Monmouth Museum
The Market HallMonmouth
Priory Street
Monmouthshire NP25 3XA
It is rare to find a local museum in a provincial town with collections so good that they should be in the British Museum, but Monmouth Museum is one such place. Quite by accident the museum holds the world’s best collection of Admiral Horatio Nelson artefacts, a rare Monmouth Cap, and items relating to Charles S Rolls of Rolls-Royce fame.
The museum, also known as the Nelson Museum and Local History Centre, is located in the centre of the town in an equally interesting building, the old Market Hall.
Opening Hours (including Bank Holidays)
Daily. Closed for lunch between 13:00 and 14:00 hours
Monday – Saturday: 11:00 – 17:00 hours
Sundays 14:00 – 17:00’ hours
During Winter (Nov – Feb): Closes an hour earlier
The Museum Collections
- Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson
The Nelson collection includes both personal and commemorative material, and is particularly noted for its large number of personal letters. Star exhibits include Nelson’s fighting sword, and a selection of outrageous forgeries, including Nelson’s ‘glass eye’.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lady Georgiana Llangattock, mother of Charles Rolls, and wife of local landowner and town benefactor John Rolls, 1st Baron Llangattock, was particularly interested in Nelson and his connection with Monmouth. She amassed a huge collection of Nelson memorabilia which she bequeathed to the town on her death in 1923.
The collection includes Nelson's naval officers fighting sword and those of the surrendered French and Spanish naval commanders at Trafalgar. There are also personal letters from Nelson both to his wife and to Lady Hamilton and various items commemorating Nelson's victories, his Royal Navy career, and his visit with the Hamiltons to Monmouth town, The Kymin and South Wales.
Also on display are commemorative silverware, prints, paintings, glassware, pottery and intricate models of the Battle of Trafalgar. Among the items from Nelson's visit is the table used when he breakfasted at the Kymin Round House.
The collection includes some fascinating Nelson fakes, including a glass eye purported to be his, even though he had lost his sight, not the eyeball itself; it is actually a surgeon's teaching model.
- Local History Collections
The Local History Centre collections are based on the Monmouth Borough archive; the local history reference library; photographs; prints and paintings; maps and plans, models and artefacts, with a special archive relating to Charles Rolls and his family.
- The Monmouth Cap
Local history objects include the only known surviving example of a 16th-century Monmouth Cap. Because knitting unravels easily it is extremely rare for a complete cap to have survived.
In the early 14th century, the area immediately north of Monmouth became known for the high quality of its wool, produced from sturdy, compact Ryeland sheep. The wool was ideal for the production of high quality felt. Local men known as ‘Cappers’ hand-knitted the close fitting hats from the local wool and each hat was made weatherproof by felting.
The industry of cap manufacture by hand knitters in and around Monmouth was well established by the 15th century and the town’s location on the River Wye allowed the produce of the area ready access to wider markets.
The woollen hats reached the height of their popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries. Monmouth caps were essential equipment for soldiers, sailors and labourers of the period in England and Wales, and were a popular gift for noblemen.
The ‘Cappers” or knitters were attached to the Weaver's Guild and may have been governed by a Council of Master Craftsmen, and legislation was certainly passed to ban the wearing of foreign made caps. The trade flourished in Monmouth until plague hit the town and the trade moved to Bewdley in Worcestershire.
Old Town Hall
This elegant Bath Stone building was built between 1837–39 as the centrepiece of a redevelopment of part of Monmouth town centre designed by local architect, George Vaughan Maddox.
Maddox’s redevelopment included building a new road (Priory Street) to the west of the town centre. It was constructed on a red sandstone viaduct with 24 arches, running along the bank of the River Monnow. A new Market Hall was built on one side of the road, supported by the arches. The town's slaughterhouses or "shambles" were sited beneath the arches, and the waste from them drain directly into the river. Work began on the new road in 1834.
Maddox designed a new Market Hall with a crescent-shaped frontage in a "grandiose and scholarly Greek Doric" style, with an Ionic cupola and clerestory above the central part of the building. Built of Bath Stone, the Hall opened in January 1840.
The town's Post Office was located in the building from 1874 and, after 1876, the first floor of the building was used as the offices and printing works of the local newspaper, the Monmouthshire Beacon.
Today’s Building
Visitors to the museum will notice that now it is a single storey building. This is because in 1963 the entire central part of the Market Hall was destroyed by a fire which started in the newspaper's paper store, on the first floor.
Instead of turning the fire ravaged site into a car park, the Borough Council, on the casting vote of Monmouth's mayor, decided that the building should be restored. Due to a lack of funds, the upper storey and clock tower could not be replaced. Instead, anew flat roof for the single storey building, together with a Modernist metal and glass façade at the rear, overlooking the Monnow, were provided in 1968–69.
The slaughterhouses with their original fittings remain physically intact, and are visible from the railings behind the southern end of the Market Hall. A number of development plans to preserve these rare buildings have not progressed.
Contact & Further Information
Telephone  +44 (0)1600 710 630
Getting There
- By Car
Follow the directions on this website for getting to Monmouth. The museum is just off the A466.