This week’s object harks back to the very beginning of Swindon’s museum, coming from the man whose collection inspired its foundation.

Charles Gore, a former coachbuilder at the GWR works and clothier, was an obsessive natural history collector and his passion for finding and acquiring new specimens resulted in a huge and varied collection.

His interest was piqued by fossil hunting and he amassed a huge number. Such was his reputation for collecting fossils, and thus adding to the understanding of these echoes of the distant past, he had two ammonites named after him.

It is easy to understand why these tiny relics were such a fascination for him. Ammonites were the first predators that roamed the earth, more specifically the ocean, 415 million years ago. They fed on even tinier creatures and were early exponents of jet propulsion, sucking in seawater through a funnel at the front and firing it out the back to whizz themselves along.

They began at a few centimetres long but grew larger and more heavily armoured to protect themselves from other predators. That served them well until the end of the cretaceous period when whatever it was that killed all the dinosaurs did for them too.

Charles’ love of geology quickly developed into a broader curiosity and subsequently his treasure trove increased exponentially. By 1919 it included stuffed animals, curios, military costumes and equipment and ancient artefacts.

Among them was a real Egyptian mummy, the remains of Hatemui, a late period son of a wealthy family found in a cemetery at Thebes.

It could be that Hatemui’s arrival was the last straw for Mrs Gore because Charles decided his collection had overrun his house and it needed to go elsewhere. He approached Swindon Town Council and offered to donate the lot on the condition it was put on display.

The council acquired a former Baptist chapel in Regent Circus to become the town’s first museum and appointed Charles as its curator.

More objects from an equally important Swindonian, William Morris, were to follow. William, better known as the founder of the Adver, had amassed a huge natural history collection.

By 1930 the place was full to bursting and the council moved it to Apsley House, a former family home that had been specially adapted for the purpose. The museum remains there to this day.

In 1941 the art collection was established with a gift from collector HJP Bomford.

Charles died in 1951, secure in the knowledge that the museum’s future was assured. In 1930 he had been made a freeman of the borough in recognition of his wonderful work in telling Swindon’s story.

You can find out more about Swindon’s story at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm.

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