How group rallied round to save fading memory of popular town's history
They feared their beloved town's rich and vibrant history was tragically fading from memory.
But now, after painstakingly collecting rare and priceless artefacts from its history, dedicated volunteers have unveiled a stunning new museum which tells the story of how Watton survived periods of depression and hard times to become one of Norfolk’s leading towns.
The vision for the new Museum4Watton - open to visitors from Friday, March 16 - came from residents who had moved into the area in recent years wanting to find out more about its past.
Sadly, other than perhaps a few fleeting references to Watton in the Domesday Book, there was little to reveal how it had become the vibrant town with a population of 7,000 that it is today - leading to fears its history was being destroyed.
So in 2014, volunteers formed the Museum4Watton group to collect items from its history and find a space in the town to display them.
“When I moved to the town in 2012, I was surprised that a lot of this information wasn’t easily available about the town I had moved into,” said Museum4Watton trustee John Greenbrook.
“Up until now, a great deal of historical artefacts have been haemorrhaging out of the town and have probably ended up in skips.
“We feel strongly that they should be saved and saved for the town.”
Volunteers soon began to uncover items such as a Paleolithic flint hand axe - believed to be 500,000 years old - and a full-size replica of a Roman skeleton, known as hero, which was found in Watton.
A breakthrough came last year when the project was awarded a £61,300 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to help redecorate rooms at Wayland Hall, train volunteers and buy equipment ready for the museum’s opening.
The result is a stunning exhibition of items ranging from ancient history to the present day, from a Celtic Bury helmet dating from between 50BC and 15BC to small toy mice and Saxo-Norman pots.
In addition there are photographs and documents from RAF Watton and memorial records of the court baron of the Manor of Watton Hall from 1670 to 1924.
There will also be a research room for people to view digitised documents and photographs, along with a children’s corner.
“We feel it’s important that most of our heritage is conserved and made available for the public to see,” said Mr Greenbrook.
“We’re here to educate people and for everyone to learn a bit more about where they live.
“We also help in small ways to put Watton on the map and make it a more interesting place to visit.
“It’s been a labour of love, but it’s been well worth it.”
Ahead of the museum’s opening to the public, an opening event was held on Thursday, March 15 for volunteers.
Watton mayor Stan Hebborn said: “The work that has gone into the museum has been tremendous and far from straightforward.
“They have put in a great deal of time, effort and, to some degree, personal expense to create something that will lift the community.
“It will help to educate people on our heritage and identifies in some detail many facts about Watton and our surrounding community that have never been well-known.
“It is extremely welcome and I hope it will encourage people to visit Watton.”
The museum will be open Wednesday to Saturday from 10am until 4pm.
A programme of talks at the museum and a Saturday children’s club will be announced at a later date.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01953 797060.