The Museum is located in the former Huntingdon Grammar School building, which was where Oliver Cromwell was educated as a schoolboy and where he first received exposure to Puritan ideas through the teaching of Dr Thomas Beard. The building itself is all that remains of the old Hospital of St John, built to provide hospitality for travellers and pilgrims in the 11th century.
The museum starts with Cromwell’s time at the school and his early years in Huntingdon and St Ives before he became involved in national politics. On display you can see the vestry book of the parish of St Ives, which includes his signature, and some of his possessions, even his hat. Later in life Cromwell moved in powerful and wealthy circles and he received some beautiful gifts. The Museum’s exhibits include a magnificent Florentine perfume cabinet, which was a gift to Cromwell from the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and which contains exquisite Venetian glass bottles with colourful embroidered covers; and a 17th century medicine chest still with its surgical instruments and tools, which Cromwell is said to have taken on campaign with him. You can also see on display an original pike from the Civil War and unique swords, uniforms and items of armour from the period, alongside 17th century coins and medallions.
When Cromwell died in 1658 he was given a magnificent state funeral. In the Museum’s collection is an original escutcheon which was draped across his coffin and a death mask made directly from Cromwell’s face soon after he died.
The Museum displays many original paintings of Cromwell, his family, his political and military contemporaries and of events relating to the Civil War. Highlights include Robert Walker’s contemporary portraits of Oliver Cromwell and his wife Elizabeth, and Abraham Cooper’s Oliver Cromwell Leading his Cavalry into Battle of 1868.
But the Museum looks at more than simply Cromwell himself; it also examines his impact and his legacy right through to our own times. The Museum is responsible for an impressive collection of drawings and cartoons including works by Gerald Scarfe and Quentin Blake. It is impossible to show everything in the Museum so the exhibits are regularly changed.
The Museum carries out a rich range of educational and outreach events, often in partnership with other bodies such as re-enactment groups, the Friends of the Cromwell Museum, the Cromwell Association, and the archives and local studies team based in Huntingdon Library. The Museum supports the annual Cromwell Collection public lecture which is given each November in Huntingdon.
The Cromwell Trust and Museum are dedicated to preserving and communicating the assets, legacy and times of Oliver Cromwell in a way that inspires interest in those with whom we make contact.
The Trust’s formal objective is “to advance the education of the public in the life and legacy of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, by the establishment and maintenance of the Museum in such ways as the Trustees see fit”.