Thursday 15th February marked the first of a whole series of 250-year anniversaries for the Cowper & Newton Museum in Olney as William Cowper, the renowned 18th Century poet, took up residence in the building that is now the museum in 1768. Joining the museum trustees to commemorate this event were local dignitaries including Milton Keynes Mayor, Councillor David Hopkins, Lord-Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher and Mayor of Newport Pagnell, Councillor Derek Eastman, plus representatives from local heritage organisations and Milton Keynes Council.
The event also started a year-long project funded by a recent £93,800 Heritage Lottery Fund grant for the museum’s refurbishment programme. The ‘Our Heritage’ grant will cover almost 85% of the projected cost of £112,000, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players. Milton Keynes Borough will contribute an additional £5,000, with the remainder to be met from the museum’s budget and local fundraising.
The project will allow for improvements to the presentation of the main historic rooms, a new permanent display on life in Georgian times, and the creation of an accessible visitor orientation area. The museum hopes the changes will attract more local and international visitors to its unique collections of artefacts of the poet and William Cowper, Jane Austen’s favourite poet and John Newton, ex-slave trader, preacher and author of the hymn Amazing Grace. Both Cowper and Newton became prominent figures in the campaign to abolish slavery.
Paul Collins, chairman of trustees said, ‘I am delighted that this National Lottery funding will help us fulfil the expectations of our growing number of visitors. Our plan is to develop our visitor experience to match 21st century display standards, but within the constraints set by our historic building and garden. We will also be developing more volunteering opportunities to join our passionate and dedicated team’. Liz Gifford, Milton Keynes Cabinet member for Place, also welcomed news of museum grant commentating, ‘Heritage is important to us and we are delighted that this National Lottery funding will fuel an exciting new lease of life for the Cowper & Newton Museum, the oldest museum within the borough’.
The event included a Georgian-costumed re-enactment and museum guided tour.