The Curioseum - housing numerous collections relating to the History, Myths, and History of the Landscape - was misplaced many years ago. Surviving records are sparse, and there is little that gives any indication of its present location. Unfortunately we cannot say with any degree of confidence exactly where it was originally sited, or indeed, where it is now. With the passage of time it has faded from memory, and some have begun to doubt it ever existed, but here are some details which have been verified.
The Curioseum is known to have been established sometime in the late 1780s.
Collecting curiosities was a popular pastime amongst the higher classes. Some were housed in elaborate cabinets of curiosities, others occupied whole rooms, or suites of rooms. While may collections had their genesis in the memento brought back from the grand tour, some reflected more local interests confined to the British Isles. It happened that three prominent 18th century antiquarians united by a common fascination in the matters of Britain, became friends, and each bequeathed their personal collections to the care of the other two.
However, all three passed away in as many months which left their executors with a dilemma. They had a duty to preserve the collections until a legal heir could be found. Advertisements were accordingly placed in the national and international press, but despite some dubious responses, and extensive enquiries, no satisfactory claimant was forthcoming. The solicitors even engaged the services of an eminent consulting detective, but to no avail. Eventually, due to the demands of the influential Oxford historiographer, and academic, Lorenzo Padgett*, a trust was established to care for the collections. Later rooms were found, and the combined collections were put on public display.
In 1887, the Illustrated London News described the bachelor’s collection, known as the Batchelors’ Compendium, as the “most peculiar provincial museum in the county”, and noted that an entrance fee of 6d. was charged on Sundays, (1s. after dark), but was reduced to a more reasonable 2d. at all other times.
At the end of the 19th century, following the expiry of the lease, no permanent home could be found for the collection. In, what was planned to be, a temporary solution the collection was divided, and became a number of travelling museums, each assuming the name the “Lost Museum”. For many years the various elements of the museum followed a busy schedule, sometimes travelling considerable distances between engagements. In the summer months its popularity often demanded its simultaneous appearance in a number of different locations, both at home, and in continental Europe.
The Chepstow Weekly Advertiser, 10th December 1898, contains a notice of a temporary exhibition at the Assembly Rooms, of what as by that time known as “Batchelor’s Curioseum”. Later press advertisement, of the 1920’s, including one that relates the museum’s 8 week residency in the North Yorkshire coastal town of Ravenscar, reveal that by the time the name “Curioseum - The Lost Museum” had became the norm. During this time each part of the Curioseum was overseen by a travelling curator, assisted by assistants, all working under the instruction of the head curator’s office located above the Robin Hood Inn, Monnow Street, Monmouth.
Things continued, haphazardly, throughout the first decades of the 20th century. However, with the outbreak of hostilities at the end of 1930s, the exhibitions closed. The collections were deposited in a number of storage locations, usually in the towns of its final appearances. In the following years many of the staff found other employment, and the collection was mostly forgotten.
What became of much of the collection is unknown. Some artefacts were returned to the head office by landlords in exchange for back payments rent. Many items thought to have been lost forever, have been returned by generous donations of members of the public. Artefacts have been known to turn up in the most unexpected places.
While the records of the museum are also sadly diminished, recently several boxes containing museum catalogues have recently come to light. These are in the process of being examined, and transcribed.
All that currently remains visible of the Lost Museum is the museum shop - Green Man Gatekeeper** - and the museum magazine - Curioseum.
A team of volunteers researches has been organised to recover lost artefacts, and follow up rumours. They are diligently seeking to return items to the collection. It is hoped that eventually enough material will have been recovered to form the nucleus of a future museum. In the meantime preparations are underway to present an outline history of the Lost Museum.
Anyone with lost artefacts or knowledge of their whereabouts is encouraged to contact the current curator at the address below.
*The headmaster of Castleford Grammar School, Yorkshire, and author of several local histories.
** Named after the foliate mask that greeted early visitors from above the entrance door.
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