An extract from an essay written by Andrew Smith:
A. F. J. Brown claims that it was not the Colchester Corporation which should be credited with the establishment of the town’s museum but the Essex Archaeological Society (now the Essex Society for Archaeology and History): “It was not the Council but the new Essex Archaeological Society that resolved to provide the required accommodation” (Brown, 1980, 45). This Chapter will explore the contribution of the Society to the growth of the museum on the Castle premises.
In 1845 the Museums Act allowed Councils it raise a ½d rate for the purpose of establishing a museum. Brown says that initially the Corporation was not interested however pressure from John Taylor, proprietor of the Essex Standard newspaper, antiquarian, and Councillor, shortly led to the creation of a small museum within the new Town Hall in September 1846. “His persistence … opened an accessions book, beginning with the first entry …, “The gift of ‘An Antique Cabinet containing 497 coins (chiefly Roman), collected by Issac Lemyng Rebow, Esq., (grandson of [the aforementioned] Sir Isaac Rebow), who died in 1734’” (Rudsdale, 1947, 1).
This was the age of descendants of those who had been on the grand tours, collecting antiquities. The impetus for the formation of a countywide society interested in archaeology and history began in Colchester in 1850 when its Literary Institution formed an archaeological group. These were country gentry or professional gentlemen who were amateur enthusiasts in the field of antiquity. One of its founders was William Wire, a notably Colcestrian (a watchmaker and dealer in curiosities, but a non-conformist), who was thwarted in an attempt to secure for himself a salary to open a museum by Revd. Henry Jenkins, the rector of Stanway, who has recently (1842) excavated the site at Gosbecks suggested that the existence of a Roman villa. Other leading members were Dr P. Martin Duncan, a physician, whose name is now lent to a gateway in the Colchester Roman wall, and Reverend Edward Lewis Cutts, the curate at Coggeshall, who later (1888) wrote a history of Colchester. The group took out advertising in local newspapers to attract “gentlemen” to what became the Essex Archaeological Society. “The prospectus stated that one of its principal objects which it contemplated was to establish a Museum for the collection and preservation of the antiquities of the county” (Benton, 1927, 287).
The inaugural meeting of the Society was held in Colchester on 14 December 1852. Its first President was John Disney (1779 – 1857), of The Hyde, Ingatestone, who had recently donated a number of sculptures to, and founded the Disney professorship of archaeology at Cambridge University. Annual membership of the Society was 10s.6d. (half a guinea), which was not increased to 15 shillings until 1946. Membership was subject to recommendation and election, which remained the case until the 1960s. (Set in context the subscription was around a week’s wages of an agricultural labourer.)
In 1852 the Corporation received a bequest from Alderman Henry Vint. “This was a series of bronzes, some of Roman date found in Colchester … on condition that a fire-proof museum building was to be provided within three years’ of Mr Vint’s death [otherwise] the bronzes were to go to the British Museum” (Rudsdale, 1947, 7).
Charles Gray Round, the Treasurer of the Essex Archaeological Society, was the owner of Colchester Castle. He offered the Chapel within the building for the purpose of a museum. Minutes of the Essex Archaeological Society dated 29 August 1854 record that “The Plan presented by Mr Hayward for fitting up the Chapel & corridor of Colchester Castle as a museum was accepted, so far as relates to the Chapel”.
Minutes of the meeting held at Colchester Castle on 16 June 1857 record that “Dr Duncan reported that the Vint Bronzes had been handed over to the possession of the Corporation of Colchester, and that the Corporation have appointed a subcommittee of their body to confer with the Essex Archaeological Society on the subject of an Archaeological Museum”. In August 1860 “the Museum Committee was empowered to and together with the Corporation in the appointment of a Curator”.
The Essex Standard reported in 1860 the opening of the museum, “the first exhibition contained the Vint Bronzes, the Taylor collection of Roman grave groups and the collections of the Essex Archaeological Society. Shortly after the opening, the celebrated Colchester Sphinx, found at the hospital in 1821, was acquired from the Committee of that institution” (Rudsdale, 1947, 8). “In 1861 C.G. Round presented the Colchester and Essex sections of William Wire’s collection, which he had bought after Wire’s death” (Powell, 2001, 12).
Largely uncatalogued minutes and papers of the Essex Society for Archaeology and History, held privately.
Benton, Rev. G. Montagu. The Early History of The Society and of the Colchester and Essex Museum. TEAS ‘New Series’. Volume 18. (“Published by the Society at the Museum in the Castle”, 1927)
Brown, A. F. J. Colchester 1815-1914 (Essex County Council, 1980)
Powell, W R. Our Triple Jubilee: the Essex Archaeological Society 1852-2002. Essex Archaeology and History. ‘Third Series’. Volume 32. (“Published by the Society at the Museum in Colchester Castle”, 2001)
Society at the Museum in the Castle”, 1926)Rudsdale, Eric. Colchester Museum, 1846-1946. Essex Review. Volume 56 (Benham & Co, 1947)
 The Society has begun work to classify, interpret and deposit relevant material at the Essex Record Office.
 G.M.B.: Revd. G Montagu Benton.
 The booklet does not credit the author but the Colchester Museum Annual Report for 1967/68 and G Mark R Davies’ tribute to David Clarke in the Transactions of the Society identifies his name. Clarke was museum curator for 1963 to 1988.
 Newsletter circulated to members of the Essex Society for Archaeology and History.
 H.W. Poulter was Assistant Curator, living and working at Hollytrees, from 1929 until his death in 1962. His photograph appears on the staircase wall of the museum.
 Eric Rudsdale (1910-1951) was a youngster with a passion for local history. He became a well-known and regular visitor to the museum in his teenage years, being titled ‘Pupil Assistant’ in the annual museum reports before being appointed Assistant Curator near to his 18th birthday in 1928. He stayed at the museum until 1945.
 Until 1990 Councils were funded from a local tax known as General Rates. Each property in the town was assigned a notional annual rental value against which a Council charged a ‘rate in the pound’. So, for example if a rate in the pound was set at one shilling, this meant a tax to the owner of 5% (one shilling being an equivalent 5 pence in the pound).
 On the site of the one presently standing, which was opened in 1902.
 It was later confirmed to be a Roman Temple.
 Quoting Lord Braybrooke’s report read on the occasion of the opening of the Museum at the Castle on 27 September 1860.
 The ‘Disney marbles’, as they are known, form a significant collection within the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. See http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/dept/ant/greeceandrome/collectors/disney.html (accessed 11 May 2013).
 If we assume that annual membership of the Society is equivalent to a week’s wages today, it would be around £240 rather than £22.
 E.A.S. Minute Book Volume 1, held in the private Librarian’s Office of the Society.
 Same source.