Willis Museum, Basingstoke

I continued my tour of local museums today with a trip to the Willis Museum in Basingstoke. I’d been attracted by the temporary exhibition regarding nearby Silchester, a huge Roman town of which now all that remains are the walls and a small Amphitheater. We’re semi-regular visitors to Silchester so this seemed like an ideal exhibition to get some background.

The museum itself is pretty small with the temporary exhibition and cafe downstairs and a walk through the history of Basingstoke on the first floor. There was also supposed to be an archaeology exhibition on the second floor but that was closed. I started downstairs and made my way up.

In recent trips to museums if I’d had any criticism it was regarding the poor signage that accompanied the exhibits. Here, however, the signage was excellent, telling the story of the site from the Iron Age through the Roman occupation and rebuilding, its demise and finally the University of Reading archaeological digs. But where were all the exhibits? It was very sparse and what was there lacked any excitement. At one point I was told that there was no photography of the exhibits which I thought was somewhat ironic.

I did learn much more about Silchester than I already knew but there wasn’t enough there to bring the story alive and I probably could have learned all that I read on the signs on Wikipedia. I’ve just checked and yes Calleva Atrebatum is well covered.

I wandered upstairs to the History of Basingstoke section but this too proved a disappointment. There were several reconstructions of rooms from various periods but they could have been from anywhere and weren’t specific to the town. I’m afraid that it somewhat reinforced my opinion that Basingstoke is just a little bit dull.

Here though are some pictures of the lovely Silchester taken over the years.

2 Replies to “Willis Museum, Basingstoke”

  1. Interesting. Hope you enjoyed your visit to where CB radioers referred to as ‘Donut City’ because there are so many roundabouts! I used to live in Tadley, close to AWE, Aldermaston prior to 1984 (when I moved to Portsmouth). I remember Silchester, an old Roman town. I also remember playing putt-putt golf in Basingstoke and having a couple of pints at the Hop-Leaf Pub. In 1986 I spent a day training at IBM in Alencoln Link. I do not remember the Willis Museum though. The not so bright memory I have of Basingstoke was the very expensive house prices, every other business was an Estate Agent, and there was no way I could ever have afforded to live there. I hear Basingstoke is something of a ghost town these days – due to the unaffordable housing, corporate restructuring, and aging tech workers retiring and having to make do on less pension than they had hoped for. On a more positive note, my sister tells me there is a Gin factory and tasting room close to Tadley. On a future visit to this old stomping ground I may just check these places out.

  2. We got the train so we weren’t troubled by any roundabout.

    Not sure where you are getting your information regarding housing but it’s all relative. Plenty of people are choosing to live in Basingstoke and commuting to nearby Reading as it is cheaper to live there than Reading. It is true that the shopping centre, Festival Place, is partially empty and could do with some more tenants. Despite that, it’s still a nice place to go.

    The gin distillery will be Bombay Sapphire which I have been to the outside of when dropping off my in-laws who were going round for a visit. Being teetotal that’s not really my thing!

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