The Avebury Museum (that never was)

Avebury does have a museum (actually it has two) the Alexander Keiller Museum and the 17th century threshing barn – both located behind the National Trust restaurant and shop. The Alexander Keiller Museum is a one-room ‘gallery’ housed in a former stable block and displaying, in old-fashioned cases lining its four rather cramped walls, a collection of finds from the Avebury area. The National Trust website describes this as the ‘stables galleries’. I must have missed the ‘other’ galleries because I came away with the distinct impression of a cramped, poorly-lit single room hardly big enough to accommodate ten schoolchildren let alone twenty adults at any one time. Mind, given the admission fee and a glance of the exhibits inside that you’d be getting for your money, twenty people in there at any one time is probably wishful thinking. By contrast, the threshing barn is an agricultural ‘cathedral’ of impressive dimensions; pity then that there’s practically nothing in it and you’re likely to freeze to death in the winter while attempting to engage in some of the rather dated ’interactive activities’ provided there.

So what’s gone wrong at Avebury? Avebury, that great megalithic masterpiece set, perhaps, in what was once the centre of the Neolithic heartland of the country, has little to show for itself (museum-wise) in presenting to the public all that that heartland meant and produced other than a one-room ‘gallery’ and an oversized, containing-nothing-very-much, threshing barn. Of course there is the Wiltshire Heritage Museum at Devizes, some eight or nine miles from Avebury itself. The Wiltshire Heritage Museum is an excellent museum with an excellent library, and a small but dedicated staff; all, however, in the wrong place. Wrong place why? Because out of the thousands of people, from all over the world, who visit Avebury each year you have to ask yourself how many of them have the time, or are likely to take the trouble, to go to Devizes and avail themselves of the facilities offered at the museum there. The Wiltshire Heritage Museum has much to offer but it is blatantly in the wrong place. It should be in Avebury, not in the stable block (too small) and not in the threshing barn (too big and too drafty). So where then?

The Avebury Museum (that never was)
Rawlin’s (Bonds) Garage and Roadhouse circa 1945

A couple of years ago the answer would have been simple. The old Bonds Garage (formerly Rawlin’s Garage) just outside the north-east sector of the Avebury Henge would have made for the perfect Avebury Museum. Commissioned by Alexander Keiller, the Bonds Garage was actually a 1930s Art Deco building. The building had a certain charm about it, and on closer inspection one could see the ‘Egyptian’ Art Deco elements incorporated into its façade. This Art Deco building even looked like a museum, and with a little creative thinking it could also have functioned as a reference library and an information centre, and would have provided views of both the Avebury Henge and Windmill Hill from its upper stories. A path leading to the north-east quadrant of the circle might also have been laid, facilitating access to that part of this World Heritage Site. With plenty of parking space, and only a very short walk to the Henge itself, it would have been ideal for a roomy, well-situated Avebury Museum. Not any more though. After much opposition from the likes of the late Lord Kennet, Heritage Action and others, the building was demolished two years ago to make room for a new housing development (yes, a new housing development, just metres away from the north-east bank of the Avebury Henge!). As far as I know, neither English Heritage nor the National Trust ever opposed the demolition of Bonds Garage; their objections, for what they were worth, centred on the redevelopment of the site for five new houses.

How sad, how short-sighted, how selfish. Bonds Garage was not only an Art Deco building with a unique history (tied to Alexander Keiller who did so much for Avebury) but also sad for the loss of a great opportunity. While English Heritage, The National Trust and others stood by and said little or nothing this building was reduced to rubble when it could have been a shining example of forward thinking, civic pride and a place of national and international learning.

See following for a detailed discussion of what went wrong with the planning application at the Bonds Garage Site -