The Willis Museum and Sainsbury Gallery

Since 1984, the Willis Museum has been housed in this impressive early Victorian building that was once Basingstoke’s Town Hall.

It is named after George Willis, a local clockmaker, antiquarian and former Mayor of Basingstoke, who became the first honorary curator when the original museum was established in the Mechanics Institute in New Street in 1931.

The building you see today replaced the original Mote Hall (meeting place) where Jane Austen attended dances. This replacement Town Hall was designed by Lewis Wyatt and was open on the ground floor, serving as the town’s Corn Exchange and Market.

Centrally located at the Top of the Town, in the Willis Museum you will discover Basingstoke and Deane’s past, from the rich archaeological heritage beneath our feet right up to the modern day. Throughout the year, we also run a programme of touring exhibitions, as well as fun events, workshops and activities for all the family to enjoy. Visit our website to find out more.

Things to do

The museum is a great place to visit stunning exhibitions in the Sainsbury Gallery, discover the local history of Basingstoke and take part in hands on activities as a family. Here are just a few things you can do during your visit:

  • Visit regional and national exhibitions in the gallery
  • Discover Basingstoke’s history from medieval to local times
  • Look at and take a selfie with the Jane Austen statue
  • Take part in a workshop or activity trail around the museum
  • Visit our welcoming café and browse the museum shop

Jane Austen statue

Unveiled in July 2017 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her death, the statue was designed by Hampshire-based sculptor Adam Roud and cast at the Morris Singer Foundry in Lasham. The Austen family lived in Steventon until they moved to Bath in 1801.

Austen knew Basingstoke well and attended social gatherings at the Assembly Rooms in Market Place and regularly visited family friends at The Vyne, Oakley Hall and Ashe House.

The Sainsbury Gallery

In 2009, the building was partly refurbished with funding from, amongst others, the Linbury Trust which was founded by Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover. The Sainsbury Gallery was created to provide facilities to host major regional and national exhibitions.

The Basingstoke community gallery

Situated on the first floor, the community gallery showcases work by local people and groups. Both amateur and professional artists and craftspeople can apply to exhibit. Basingstoke Art Club holds a yearly exhibition whilst others use it to present their work in the community to a wider audience.

The story of Basingstoke

On the same floor, travel in time through Basingstoke’s more recent history. From medieval times to the postwar expansion of the town, look for the world’s oldest wedding cake – dating to 1898 – and the story of ‘Pickaxe’. Discover the growth of the town centre and reminisce in the 1950s kitchen.

The Archaeology Gallery

Including items collected by Mr Willis himself, the second floor archaeology gallery displays the borough’s more ancient past from Stone Age to Saxon. In the centre of the gallery are the 2.8 metre long mammoth tusk found near North Warnborough and artefacts from Calleva Atrebatum, Silchester Roman Town. The gallery also doubles as a meeting room and education space.

Other venues

Exhibitions and events

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Educational programs

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