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Guernsey Museum History


The States of Guernsey's current museum service could be said to have originated in the early 1970s with the appointment of the first full-time professional curator. However, in reality the pedigree of the service is much older and includes several earlier private and public museum collections with nineteenth century origins.

The first public museum, art gallery and library in Guernsey was founded by Thomas Guille and Frederick Alles in 1888 on the site of the old Assembly Rooms. The Guille-Alles library still flourishes, but the museum closed in the 1970's. The government of Guernsey first became involved with museums in 1907, when Francis Du Bois Lukis - the last surviving son of Frederick Corbin Lukis (1788-1871) - bequeathed his father's archaeological and natural history collection to the States of Guernsey.This fine collection was initially displayed as the Lukis Museum, in part of the old family home.

Another large collection, (mainly fine and decorative art), was left to the States of Guernsey in 1929 by a retired diplomat, Wilfred Carey and initially displayed at one of the island's libraries. The Lukis and Carey collections were combined in 1938 and opened as one museum (the Lukis & Island Museum) in the redundant St Barnabas church. It is worth noting that there were still no full time professional museum staff at that time.

During the Second World War (and the German Occupation of Guernsey) all the island museums were closed. After the war, the British Government presented the fortress of Castle Cornet to the people of Guernsey and it passed to the control of the Ancient Monuments Committee, which also administered the Lukis & Island Museum. By the early 1950s, the Castle was opened as a public museum site, though this was actually a continuation of an earlier tradition, as visitors to the castle had been encouraged in the 1930s, when the site was under British military control.

In the meantime, the political will to improve the museum service gradually developed, perhaps with the realisation that good museums would be a useful asset to the island's developing tourist industry - as well as for the local population. This culminated in the appointment of the first full-time professional curator in 1972. With an initial staff of 2, the first curator (Mrs Rona Cole) established the foundations of a modern museum service, leading to the opening of Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery in 1978. In 1979 the contents of the Guille-Alles museum and art gallery were transferred into the care of the States of Guernsey on loan. The Guille-Alles, Carey and Lukis family collections therefore made up the core of the collection of the new Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery. The Ancient Monuments Committee changed its name to the Heritage Committee in 1995. As part of a government re-structuring exercise, the Heritage Committee ceased to exist in 2004 and administration of the museum service passed to a new Culture and Leisure Department.

Since the early 1970s the museum service has continued a steady process of improvement, both to public facilities and behind the scenes.