Museum Collections

There are over 50,000 objects in our collections. This is far more than we can display at any one time in the City, Maritime and Cottage Museums combined. A program of ever-changing temporary exhibitions helps us to bring more of the collection to you in person.

You can also explore our collection online:

  • Take an in-depth look at some of our objects right here on our own website:

Discover the Collection

  • Listen to our centenary podcast, where members of our museum team, academics, and members of local community groups talk about their favourite objects from our collection:

100 years, 100 objects

  • View hundreds of works from our fine, contemporary and sculptural art collections on Art UK:

Artworks from Lancaster City Museums

Art UK is the online home for every public art collection in the UK and is a valuable and fascinating resource for art lovers. The charity-run organisation represents a collaboration between over 3,300 British institutions, including Lancaster City Museums.

Through their work, they make art available for everyone – for enjoyment, learning and research.

  • Follow us on Facebook or Instagram for regular glimpses of objects, art and photographs from behind the scenes at the Museums:

City & Cottage Museums Facebook Page

Maritime Museum Facebook Page

Museums Instagram

Growing the Collection

Space in our stores is limited, so we have to be selective. To become a part of our collection, an object needs to tell a story about our local area or community. We’re particularly interested in improving the representation of some of the Lesser Heard Voices in our collection.

We sometimes buy objects, but most of our collection is donated by local people. From an initial enquiry by a potential donor (see Donating an Object to our Collection FAQs), to the object being accessioned, catalogued and potentially displayed, there are a number of due diligence processes, checks and balances that the museum collection team need to do to make sure that the object:

  1. fits in with our Collections Development Policy 2019
  2. will not cost the museum service too much to restore and care for
  3. is not likely to present a threat to other objects within the collection (pests or contamination)
  4. is adequately recorded to ensure that the provenance and local context of the object is correct
  5. finally gets carefully and properly wrapped, labelled, and stored in the right environment to prevent damage.

Our collection is ‘Accredited’ but what does that mean?

Museum Accreditation tells everyone involved with a museum that they’re doing the right things to help people to engage with collections and protect them for the future. The Museum Accreditation scheme does this by making sure museums manage their collections properly, engage with visitors, and are governed appropriately. In order to ensure that people’s confidence is strengthened in how museums manage collections in trust for society and public resources, and to reinforce a shared, ethical way of doing things for everyone involved in running a museum, the scheme encourages all museums and galleries to meet an agreed standard in:

  • How they’re run
  • How they manage their collections
  • How they engage with their users

How long has the collection been around?

On 5 November 1923 Lancaster City Museum opened to great acclaim.

Housed in the old Council Chamber of the previous Town Hall, the museum was described by the local paper as an ‘Interesting Collection of Relics’. Although Lancaster was fairly late in opening a museum, the museum collection had been developing since the 1850s. Starting as a museum for the local Literary and Natural History Society, by 1859 it had transferred to the Lancaster Mechanics Institute. The collection then moved with the Mechanics Institute (the forerunner of Lancaster & Morecambe College) to the Storey. From the Storey much of it then came to the museum in 1923.

Today, we celebrate the centenary of the collection.  Visit the museums or explore our website to discover the items that members of the public have chosen to speak about in our podcast series: key objects that demonstrate the breadth and depth of the collection owned by the people of Lancaster. Some of the objects that you can see today were on display 100 years ago as the museum opened. The large Roman milestone at the City Museum and the model of the brig Thetis at the Maritime Museum even made it into that first newspaper report.

Museum collections are not an exact reflection of the history of an area. Depending on when and how objects are donated and collected some voices are heard more strongly through the collection than others, and some people are barely reflected at all. A medal awarded to a suffragette, a bone carved by a prisoner of war, and a postcard showing working people marching for their rights let us get a rare view of some of these lesser-heard voices.

Who cares for the collections?

We have only a small team whose job it is to take care of more than 50,000 objects. This includes research, small conservation projects, pest management, and recording each and every object. They also decide what is exhibited and how best to display it. It is important that visitors can enjoy engaging with objects and even better when they want to learn more.

Find out more in this video: