In 1994 Matthew Alexander, Curator of Guildford Museum, brought together several museum supporters with the aim of forming a Friends of the Museum. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the concept of friends organisations to fundraise for museums gathered steam across the country.
After a bit of planning the group started in late 1995. The first newsletter in January 1996 explained the aims of the group. “We aim, with the help of the Curator and his staff to keep you informed of the wide range of Museum. activities and associated events in your area.” The activities of the friends consisted of talks, trips and tours all of which raised some income for the museum. The first committee were Elizabeth Cobbett, Chairman, Bill Bellerby, Tim Bryers, Marjorie Williams, Pat Cousins, Eric Morgan, Matthew Alexander, Brian Alexander-O’Neill and Jen Powell.
The first newsletter mentioned that the tourist information centre had moved out of the undercroft and that the museum was going to open it up during the tourist season. Volunteers were being sort. Dating from the 13th century, the undercroft has been described as “the finest medieval building of its kind”. It is the remnant of a timber framed house demolished in the early 1800s which was built by a wealthy merchant who probably used it as a shop for wine and luxury goods.
The activities of the Friends included coach outings, coffee mornings, quiz and skittles matchs, guided walks. They also volunteered at exhibitions, the museum and undercroft. In addition to this they raised money for projects or collections that the museum could not otherwise afford.
Their first purchase was a replica of a medieval chair from Hereford supposedly used by King Stephen which was to go in the undercroft. Another notable purchase was a Wonderland stamp case invented by Lewis Carroll. Between 1995 and 2001 the Friends raised £19,600 for the museum and spent £15,300. There largest purchase and most used was the entire inventory of a Victorian classroom for £4,500. The Victorian schoolroom had its first group of children on 10th October 2001 and have remained popular ever since employed two part-time educational staff.
Today the Friends of Guildford Museum remain as active as ever.