Beverley’s Museum and Art Gallery opened to the public on 23rd August 1910. Fuelled by popular appeal and a firm conviction that they served an education and morally uplifting purpose, public galleries had been springing up throughout the country, particularly since the 1870s.
The idea to fund a public library with museum and art gallery was first put forward in 1902 when John Champney, a native of Beverley, approached the Town Council with the offer of funding. Further funds were donated by William Spencer to buy the land.
The public library opened in 1906 together with a ‘picture gallery’ where the portraits of both benefactors were proudly displayed. Four years later, Champney’s scheme was completed when Beverley museum and art gallery was formally opened.
As was customary at the time, both museum items and works of art were displayed alongside each other. The museum collection was quite diverse; the walls of the gallery were densely covered with magnificent pictures including an ‘Italian Madonna’, a portrait of Archbishop Rokeby by the renowned 18th century painter Angelica Kauffman R.A. and a range of works by local artists including Fred Elwell.
In 1928, again with funds provided by John Champney, a new wing was added to the building, providing space for a reference library on the ground floor and a second gallery (which also served as a public lecture hall) on the first floor. In keeping with the decoration of the earlier gallery, the walls were covered with canvas of a ‘blue-grey’.
Disabled access to the gallery on the first floor was limited until the new East Riding Treasure House was opened in January 2007. The Treasure House also has an environmentally-controlled store room that provides a more suitable home for the pictures to ensure they are well preserved for the future.
When the Treasure House was being linked to the original building in 2006 one of the Gallery’s most famous pictures, ‘A Panic’ by H.W.B.Davis (R.A.), the largest cattle picture in the world, had to be removed from the end wall. Taking the picture down presented the opportunity for it to be restored, and it has now been returned to take pride of place in the Gallery.