The Clayton Museum, a well-loved Victorian museum based at the tranquil site of Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, has reopened following a £130k refurbishment. The refreshed museum, displaying hundreds of antiquities from Roman times, will bring to life the compelling story of John Clayton, the man largely responsible for saving significant portions of Hadrian’s Wall in the 19th century.
Clayton had a huge impact on the city of Newcastle with Clayton Street being named after him. As well as being an influential lawyer, he was a large landowner. The sections of wall that he purchased came under his protection and he saved them from stone robbing and quarrying and then excavated at many of them. It is largely down to his pioneering conservation work that Hadrian’s Wall, which is 73 miles long, is now the stunning World Heritage Site that it is today. Over the past 6 months English Heritage, together with the Trustees of the Clayton Collection have worked closely to better tell the story of John Clayton which is now presented in this newly interpreted Northumberland museum.
Inside the museum, which was built in his honour by his nephew, hundreds of striking objects personally collected by teams working under Clayton, are exhibited. Having previously been crammed full of small finds, they’re now ordered in serried rows around better tell the story of how the collection was formed. It’s not too different to how the museum would have looked in Victorian times when it first opened to house them in 1896. Exciting, innovative technology guides visitors through the displays with a new light-weight e-reader, designed to bring objects to life in a tactile way and which explains more about the hundreds of antiquities that are on display. This e-reader is an elegant update to the hand list of objects that visitors would have received in the nineteenth-century.
The vast array of stonework finds from the Wall have had some much needed TLC. This involved repairing the mortar and securing some of the stones to their bases. Historic cases have been altered to better protect the finds displayed in them with display conditions being just right for objects of such significance.
New interpretation within the grounds of Chesters Roman Fort takes visitors to the locations where Clayton uncovered the Roman remains, including the best preserved military bath-house in Britain. Innovative digital reconstructions of the site allow visitors to understand how the Roman cavalry soldiers and their horses lived together in this seven-acre fort.
Frances McIntosh, Curator of Roman Collections at English Heritage said: “I have really enjoyed working on this project to bring Clayton back to the forefront of the story of Chesters and Hadrian's Wall. The finds in the Clayton museum stand as a memorial to Clayton’s excavation and conservation of Hadrian’s Wall. I hope that visitors to the new exhibition and site interpretation will leave with a better understanding of the impact of Clayton's work and his importance to Hadrian's Wall studies.”
A new Family Quest which aims to educate and entertain has also been introduced at the site with the purpose of encouraging all members of the family to explore in a fun and interactive way. Each member of the family, while on the hunt for hidden clues, takes on the role of a character giving them an insight into what life was really like on a Roman military fort and allowing a fully immersive experience whilst bringing the past to life.
Andrew Roberts, Properties Historian at English Heritage, commented: “Families will get the thrill of discovering Chesters’ buried secrets, just like Clayton did over 100 years ago.”