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Museum Profile – Spalding Gentleman’s Society
Our Museum & Collections
Founded in 1710, Spalding Gentlemen’s Society (SGS) is Britain’s oldest provincial learned society and second-oldest museum. From a small coffee-house gathering the SGS quickly grew into a sprawling national and international membership network with a museum, library and archive at its heart. The ‘Original Collection’ of more than 5,000 items survives from the 18th century, largely intact (and in the original cabinets!), in the modern museum.
During the 19th century, collecting focused on the library and lending and discussing books became the Society’s primary activity. In 1911 the members raised money to erect the purpose-built museum that remains our home today. The collections expanded rapidly and have continued to grow ever since. Visitors enjoy exploring our Edwardian ‘cabinet of curiosities’… which can now be visited virtually on our website.
The collections are eclectic, global and often unique. The ‘Original Collection’ is a key resource for the history of museums and collecting, and provincial life in the Enlightenment. We house early accounts of India, the Caribbean and the Americas; medieval manuscripts; Victorian ethnographic collections from Africa and Oceania; hundreds of early prints and maps; archaeological specimens from across the globe; an important textile and costume collection; more than 2000 glass plate negatives; and objects relating to the history of everyday life in Britain from the Iron Age to the 21st century.
How we Operate
Despite our historic name, membership of the SGS is open to anyone over 18; our museum and activities are open to all ages. We open free to the public five days a week, in addition to special events and tours. We’re volunteer-run: the museum staff includes one full-time Collections Care and Administrative Assistant, and a part-time caretaker. Everyone else, including the Curator, Librarian & Archivist, Conservator, Treasurer, Engagement Coordinator, volunteer their time and expertise.
A team of approximately 90 volunteers play a crucial role in the museum. They act as stewards, conserve and digitise the collections, carry out object research, and help design and install exhibitions.
Our funding comes from the annual subscriptions of our members (400 and counting), visitor donations, and grant funders. In recent years funding from AIM, ACE, MDEM, and the Leche Trust have enabled us to open a collections store, with dedicated conservation and digitisation studios.
Activities & Community
Our popular lecture series brings speakers to Spalding 12 times a year, while monthly coffeehouses and annual symposia provide opportunities for members and visiting researchers to share their work. We offer regular placements for GCSE, A-level and degree students. We also collaborate with university partners to co-supervise MA and PhD students whose dissertations draw on the collections, and maintain an active research programme focused on the collections and historic membership.
In recent years we have focused on highlighting the diversity represented in our collections and membership. New exhibitions have aimed at understanding the colonial networks from which our early collections grew, and have explored the numerous immigrant communities who have played a role in Spalding’s past and present.
We’ve recently begun a schools programme during term-time and in the holidays, expanding our programming for younger audiences and families. Art, poetry, music and hands-on conservation and archaeology workshops allow us to test new ideas and ways of ensuring the museum is open and accessible to everyone.
Our biggest challenge is our building which, while beautiful, is in need of extensive repairs and is no longer big enough to house the collections or allow us to continue to expand our programming and accessibility. We are currently at the start of a long-term capital campaign to stabilise our 1911 museum, expand into a neighbouring site, and grow our impact locally and farther afield. In a few years’ time we aim to be the fully-open, public-facing museum and cultural hub so needed in South Lincolnshire.
Images from left to right: Eighteenth-century tidal clock made by William Bothamley of Kirton, Lincolnshire. Volunteers at work in the SGS conservation studio. Collections and displays of SGS archive, library and museum collections.