The Museum and Gallery is set in a delightful building dating back to the 1700s. At various times the site has been a pub, a gentleman’s residence, a shoe mender’s, a Post Office and a boy’s school. In the 1880s it was taken over by the Ancient Order of Foresters (whose UK membership was 4 million at that time) and their name is still over the door today.
In its time it has also hosted meetings of the Whitstable Urban District Council and the British Legion. Other groups who met at the hall over the years – including the Jaculars (science discussions) and the Harmonic (music) Society - reflect the intense intellectual curiosity of the Victorians.
Most infamously, in 1936 William Joyce spoke to a large and enthusiastic audience at the Foresters’ Hall on ‘Blackshirts and the Empire: friendship with Germany essential’. Joyce was Director of Propaganda for the British Union of Fascists, and later known as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ for his wartime broadcasts from Germany; he was hanged as a traitor in 1946.
Meanwhile, various people in the town dreamed of opening a museum. As far back as 1885, a small museum and library was started in the new extension to the Assembly Rooms at the Horsebridge. The Whitstable Times (5 July 1885) printed a letter criticising the display: ‘Perhaps Whitstable people prefer bones with something on them, and jugs with something in them, to the rare and ancient specimens they are invited to admire.’
In the 1940s collecting began in earnest with the foundation of the Whitstable Historical Society and the Museum Trust – the first Trustees were Arthur Amos, Fred Goldfinch, Robert Goodsall and Wallace Harvey. Items were collected for a future museum and were stored in various premises over time, from a building in Sea Street, to Whitstable Castle and the Primitive Methodist Church in Albert Street before being moved into council safe storage.
In 1956 Fred Goldfinch died, bequeathing money to the Goldfinch Trust which later joined with Canterbury City Council to fund the creation of the Museum. In 1983 The Foresters’ Hall was purchased by the Museum Trust, and conversion work began the following year.
Whitstable Museum opened on 27 April 1985, and the special exhibitions gallery was opened a few years later.