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Behind the Scenes

What’s new at Kingston Museum?

This year we’ve introduced free audio tours so that people can find out more about star objects in the galleries as they look round. We took on our first artist in residence, Paul Mowatt, and he is presenting a series of artworks influenced by the work of pioneer photographer Eadweard Muybridge, which runs to 18 February. Chiara, our Learning Officer, has been working closely with our Young Creative Board to come up with innovative ideas for exhibitions, such as next year’s ‘Ink in Kingston’ [an exhibition about tattoos].

We have strong royal connections in Kingston - what royal exhibits are most important at the museum?

We have the 1208 King John Charter on show. This was the first charter granted to Kingston. It has a large and beautiful seal. A 15th-century seal on display consists of the letter ‘K’ and a barrel or ‘tun’, a play on words on the name ‘Kingston’ which comes from the Anglo Saxon for King’s farm or estate.

There are coins showing the heads of seven Anglo Saxon kings, up to four of whom may have held their coronations in the borough. There are artefacts relating to Mayor Finny, who successfully petitioned George V in 1927 to have Kingston designated ‘The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames’ in view of its royal links. We have Surrey Whiteware ceramics from the 14th century, which used to be purchased by the royal household. Many Kingston tradespeople were later suppliers to Hampton Court Palace.

What special items do you have in your collections behind the scenes?
 A fantastic art collection, highlights of which are on display in our current exhibition ‘Brilliant Images’. The Brill Collection is a series of more than 115 paintings made by staff and students of Kingston School of Art, now KU, depicting local buildings and sites at risk of redevelopment. There are also around 2,000 glass slides and 67 zoopraxiscope discs bequeathed to us by pioneer photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

Kingston’s been settled for hundreds of years - how far do we go back?

We have flint tools from Neolithic residents of the borough and weapons from Bronze Age Kingstonians. The Chessington hoard of gold coins, dating from the Iron Age, was found in the area. There were some scattered settlements in Roman times, but the history of the town and borough really comes into its own in the Anglo Saxon era, when Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the great and the first man to be called King of England, was crowned here in 925 CE, reputedly seated on the Coronation Stone which now stands outside the Guildhall.

What other notable collections are there?

We have 78 pieces of Martinware, 30 of which are on permanent display. A collection of 17th-century trade tokens made during the Civil War because change was in short supply. The writing and images on these tokens is an intriguing record of some of the businesses and traders in the town at that date. Lots of items relating to the river: Bronze Age weapons placed there as sacred offerings, an Anglo Saxon longboat, a re-creation of the workshop of Kingston boatbuilders Turk & Sons, and the skeleton of an Anglo Saxon warrior found buried together with his weapons.

What’s on this month at the museum?

‘Brilliant Images: paintings from our art collection’ is showing in the art gallery until 18 February. Highlights from our outstanding collection that tell a story of the history of the borough.


3 March – 15 April: Ink in Kingston. Exploring the art of tattoo in the Royal Borough.
7 July – 30 September: Through Their Eyes: Depicting Korea and the UK Then and Now. Celebrating the significant presence of the Korean community in the borough by showcasing early 20th-century European artists’ woodblock prints of Korean life.
15 December – 16 March 2018: Hope for Beauty. Focusing on Kingston Museum’s visually stunning archive of works on paper by Knox Guild founder member Denise Wren. It includes her textile and wallpaper designs and ceramics.