JSM Ward and the history of the Abbey Museum

The Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology has its roots in the Abbey Folk Park, established by Rev. John S.M. Ward at New Barnet, England, in 1934.

John SM Ward, founder of the Abbey Museum collection

Born in British Honduras in 1885 and educated at Cambridge, John Ward developed an interest in collecting antiquities as a child. In 1929, following a profound spiritual experience, he founded a utopian religious community at Hadley Abbey and established the Abbey Folk Park, Britain’s first social history museum.

War, migration and death

“The man who collects houses
A pioneer of modern museology, Ward displayed artefacts in sympathetic historic settings. Dubbed “the man who collects houses” by the press, Ward amassed 30 salvaged historic buildings at the folk park, where he displayed his substantial collection of prehistoric, classical and medieval antiquities. Ward constructed a replica prehistoric village, making him an innovator of experimental archaeology and open air museums.

In 1940 during the London Blitz, the Abbey Folk Park was forced to close; it never reopened. In 1945 the museum buildings and the bulk of the collections were sold to finance the migration of Ward and members of his community to Cyprus where he died in 1949. The escalation of violence as Greek Cypriots campaigned for union with Greece forced the community to relocate again to Australia in 1956; they eventually settled in Caboolture, Queensland, in 1965.

Ward’s museum reborn near brisbane

In 1978 it was decided to make the remaining collection available to the public and a Museum board was formed, appointing Michael Strong (M.A. Archaeology & Heritage) as director. A selection of the collection was displayed in a temporary building while funding was sought to build a permanent museum. With the securing of assistance from government and public sources, construction commenced in 1983. In June 1986 the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology was officially opened. In 1999 a small manuscript gallery was opened, named in honour of Professor Richard Stephens who served as Board chairman from 1993-2003.

Jousts, digs and tea parties
Not only has the breadth of its collections made the Abbey Museum unique in Australia, its public programs have provided entertainment and education to hundreds of thousands of visitors. From humble beginnings the Abbey Medieval Festival has grown to be a truly international event, attracting more than 37,000 visitors in 2012. The Museum’s education programs give students a unique chance to experience archaeology on recreated dig sites, explore the environmental heritage of the Moreton Bay Region or learn how to mummify their classmates, Egyptian style! The Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, talks, themed family weeks and the very popular Regency event, Picnic at Pemberley.

Taking the past into the future

The Abbey Museum is constantly developing new events and programs, researching and acquiring objects for display. Foremost of the Museum’s priorities is the establishment of a permanent art gallery adjoining the Museum. The greater Brisbane Museum collection boasts a magnificent collection of Old Master artworks from Medieval to Baroque periods which cannot currently be displayed due to space and conservation restraints.

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