What’s going on in Wroughton?

There is a phantom national museum in southwest England that is supported with taxpayers’ money – and yet taxpayers can only visit by appointment! What is going on?

“The Science Museum gets a lot of taxpayers’ money each year,” says a local TPA supporter, “and part of it goes to maintain an entire airfield and museum at Wroughton, Wiltshire, which no taxpayer has been allowed to see for several years.”

The branch of the Science Museum at Wroughton, near Swindon, is a vast exhibition facility in which aircraft and other enormous objects are kept in order to be sent to other displays around the country.  But many of the objects are so big, like a Lockheed Constellation or a Hawker Siddeley Trident, that Wroughton is the only place they can be displayed. Indeed, they are not hidden away in crates but are exhibited inside three huge hangars, laid out like a museum, with walkways and information panels. It looks just like a museum, except not a single member of the public can visit it without making an appointment. The museum used to open on several weekends, but it has been closed for at least three years.

The editor of Old Glory – a website devoted to steam engine preservation – has been equally frustrated and questioned one of its curators.

“His answer was to say that the Science Museum did bring these exhibits out from time to time and that they were sent to different museums around the country,” writes Colin Tyson. “My retort was that surely it was easier for the general public to go to Wroughton, rather than the high cost of transporting them to other museums for what would be a limited period only. His next excuse was because of health and safety. Some of the vehicles in the museum had asbestos brake linings and thus are considered to be a danger to the public. I then asked why anybody would want to kneel down and possibly inhale any dust that could emanate from the vehicles, even if they knew which ones, if any, were at all dangerous?”

For their part, the Science Museum describe Wroughton as a “vital resource,” supporting a whole range of Museum-wide activities including storage, conservation, exhibitions and loan activities.

Our local supporter isn’t satisfied. “They claim they have a new use for the airfield but their plans to have a solar panel farm have been put back and back.”

In June 2013, Peter Turvey, a former senior curator at Wroughton submitted written evidence to a parliamentary enquiry about the affair. “There is shameful opposition to providing wider public access to the hidden collections in the [Science] Museum’s stores,” cliams Turvey, “particularly those at the large object store at Wroughton in Wiltshire. On many occasions I found management unwilling to support my efforts to improve public access to the stored collections at Wroughton (at minimal cost to the institution). Proposals for Reconstituted Volunteer groups and participation in the excellent Heritage Open Day scheme all fell on deaf ears.”

“After all,” concludes our Wiltshire TPA supporter, “if you keep being paid by the taxpayer and no one is holding you to account then you just say no to everything, never open the museum, stop all activities on the airfield, don’t renew leases on the airfield and so on.”

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