The new £2.4 million gallery, which faces Salisbury Cathedral, houses one of Europe’s most extensive collections of Stonehenge and prehistoric artifacts including the Amesbury Archer – popularly dubbed the ‘King of Stonehenge’.

Each artifact tells a story of early civilization and some of the people behind the discoveries. Together, they create a fascinating insight into our ancient ancestors and what they achieved, from the earliest evidence of humans right the way through to the Norman period.

Designing to display prehistory is demanding, with artifacts that are often hard to interpret. The Metaphor team, who have delivered exhibitions and displays at the British Museum, the V&A, the Science Group, the Ashmolean and the Museum of Scotland, brought their long experience to bear on the challenge. Their team included Sutton Vane Associates for lighting and Lucy or Robert for graphics. The Wessex Gallery of Archaeology will be one of the most important prehistory galleries in the UK.

Challenging design brief

The Wessex Gallery has received just under £1.8 million funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund in recognition of the region’s internationally important archaeological findings. The new visitor attraction, which has taken seven months to build, presented a challenging design brief for the architects. The 400 sqm building, which now houses more than 2,500 rare artifacts, needs to reflect the venue’s international significance and most importantly, to deliver the ‘wow’ factor.

Salisbury Museum’s vision is to create a visitor experience that captures hearts and minds and takes visitors on ‘discovery journeys’ that are not just educational but also captivating and memorable. It is important that the gallery enables the Museum to reach out to new audiences and to present the collection in a variety of accessible ways – through landscape, through science, and through people (historical and contemporary) as well as through debate.

Museum Director Adrian Green explains: “The Wessex Gallery places the story of Stonehenge within its wider chronological and regional context. We wanted to create a particular focus on the people of the past and the stories that they tell. The most notable is perhaps the Amesbury Archer – a person dating back to 2,200 – 2,400 BC who was found with the oldest gold objects in Britain. It was also important that the gallery explores the stories of the archaeologists who uncovered the past – such as William Stukeley, who was one of the first to link the druids with Stonehenge.”

There was a full multidisciplinary team on the project, including MEA who were the QS, Chris Reading Associates who were the M&E engineers, and the Morton Partnership who were the Structural Engineers. Realm Projects, the Nottinghamshire-based builders who worked on the Hepworth Wakefield and the Jewish Museum, were the construction partners for the scheme.

The works were procured through a single stage, lump sum contract. The main contractor therefore had overall control of many of the final selections. Realm worked closely with Metaphor and the rest of the design team to select appropriate sub contractors and suppliers. Key appointments included Meyvaert who made and installed the showcases, Fusion LX who provided and installed the AV hardware, and Displayways who installed the graphics.

The project’s unique element

Unique elements in the project include a huge timeline running round the gallery that tells the history of archaeological discovery in Wessex from the early medieval times back to the palaeolithic; and the presentation of the archaeological collections in the context in which they were found, including who found them, when they were found and what they tell us.

Adrian Green, the Director said, “We’re delighted with Metaphor’s wonderful work, it’s been a great partnership. The end result is that we have a wonderfully dynamic new gallery and a fantastic new British visitor attraction that will knock people’s socks off!”

Salisbury Museum: The King’s House, 65 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EN

Opening times

Monday – Saturday, including bank holidays 10am – 5pm: Sundays (during June – September) 12 noon – 5pm

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