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Leicester Special Collections

Individual Donors

New museological thinking argues that many museums came about not as a result of nation building, scientific advancement or rivalries, but from private collectors wanting to display their exotic artefacts and one off donors.[1] It is certainly true that many of the case studies featured in this resource had some connection to an individual collector, either being founded by them or receiving a large bequest from them.

Handbook, 1934

The Bowes Museum

Founded by John Bowes and Madam Joséphine Bénoîte, Countess of Monato, this museum was born out of this couple’s desire to collect whilst on a tour of Europe. This type of foundation echoes back to the collectors of the renaissance. Museums such as the Ashmolean and the Wellcome collection were all established as a result of a private collections.

Brief History of Museums in Bolton leaflet, n.d. 

Bolton Museum and Art Gallery

In 1876, Bolton Museum and Library received a £5,000 bequest from Dr. Samuel Taylor Chadwick. This money helped to build a much needed building to house the ever growing collections. But the money soon ran out and opening of the new museum was delayed. Chadwick’s donation seems to have encouraged others to give to the museum as by the time the museum opened, it was already full of objects. Bolton Museum service has also benefited from private donors such as J. P. Thomasson who gave Hall I’-th’ Wood to Bolton in order to create a Folk Museum. 

A Guide to Canterbury Museums, n.d. 

Canterbury Museums (The Beaney)

Dr. J. G. Beaney’s bequest of £11,000 to set up an Institute for Working Men in Canterbury helped to develop the Royal Museum further by enabling the construction of a new building to house their ever growing collection. [2] The motives behind Beany’s donation is reminiscent of the Victorian ideal of ‘self-improvement through education’.[3] It is similar to the motives behind the establishing of Bolton Museum. Does this similarity show us that this idea was being acted upon by many people? Is there any evidence to show it achieved its aims?

A Guide to Derby Museums and Art Gallery, n.d. 

Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Derby Museum benefitted much later on in their history from individual benefactors than what we have seen already. The art gallery was gifted to the museum in 1883 and two more in 1916, developing the collection significantly. One of the most significant events was a bequest from Mr. Alfred Goodey in 1944 which allowed the museum to build an extension in order to house their ever growing collection. It seems like a common theme between these case studies that when people bequeath money to a museum, it is usually invested into building more space for the collection.

Beyond Our First Decade, 1982

The National Motor Museum

The National Motor Museum was born from Lord Montagu’s collection and fascination with cars. The Lords of Monatgu continue to be heavily involved in the running of the museum today, sitting on the board of the National Motor Museum Trust. [4] 

[1] Sheila Watson, History of Museums Lecture, The University of Leicester, (October 2016).

[2] Canterbury Museum, Explore the Beaney, <> [accessed 26/7/2017].

[3] Amy Woodson – Boulton, ‘Victorian Museums and Victorian Society’, History Compass, 6:1, (2008), p. 111. 

[4] The National Motor Museum Trust, About the National Motor Museum Trust, <> [accessed 18/8/2017].