Orford Museum CIO is a volunteer-led museum based within the village of Orford, Suffolk.
Our aim is to promote the history of the six parishes of Orford and Gedgrave, Sudbourne, Iken, Chillesford, Butley and Tunstall. We do this by displaying and conserving artefacts from the local area in display cases in Orford Castle and by running events.
Elizabeth Spinney (Chairman)
Treasurer & Friends’ Administrator
Editor The Orford Historian
Philip Wise (Heritage Manager at Colchester & Ipswich Museums)
Become a Friend
Help us support the work of the Museum by becoming a Friend of Orford Museum. Membership offers many benefits including free entry to Orford Castle, history talks, our annual journal of local history, The Orford Historian and much more.
At the initiative of Charlie Underwood, the former lighthouse attendant and a great enthusiast of Orford’s history, the Museum was opened in 1994 in the former stables behind the Crown & Castle Hotel. The premises were not ideal. Not all items could be displayed i.e., the Borough regalia and some local finds, because of inadequate security and unsuitable environmental conditions.
The Friends of Orford Museum was also started in 1994 to provide volunteer stewards and to raise funds for the conservation of the collection through lectures, events and the sale of Museum merchandise and in 1996, Charlie recruited Margaret Poulter as the Curator. As a professional archivist she improved the displays and was responsible for special exhibitions on the Rope family and also for the School and Sailing Club anniversaries.
Learn more about our history
In 1997 the new owners of the Crown & Castle decided that they needed the outhouse for storage. The entire archive was moved to a garage in Gedgrave belonging to Sir Edward Greenwell.
Meanwhile the Museum Committee, chaired by Charlie Underwood, had persuaded the Parish Council to back a proposal to build an extension to the Town Hall where the Museum could be housed and an application for a grant was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
However, at the Annual General Meeting of the Parish Council, many people raised their voices against the use of the land behind the Town Hall for a museum. A village referendum was held which resulted in a majority vote against the planned museum building but there was a vote in favour of putting it in the Castle.
Charlie Underwood died at this time and Michael Flint succeeded him as Chairman and the Orford Museum Charitable Trust was established. As a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Life Vice-President of the British Archaeological Association, he was able to open negotiations with English Heritage to put the Museum in the Castle.
From 2000, by kind permission of the rector and the churchwardens, exhibitions were regularly mounted in St. Bartholomew’s Church, Orford. Subjects covered so far are: the history of the church; James Coe, Orford’s first mayor; Norden maps dated 1601 of Orfordness, Orford and surrounding villages; photographs from 1901 and the same scenes in 2001; a history of education in Orford; Orford’s Charter of 1579; Emmeline Rope’s watercolour paintings of Orford and district in the late 19th century.
In 2009, an exhibition entitled ‘Orford during the Second World War’ was mounted in Orford Town Hall followed in 2011 by exhibition of the Orford Town Regalia and items belonging to the late Ralph Brinkley, also in the Town Hall. In 2014, an exhibition showing life in Orford during the First World War was held in the Town Hall followed in 2015 by an exhibition showing the history of the Orford Ness lighthouse. In 2016, an exhibition of the Town Regalia was again mounted in the Town Hall.
In the autumn of 2003, Jane Allen started the bi-annual publication of the immensely popular Orford & District Local History Bulletin.
Negotiations with English Heritage continued from 1998 until 2005 when agreement for the Museum’s display to be housed in the upper chamber of the Castle was finally achieved. Funding for the cases, signs, etc was sourced from the New Orford Town Trust, The Heritage Lottery Fund, Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Coastal District Council, the Scarfe Charitable Trust and the Esme Fairbairn Charitable Trust amongst others.
In 2006 a kiosk with an interactive screen was installed in the north aisle of St. Bartholomew’s Church so that visitors to the church could access our website and information about the display in the Castle. In partnership with the Friends of St. Bartholomew’s Church, this kiosk is now being replaced by a more up-to-date version which will again show our website and, we hope, a virtual tour of the Museum in the Castle. It will also have information about the church.
The Museum was accorded accreditation status by the MLA in August 2009 and by the Arts Council of Great Britain in 2013 and 2018.
In 2015 Michael Flint resigned as Chairman of The Orford Museum Charitable Trust and was succeeded by Elizabeth Spinney. In 2019, the Trust became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).
Jane Allen, editor of the Orford & District Local History Bulletin sadly died in 2015 and has now been succeeded by Jack Cooke. The Bulletin has now become The Orford Historian to reflect his new approach and is proving a worthy successor to Jane’s original concept. It will be published annually.