John Bowdidge, a Gentleman, lived here between 1687 and 1709. His debts forced him to sell the house, which resulted in it being divided between various tradespeople. Between 1709 and 1960, the house was occupied by different families who lived in different parts of the building. The front of the building was probably used as a shop from the mid-1700s.
When Hilda Coles inherited the ironmonger’s business from her father, Tom Frank Coles, she took the decision to close the shop and fulfil his long-held wish to turn the building into a museum.
In the early 1990s, the building was partially restored in partnership with East Dorset District Council. The most obvious change was the reconstructed frontage with bow windows and shutters based on how the street frontage would have looked in the 1750s.
Between 1991 and 1995, a series of permanent displays were developed within 10 rooms of the building, under the direction of successive curators. Some of these displays reflected the history of the building and its inhabitants, as well as the domestic and shop settings over the centuries.
2020 restoration project
In October 2020, a £700,000 restoration was completed as part of a wider £1.8 million Revival Project. It was also at this time that the Priest’s House Museum was re-launched with its current name – Museum of East Dorset.
The extensive project, which began in 2019, saw Dorset-based Greendale Construction tasked with works ranging from minor refurbishment in some areas, to a full strip-out and redecoration in others. Major changes include a new museum entrance, and a new combined visitor reception, shop and Information Centre.
The work undertaken transformed the facilities, exhibition spaces and access, with new staircases, refurbished or new doors and partition glazed screens installed, and services upgraded. A new platform lift and ramps also allowed access to the upper galleries for all our visitors for the first time.
At the heart of the project was the historic townhouse itself. A key objective of the Revival Project was to preserve and conserve the fabric of the building, parts of which date back to the late Elizabethan period. Unsympathetic modern building aspects were removed to reveal historic features and visitors are now able to see how different generations left their marks on the house as fashions changed. The new frontage and window reveals more of the earlier historic building and shows how the streetscape would have looked in the 1750s. This house is a very significant part of the Wimborne Conservation area.
The interior of the building has been completely transformed. 11 new galleries, including a special temporary exhibitions gallery, allow visitors greater access to the collections on-site than ever before. The museum has also redeveloped its learning and outreach programmes, and a virtual museum now enables a wider audience to engage with the museum in creative and innovative ways.
The £1.8m Revival Project was made possible by a £982,200 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, along with partnership funding from Trusts, Foundations, local councils, organisations, businesses and members of the local community. These include Garfield Weston Foundation, The Talbot Village Trust, The Foyle Foundation, Canford Environmental, The Pilgrim Trust, The Valentine Trust, The H B Allen Charitable Trust, The Georgian Group and Bloor Homes.