditions to be afterward agreed upon.” The Fitz Park Trust had been formed in 1882 to provide a park ‘for the inhabitants of Keswick and visitors there too.’The Fitz Park agreed and in 1886 a plan of the proposed building with estimate of costs was presented. The Lodge was £379, the Museum £462 and the Model room £215.
In 1897 the first meeting of the Fitz Park Trust was held in the new Trustees room and the first documented Museum Committee was held in February 1898.
The Museum opened on Easter Monday, 11th April 1898.