Petersfield Museum in Hampshire has reopened after a major £4m redevelopment that has taken four years to complete.
Set up in 1997, the museum tells the story of the local area over 10,000 years.
The redevelopment was completed with the help of a £1.7m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The museum acquired the town’s Victorian police station in 2016 and has restored the original courtroom and police cells to evoke the harshness of justice in the 19th century. The former police station also houses a new study centre, which the museum will use to run its education programme.
The museum’s new galleries chart life in rural England from the Palaeolithic era to now, as well as taking in the poetry of local writer Edward Thomas.
Petersfield Museum’s new expanded spaces mean it has been able to put more items on show than ever before, including period dress from the Bedales Historic Costume Collection that the museum cares for.
The museum's opening temporary exhibition is on the artist Flora Twort, who moved to Petersfield in 1918 and depicted the market town and its people in many works over her life. The museum cares for the 1,000 paintings she left to the county council when she died.
Later this year, an exhibition of the 20th-century local photographer and photo-journalist Don Eades will go on show. He bequeathed his archive of 100,000 images to the museum.
Another prominent figure to feature in the museum is the poet Edward Thomas, who Ted Hughes looked up to, describing him as “the father of us all”. Thomas's most important works include The South Country, The Icknield Way and In Pursuit of Spring, all written during his time living in the town between 1906 and 1916.
The museum’s new study centre was created in partnership with the Edward Thomas Fellowship, and holds the most important collection of books by and about the poet.
Dan McWilliam, the director of Petersfield Museum, said: “What started as a small collection of objects in a single room just over 22 years ago, is now a great example of a modern museum that reflects the history and stories of its local communities. It also tells the story of the place and how it has developed over time through the work of the talented and creative people that lived here.”
Stuart McLeod, the director London and South at the Heritage Fund, said: “We are delighted to support Petersfield Museum in implementing an ambitious programme of capital work and community engagement. This project has restored and developed a Victorian courthouse, police station, exercise yard and stable block to create a unified museum, learning space and archive. Thanks to National Lottery players, a new learning and community space will support a revitalised programme of events and enable the education provision to expand and develop.”