The Market Hall was constructed in the latter part of the 17th century, as a way to provide shelter and protection from the weather for salesmen and stallholders in the town's regular market – the precursor, Booth Hall, being declared insufficient. The building was constructed with a large, open-plan ground floor with wide open arches, to allow easy access to the stalls. The first floor also housed a number of rooms, which after 1694 served as meeting rooms for any organisations which wished to rent them. From the early 18th century to 1848, one small room in the Hall served as a "lock-up" – a small room which was used to hold prisoners before magistrate trials. From 1833 until its closure in 1848 the room was declared a "disgrace" – in 1842, it was reported that the room was "8ft 8ins by 3ft 8ins" and at one point housed thirteen people at once.
At the beginning of the 19th century, there was a surge in interest in popular education – particularly in the realms of natural sciences, natural history, and archaeology. In 1836, the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society was formed as a group of like-minded local men. Advertisements were placed in the local newspaper, and rooms were hired in the Market Hall for their meetings. At the first meeting it was declared that one of the main aims should be to amass a collection of zoological, botanical and mineral objects. These objects were placed on display in the Market Hall for public viewing, on payment of one shilling (an amount which excluded many of the poor of Warwickshire), or an annual payment of one guinea for "subscription", which also constituted membership of the society. Members additionally had the benefit of being invited to free lectures on natural or historical topics, and partaking in lunches at the Woolpack Inn across the road.
The Society held a free event in 1847 (and repeated in subsequent years), allowing members of the public to enter and browse the collection for free. It was noted in a newspaper report in the Warwick Advertiser after the event that "Hundreds of visitors to the museum conducted themselves with the utmost decorum." In 1879, the ground-floor arches were blocked off, replacing them with windows and doors held within iron frames. The ground floor was still used for market activities until around 1900 though, at which point the Museum's collection had grown such that it required the entire building. Shortly afterward in 1905, renovations were made to the building in order to make it more fit for purpose as a museum – these included a new front door with the word MUSEUM on the stonework above it (which can still be seen today). However, membership of the Society began to decline in the latter part of the 19th century.
As at its inception, the Museum still holds items of significant archaeological, geological or natural interest. However whilst the Museum originally collected objects from around the country (with a bias toward local findings), the Museum now displays almost exclusively objects local to Warwickshire. Examples include: The Warwickshire Bear – the second floor of the building houses a full-sized, real stuffed bear. The pose the Bear takes — rearing on its hind legs, against a large wooden trunk — is intended to replicate that of the Bear and Ragged Staff, a heraldic sign which has been associated with Earls of Warwick since at least the 14th century. This symbol can be found today on the shield of Warwickshire County Council, as well as the shield of the University of Warwick and the badge of Warwickshire County Cricket Club. Oisin the Deer – Amongst the geological collections is the complete skeleton of a Giant Irish Deer, donated to the museum during the 19th century. Such animals had antler spans of up to four meters wide and stood two meters tall. The deer in question has in recent years been a focal point of the museum, to the extent that Heritage and Culture Warwickshire's official Twitter account is named after him.
The Spicer Family – The Warwick and Leamington-based Spicer family were some of the most well-renowned British taxidermists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The family spanned three generations. Specimens produced by this family were unique in their production quality, including painted backgrounds and realistic bases often created with real (dried) vegetation. The Warwickshire Museum houses a tribute to the Spicer family as well as a number of genuine cased, and recased, specimens. The Sheldon Tapestry – The Sheldon Tapestry Map of Warwickshire was commissioned in the 1580s by Ralph Sheldon, to decorate his home in South Warwickshire. There were a large number of tapestries commissioned, but only four of them showed maps of counties – those of Worcester, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. As well as standard details such as towns and connecting roads, the maps are unique in additionally showing woodland and hills, as well as sketches of major towns and church towers. It hangs on a wall of the Market Hall Museum, occupying the entire wall.
The Market Hall Museum is currently closed for refurbishment work, they hope to reopen during September 2016. Toilets are locate in Market Square nearby (please ask for directions). Wheelchair access to the ground floor with assistance. Unfortunately they do not have a lift to the first floor galleries. BSL signing is available by arrangement for events. Assistance dogs are welcome. There are a number of objects for the visually impaired to handle.
Location : Market Hall Museum, Market Place, Warwick CV34 4SA
Transport: Warwick (National Rail) 9 minutes . Bus Routes : Warwick bus station is close by.
Opening Times : Re-Opens in September. Tuesdays – Saturdays and Bank Holidays 10:00 to 17:00
Tickets : Free
Tel: 01926 412 132