Dartford Borough Museum is one of the smallest museums in Kent, but the scope and quality of its collections are outstanding.
The collections have been gathered together since 1906, although some of the objects were collected by private individuals in the 19th century. The museum houses approximately 20,000 separate items, ranging in size from tiny insects to larger items of domestic furniture.
Due to the restricted size of the museum gallery only a small percentage of the museum's total collections are on display. The remainder of the collections are housed in store, but these are readily accessible to the general public and researchers alike by prior appointment with the Curator.
The museum houses an excellent collection of archaeological material representing both major and minor archaeological sites in the Dartford area.
The museum retains important collections of Palaeolithic material from sites in and around Swanscombe and Dartford, as well as collections of Mesolithic and Neolithic material from the North Kent area.
Iron Age and Bronze Age objects are also to be found in the collections. Roman material is well represented in the collections; most of the Roman finds originate from local villa and settlement sites.
Perhaps one of the most important archaeological collections housed at Dartford comprises finds from the Anglo-Saxon cemetery sites at Riseley and Horton Kirby.
Pride of place in the museum collections goes to the 'Darenth Bowl', an exquisite Saxon glass bowl (cAD 450) of Christian significance, found in a Saxon grave in the grounds of Darenth Park Hospital by members of the Dartford District Archaeological Group in 1978.
The 'Darenth Bowl' is in the custody of Dartford Borough Museum. The museum enjoys an excellent working relationship with the Dartford District Archaeological Group and there is a constant interflow of information between the two bodies.
The archaeological material in the collections enables us to build up a very detailed picture of daily life in the Dartford area spanning some 400,000 years of human history.
The Dartford area is endowed with a varied and interesting geology, and this variety is reflected in the scope of the geological collection, the third largest collection in Kent. Of particular interest to the general public is the comprehensive range of chalk fossils in the collection.
Many of the fossils are from old chalk pits in the Dartford area. Some of these pits are no longer 'worked'. Dartford Borough Museum also houses an important collection of ancient animal remains from the Pleistocene deposits.
This collection includes mammoth bones and teeth and the semi-fossilised remains of a wide range of animals (some now extinct) which roamed the Dartford area tens of thousands of years ago. Rocks, minerals and fossils from all over Kent are represented in the collection.
Almost every aspect of Dartford's colourful history is represented somewhere in the museum's historical collections. Material in these collections dates from medieval times to the present day.
The study of history in the past was largely concerned with great men and national events. For some time now museums like Dartford have been attempting to redress the balance by collecting and displaying objects which are representative of all sections of the local community.
The museum houses an excellent collection of objects dating from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, as well as objects associated with the two World Wars. Other collections include ceramics, 18th to 20th century costume and coins.
Natural History Collections:
In the early years of its existence, Dartford Museum was very much concerned with interpreting the natural environment, much of which has disappeared in recent decades. Many older Dartfordians will remember the days when the museum was stacked from floor to ceiling with display cases bulging at the seams with stuffed birds and animals.
Some of these specimens are still in the museum collection. Dartford Borough Museum houses modest collections of insects, plants, birds' eggs and marine and freshwater shells. Much of this material was collected in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.
Visitors can gain access to the natural history collections by prior appointment with the Museum Curator. Access to the collection of birds' eggs is strictly controlled and restricted to bonafide researchers with written references.
Additions to the natural history collections are made in accordance with the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.