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History of the Museum

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Investing in Volunteers

History of the Museum

History of the Museum

The foundation of the Wandle Industrial Museum is due to two people who found they had a common interest in The River Wandle and its industries. Harry Galley, now the museum’s President, and the late Kevin Leyden had a desire to preserve the river’s rapidly disappearing history. Joined by Brian Shenton and Trevor Watling of the Merton Community Trust they obtained funding from the Manpower Services Commission for the museum. The four of them formed a committee and started to set up the museum up in 1983.

Its wish was to have the museum at the former Liberty site in Colliers Wood now Merton Abbey Mills. However this never happened and in its early days the museum had a number of homes. The first location for the museum, and its initial project team, in June 1983 was Worsfold House, Mitcham. We then moved into the meeting room at St Marks Church, Wimbledon. The museum would hold exhibitions at local schools and libraries. Then in April 1984 we found ourselves in Park Lodge, Wandle Park, Colliers Wood near to the William Morris works. We were set up in a back room of the building.

With support from the Manpower Services Commission the staff grew and more space was soon needed. Harry Galley offered use of an empty classroom at his school. The office stayed at Park Lodge whilst the outreach programmes, guided walks and our work with schools took place from the school room.

In March 1985 we moved into the Merton Social Services offices at Wilton Road, Colliers Wood before in 1986 moving into a place we could start to call a real home in Hartfield Crescent in Wimbledon. At the time we had 26 part time staff and three supervisors. However this all changed in January 1987 when fire damaged the building and made it uninhabitable. We had to move again and found ourselves in empty offices in Hartfield Road, Wimbledon where there was no public access. So we had to revert to carrying out our programmes off site.

In July 1989 we were able to move our archive materials to the basement of The Vestry Hall, Mitcham and its annexe building which is our home today. With a grant from Merton Council permission was sought to use the annexe building as a museum and The Wandle Industrial Museum was opened by Councillor Marie-Louise de Villiers in The Vestry Hall Annexe on the 6th June 1991.

In 1998, on a Bank Holiday there was a break-in targeting the snuff bottles and boxes. Having already survived a fire and theft, in 2004 a leaky boiler caused a flood. However, this proved to be a blessing in disguise as the heating system had to be replaced and as displays were dismantled the opportunity was taken to renew them.

To this day, the Museum is still in the small annexe to Mitcham’s historic Vestry Hall, despite efforts to relocate it to larger and more suitable premises where its future can be assured.

You can watch and learn more about the museum's history here

This booklet, currently in draft, also documents the history of the museum.