Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 1 (1980)
The year 1979 saw the celebration of the first fifty years of Gunnersbury Park Museum. This museum covers the area of the two London Boroughs of Hounslow and Ealing and is therefore the local museum for the Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society. The buildings and grounds were bought from the Trustees of the estate of Leopold de Rothschild by the then Boroughs of Acton and Ealing in 1925. Two years later Brentford and Chiswick joined in the common ownership and management of the site and in 1929 a small museum was opened in the ‘large mansion’.
This small museum was developed from the collection of local items formed by the Borough Surveyor of Acton, Major Frederick Sadler. The driving forces behind the establishment of the museum and the acquisition of the Sadler Collection were Mr William King Baker (author of A History of Acton, Middlesex, 1912) and the first lady Mayor of Acton, Miss Susan Smee; she became the Honorary Curator until the museum closed during World War II.
Amongst the first acquisitions for the museum were a rare Quakeress’s costume worn in the mid-19th century, some splendid toys, a 17th century pack of playing cards and a local hansom cab which was acquired for only £6!
Since the re-opening of the museum after the war the number of acquisitions has increased, though the bulk of what has become a magnificent collection has to remain in store for lack of exhibition space. One of the purposes of the Golden Jubilee Exhibition was to give a rare opportunity to see a full cross-section of the museum’s collection.
The work of re-establishing the museum after the war was undertaken by Mr R G L Rivis. He was Honorary Curator until the appointment of the first full-time professional curator in 1955, Mr Maitland Muller, who organised a large exhibition on one of the major local industries – the laundries of west London, which gave Acton the nick-name ‘soapsuds island’.
Bridget Goshawk was Curator from 1963 until her retirement through ill-health in 1979. During these last years a number of important improvements were made. Electric light was at last installed in the main display rooms as recently as 1967! A new post of Assistant Curator was created and this has enabled the museum to become involved in the excavation of local archaeological sites.
In the large mansion, built by Alexander Copeland between 1805 and 1810, some of the most notable items to be seen are the Transport collection – which includes the two Rothschild coaches and a pony trap, all of which have recently been restored – the Stanhope printing press used by Charles Whittingham at the Chiswick Press and a large collection of maps and topographical material relating to the history of the area.