This marvellous cultural attraction is centred around the collection of Sir Thomas William Holburne (1793-1874), fifth baronet of Menstrie. Originally destined for naval career, until he inherited his family title and adjoining fortune. Leaving the navy, he embarked on an 18-month tour of Europe, during which time he developed a life-long interest in collecting eclectic works of art.
Sir William lived at 10 Cavendish Crescent in Bath, where he inherited some notable family treasures including porcelain, silver and portraits, to which he added 17th and 18th century silver and porcelain, paintings, miniatures, books and furniture, amongst a variety of small collectables. In 1882 he donated his substantial assemblage of more than 4,000 objects, to the people of Bath by his sister, from which it was intended to create a Museum of Art for the city.
The collection opened to the public in 1893, with many more items of interest added to the growth of notable treasures since then, the most significant acquisitions being pictures, which have greatly enriched the Museum’s collection between the 18th and 19th centuries. Amongst these were 10 important pictures from the legacy of Ernest E. Cook, grandson of travel entrepreneur Thomas Cook, as well as works by Gainsborough and Turner.
Having stood for almost 100 years at the Sydney Hotel, the Holburne underwent a major redevelopment, with the existing galleries refurbished, with an extension built to hold greater facilities. Today visitors can find a purpose-built space for visiting exhibitions, a café and teaching space, lovingly run by a small staff structure and more than 200 volunteers. The site also backs onto the beautifully kept pleasure grounds of Sydney Gardens for those keen to explore the city’s green space.