The Collections

The award-winning Museum of East Dorset showcases a wealth of social and local history materials dating from the 1700s through to the 2000s. Many of the 35,000 objects relate to the domestic life, childhood, trades and agriculture of the local area.

The collections also include rare archaeological artefacts, some of national significance, a photographic archive dating back to the 1850s, clothing and other items that tell the story of East Dorset.

Much of the original collection came from the Coles family, who ran the ironmonger’s business from 1872 until 1960 in the building where the museum is now housed. They hardly ever threw anything away. Unsold goods from the ironmonger’s shop, personal possessions, stock from Low’s stationer’s shop which closed in 1872 – all these found their way up into the attic. They formed an important part of the museum’s early collections.

They were complemented by a significant bequest of objects and photographs collected by local doctor and historian Sir Ernest Kaye le Fleming during the early 1900s. These were originally deposited at the Dorset County Museum in 1946 but were returned to Wimborne when the museum opened.

The collection has been further enhanced since 1962 through donations, bequests and purchases.


The museum’s archaeology collection includes artefacts dating from prehistoric times to AD 400. Some, from the Romano-British villa site at Tarrant Hinton, are of national importance. They include one of only two Roman force pumps known in Britain and several rare examples of painted wall plaster from this period. Visitors can also discover an Iron Age skeleton exhibiting unique evidence of tuberculosis – currently the earliest known case of TB found in Britain.


The museum houses a fine collection of locally-produced pottery, dating from the medieval period to 1952. Our Verwood pottery collection, produced at kiln sites across East Dorset, represents one of the most comprehensive in existence. In 2010, the museum received the collection belonging to the Verwood & District Potteries Trust. This material was supplemented in 2012 by the acquisition of the private collection of Penny Copland-Griffiths.

Local business

As well as materials relating to local ironmongers T.G. Coles & Son, the museum holds the unsold shop stock, furnishings, paperwork and personal possessions of the Coles family.

Other local shops and businesses are also represented in the collection. These include machinery patterns and products from Witchampton Paper Mill, and a Victorian portrait camera and other equipment used in the Royal Photographic Studios in Wimborne.

Valentine cards

The museum’s collection of 350 Victorian Valentine cards originates from the unused stock of William Low’s stationer’s shop, which was in business from 1837 to 1872. It includes both traditional romantic Valentines and ‘Vinegar Valentines’ – rude cards to be sent anonymously to people whom you did not like! This collection is unique as it relates directly to Mr Low’s shop, which forms part of the museum building.

Local life

The museum has a large collection of objects relating to agriculture and country crafts, reflecting the changing way of life in rural East Dorset over the past 200 years. The collection of horse brasses accumulated by local doctor Sir Kaye le Fleming in the early 1900s includes several rare examples.

There are also many thousands of images of Wimborne Minster and the surrounding villages on a variety of media, dating from the 1850s to the present day. These include images of buildings, street scenes, working life, family life and local celebrations. The photographic collection can be viewed at the museum, by appointment.


The collection comprises clothes and accessories dating from the 1800s onwards. General items include sportswear, commemorative pieces, doll’s clothes and workwear. The museum holds a time capsule of unsold stock from local clothier Harold Dacombe, who ran a travelling shop in East Dorset from the 1930s to the 1950s.


The museum has an excellent toy collection, with items dating from the early 1800s to the present day. For the enthusiasts, this includes an early Steiff ‘blank-button’ bear.

There are also items related to parenting young babies as well as many books, games, prams and bicycles reflecting past childhood and teenage years.