8 November 2022


Carriage Museum Options





Economic Regeneration & Leisure Policy Advisory Committee

8 November 2022

Lead Member for Leisure and Arts

18 November 2022



Will this be a Key Decision?





Not Applicable

Final Decision-Maker

Lead Member for Leisure and Arts

Lead Head of Service

Mark Green, Director of Finance, Resources and Business Improvement

Lead Officer and Report Author

Victoria Barlow, Museums’ Director




Wards affected

High Street


Executive Summary


The Tyrwhitt-Drake Museum of Carriages houses a nationally important collection, which has the potential to become once more an important visitor attraction in Maidstone.  This report describes options for the future of the Museum and sets out a recommendation which offers the opportunity for organic growth in opening hours and the number of visitors.


Purpose of Report






This report asks the Committee to consider the following recommendation to the Lead Member on the Executive for Leisure and Arts:

1.   That Option 3 as set out in the officer report is adopted, namely to reopen the Carriage Museum on a regular weekly basis in 2023 with the assistance of volunteers.




Carriage Museum Options










Impact on Corporate Priorities

The four Strategic Plan objectives are:


·         Embracing Growth and Enabling Infrastructure

·         Safe, Clean and Green

·         Homes and Communities

·         A Thriving Place

We expect that the recommendation in this report will contribute to the objective of making Maidstone a thriving place.

Victoria Barlow, Museums’ Director

Cross Cutting Objectives

The four cross-cutting objectives are:


·         Heritage is Respected

·         Health Inequalities are Addressed and Reduced

·         Deprivation and Social Mobility is Improved

·         Biodiversity and Environmental Sustainability is respected


The report recommendation supports the objective of respecting heritage.


Victoria Barlow, Museums’ Director

Risk Management

Already covered in the risk section.


Victoria Barlow, Museums’ Director


The proposals set out in the recommendation are all within already approved budgetary headings and so need no new funding for implementation.


Section 151 Officer & Finance Team


We will deliver the recommendations with our current staffing.


Victoria Barlow, Museums’ Director


Acting on the recommendations is within the Council’s powers as set out in local authority legislation (including the general power of competence under the Localism Act 2011) and the Council’s Constitution.

Interim Team Leader (Contentious and Corporate Governance)

Information Governance

Information about volunteers will be held in accordance with the requirements of the UK GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018.


Information Governance Team.


There is no impact on Equalities as a result of the options in this report. An EqIA would be carried out as part of a policy or service change should one be identified.


Equalities & Communities Officer

Public Health



No implications.

Public Health Officer

Crime and Disorder

No implications.


Victoria Barlow, Museums’ Director


No implications.

Victoria Barlow, Museums’ Director

Biodiversity and Climate Change

As part of the extensive Decarbonisation Study conducted by APSE Energy on behalf of MBC, recommendations for improving heating efficiency with low carbon options, improving insulation and viable renewable energy generation were sought for the Carriage Museum and MBC's other grade listed buildings as part of the study. Initial findings suggest that the near-by car parks are not viable for installation of a solar PV canopy due to their size and are overcast with shade from buildings and trees. Additionally, due to the building’s Grade 1 Listing - insulation and secondary glazing options are limited and would need careful consideration with conservation officers and cost/benefit analysis. Connected heat networks with the Archbishop’s Palace maybe an option, however further surveying would be required to understand the costs and logistical requirements to connect the Carriage Museum to a large-scale heating network while adhering to grade listed requirements.


Biodiversity and Climate Change Officer




2.1        The Tyrwhitt-Drake Museum of Carriages was opened on 6th November 1946 by Sir Leigh Ashton, the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is still considered to be one of the finest collections of its kind in Europe. Most of the carriages are over 100 years old. They were designed for only a limited number of years of roadworthiness and, as a consequence, they are now too fragile to be sat in or to go behind a horse. This collection is important because the carriages are in the same original condition as when they were last used.  This means that there is no shiny paint work and the leather and metal does not sparkle. However, what visitors to the Museum see is a very rare glimpse of something completely unaltered, which our Victorian forebears would recognise as very much their own.

2.2        Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake was born into a wealthy local brewing family in 1881. He was well known for his political interests which saw him Knighted in 1936, made High Sheriff of Kent and elected Mayor of Maidstone twelve times. Sir Garrard also had great affection for the horse drawn carriages of his youth. He realised that they were being completely replaced by the motor car and that our carriage-driving heritage was in danger of being lost forever. He decided to establish a collection to preserve this heritage. He began with a letter to The Times newspaper (dated 9th Sept 1946) in which he appealed for unwanted carriages to be donated.  The response was good, and before long carriages started to arrive, some even came by special train. The collection not only includes carriages but also sleighs, other horse and hand-drawn vehicles and associated material such as horse harnesses.

Current Position

2.3        The Carriage Museum remained closed during the two years of the Covid pandemic.  However, it has opened on three Saturdays so far in 2022, on each occasion attracting over 100 visitors.  Due to the unheated nature of the building in which the carriages are housed, it is only practical to open the museum in the Summer season.  For the two years prior to the Covid pandemic it was open for 2 days a week from May - September. Prior to 2018, the museum was open three days a week. There is an admission charge of £2 for adults.






















Table: Annual visitor numbers 2011- 2019


2.4        It is clear that visitor numbers were affected by the reduction of opening hours in 2017/18 which was the result of a staff reorganisation which reduced the number of staff employed in visitor facing roles. However, seasonal opening and a low-profile compared to the St Faith's Street site have resulted in visitor figures which are clearly unsustainable.

The Building

2.5        The museum is housed in the Grade 1 Listed Stables formerly associated with the Archbishop's Palace. Grant-funded work has been carried out to attempt to stabilise the environment in the mediaeval building which is prone to temperature and humidity changes in line with the external weather. The current building has no public toilet or space in which to host schools' learning and in an attempt to make conditions more pleasant for staff, a small conservatory-style office was installed a number of years ago. A Wi-Fi connection was installed two years ago.

2.6        A meeting with Historic England's Sites and Monuments Inspector in 2018, suggested that the organisation would be supportive of measures to make the building more accessible and practical for use in the 21st century.


2.7        The Carriages downstairs can only be seen from one side at ground level. This means that only the exterior is really visible. They are somewhat crammed down the edges of the space and have the appearance of storage rather than a vibrant and interesting display. Where current visitors are provided with plastic periscopes to see inside the carriages, video or simply room to open carriage doors would give visitors a much more realistic and exciting view. A simulation of a ride in a carriage has long been discussed by staff.  

2.8        The interpretation of the carriages is carried out by information boards. The information presented is very technical and could be improved to better tell the 'people stories' associated with the collections and introduce visitors to the social history of the people who drove, rode in and owned carriages. Other elements such as sound and video would provide different ways of telling those stories and make them more compelling.

The Collection

2.9        The relevance of the collection to Maidstone is in its connection to Tyrwhitt Drake as most of the vehicles on show were not originally used here.

2.10     Since the original collection was brought together, additional items have been added to the displays at the museum. These include items from the museum's wider transport collection, items on loan from individuals and institutions such as the V&A Museum and Royal Mews. The care, management and costs relating to these loans is borne by the residents of Maidstone. Despite comments in local and social media over the years, the items in the collection are all in stable condition and at no risk of 'falling apart'. The carriages which have been in the museum for many years have acclimatised to the cycle of the year in terms of temperature and humidity. Some surface mould was discovered a few years ago but was treated and further outbreaks prevented as mentioned above.

Strategic Context

2.11     One of the Council’s Strategic Priorities is to make Maidstone a ‘thriving place’.  It will do this by bringing visitors and residents of the borough into the Town Centre.  Developing a Town Centre Strategy will be one of the ways we seek to meet this strategic priority over the next five years.

2.12     In this context, a valuable and historic town centre asset, like the Carriage Museum, can only enhance Maidstone as an attraction.  The options set out below need therefore to be considered in light of how effective they are in showcasing the Carriage Museum, within the financial and operational constraints faced by the Council.





3.1        OPTION 1: DO NOTHING


It would be possible to continue the temporary measures currently in place and retain the building and collections while opening only by appointment to fee-paying groups and on special occasions.  The minimum number of visitors required for a visit to take place would be reviewed.


-      Costs are fixed and known

-      Some level of access is maintained

-      Levels of interest in the museum and collection can be monitored


-      Access is limited to those willing and able to arrange visits for themselves

-      This may contravene loan agreements with carriage owners

-      Reputational damage to the Council



There are a number of Carriage Museums in England so this museum is not unique in its general content. If a museum of this sort is unsustainable and unused by residents then the building might be repurposed or sold by Maidstone Borough Council as the owner. The collections would then either be returned to the owner institution or individual or be put through the process of Deaccessioning to remove them from the council's responsibility. Suitable homes in other museums would be sought in the first instance although it is unlikely that any museum would have capacity to keep the collection together


-      Maidstone Council is no longer responsible for the management and care of the collection

-      The museum building is freed for other purposes


-      No museum may come forward to take carriages meaning they will have to be disposed of through other means such as sale or destruction if no home is found

-      There would be reputational damage for the council as it is seen to be closing and disposing of the museum. These actions are frequently misrepresented in media as 'selling off the family silver' method whatever the disposal of the collection

-      All costs of moving and rehoming any parts of the collection would accrue to Maidstone Borough Council and this might be a significant amount in the short term, potentially running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

-      The collection and all the stories, knowledge and memories therein are lost to the borough in perpetuity



There are a number of smaller changes which could be introduced either singly or in combination which are listed below.

3.3.1 Use of volunteer staff

There is no current capacity for museum staff to work at the Carriage Museum and so the recruitment of dedicated volunteers is the only real option. The overall security and care of collections will remain with the professional staff but trained volunteers can open the museum and provide customer services on site. With the right training they will welcome visitors, provide answers to questions and monitor the collections during the day. Volunteers would be used to open the museum more regularly, starting with regular Saturday opening during the summer. Some seasonality would still be required as the museum is extremely cold in the winter. Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers provides a way of re-engaging with visitors generally and with Carriage enthusiasts in particular. 


-      Regular involvement by residents in the running of the museum

-      Increased access to the collection and greater opening hours

-      Retains potential for paid guided tours


-      Failure to recruit or retain enough volunteers

-      Volunteer expenses outweigh the budget available (volunteers are reimbursed for travel costs)


3.3.2 Integrating Museum with overall offer to visitors to Maidstone

The Carriage Museum has attracted a healthy number of visitors on the limited number of occasions it has opened in 2022, because it has benefited from the publicity associated with events taking place at the same time – the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the Maidstone River Festival, and the Open House Weekend.  These events in turn have been able to offer the Carriage Museum as part of a comprehensive roster of attractions.

In future, developments at the Archbishop’s Palace offer further opportunities for joint working with other attractions.


-      Maximising visitor numbers

-      Contributing towards overall visitor offer


-      Carriage Museum is over-sold – the Collection is not necessarily of interest to all Maidstone visitors.

-      Competition with other attractions for willing and competent volunteers.


         3.3.3 Investment in modernising interpretation and presentation

There are a number of improvements which could be made at the existing museum, including interpretation telling the stories of people involved with coaches, from makers to drivers to passengers; the introduction of film, sound and interactive activities which would improve the experience at the museum and it make it more enjoyable; the installation of a platform lift to provide access to the upper floor through an existing but blocked up window/door space; creation of a small public toilet.


-      Rejuvenation of a currently dated and dry presentation making it more desirable to a wider audience

-      Scale-able as funding is available

-      Likely to attract grant funding from smaller grant givers

-      Opportunity for positive publicity


-      Need for defined budget/fundraising target

-      May clash with fundraising efforts at the main Museum

-      If the museum is not open regularly, it would not justify the investment required.


3.3.4 Return of carriages on loan to their owners

At the moment, roughly 30% of carriages and other items at the Carriage Museum are on loan from other collections.  It may be possible to return some of these to their owners, to the extent that they are not required in order to present a coherent and attractive display.  This would create space that would allow for an improved quality of display. 


-      More space to view and interpret the remaining carriages

-      A more visitor-friendly environment

-      Staff are currently responsible for care and management of loans and this would free up time for other responsibilities


-      Major lenders are known, but some minor and historic lenders are unknown. In the case of some historic lenders, they may not be identifiable, but reasonable steps to find them should be taken and documented to ensure best practice is adhered to and there are no future legal complications.

-      It is likely that MBC would be responsible for returning the vehicles and the associated costs.



Whilst the carriage collection may seem like a niche area of interest at first sight, there are many interesting stories of both local and national interest which can be told by this collection. A new museum with a welcoming entrance, in a better location, offering full physical access, toilets and facilities for school groups, could provide the base for exploring the stories of both the people and ideas behind the collection. If only the core collection of carriages was retained, a really clear focus would be possible. The development of new audio-visual technologies such as Augmented or Virtual Reality offer new means of interpreting the movement and experience of travelling by coach in a museum where the carriages are, by necessity, static.  Potential venues have been considered but initial indications are that the relocation of the Collection would not be viable.


-      The museum would be a new attraction

-      Greater access to collections and the history encapsulated in them

-      It would allow for greater emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects in sessions led by the Learning team


-      Funding would need to be secured locally as national grants are very over-subscribed in the current environment

-      Any new museum would require a long period of planning and development, even if funding were available

-      Transferring the existing Collection to a new venue would require great care and expense in order to avoid damage to the carriages.

-      If the museum is not more exciting and better promoted than the current one, the investment may not bring in sufficient visitors to justify the investment

-      As we move into a potentially more challenging financial environment, it would be difficult to justify use of the Council’s capital programme for some or all of the required investment.





4.1     Option 3 – This option provides a sustainable and realistic model for the future of the Carriage Museum.  Improving the quality of the displays to create a more exciting and visitor-friendly offer, and tapping into the enthusiasm of volunteers, provide an opportunity for organic growth in opening hours and visitor numbers.  This will allow the Museum to contribute increasingly over time to making Maidstone a thriving place.



5.       RISK

5.1    Risks associated with the different options are set out in section 3.  Operational risks associated with implementing the preferred option will be addressed in line with the Council’s risk management framework.





6.1    Before it was decommissioned, the former Economic Regeneration and Leisure Committee agreed at its meeting on 19th April 2022 that the Member of the Executive responsible for the Carriage Museum under the new governance arrangements would be asked to review the opening hours of the Museum to ensure that it is accessible to the public.  Subsequently, this Committee considered at its meeting on 5th July 2022 the Maidstone Museums Forward Plan, which included as a priority a review of the Carriage Museum and its operation with a short-term goal to open the Museum using volunteer staff.  This report responds to these commitments.


6.2    Visitors to the Carriage Museum are invited to record their comments in a visitors’ book.  Recent comments in the visitors’ book express a wish for the Museum to be open more often and enthusiasm about the quality and depth of the Collection.  This supports the recommended approach above.





7.1     If the preferred option is adopted, steps will be taken to implement it, and in particular to plan for and advertise regular Saturday opening in Summer 2023.