The Norris Museum opened in 1933. Its original diverse collection of Huntingdonshire’s history was lovingly acquired over many years by St Ives born amateur historian, Herbert Norris.
The museum and library were opened in 1933, showcasing the many treasures, and continuing to collect and preserve them for future generations. The collections have grown steadily since then and the museum continues to collect from within the old county boundary. There are just over 33,000 items.
The museum buildings, set in an attractive riverside garden, are a major asset to the town and local area in themselves.
Herbert Ellis Norris was born in St Ives in 1859, the first child of Ellis and Hannah Norris. The Norris’s were established boot and shoemakers in the Town with Herbert’s father and Uncle George trading in Crown Street (now Premier Travel), and his grandfather, John in West Street. By 1871 Herbert’s, family with his younger brother and sister were living in Vine Cottage, Crown Walk, and he was attending Manchester House School, later the St Ives Grammar School.
Herbert’s early interests were in natural history, particularly butterflies, moths and birds eggs. He was also interested in photography, advertising himself in 1886 as a photographer from a studio at Vine Cottage and there are many examples of his pictures in the Museum collection. He later developed an interest in local history, researching, writing and publishing articles and books on the history of St Ives and elsewhere in the county.
By 1891, aged 32 Herbert had moved to Cirencester and was running his own business as a jeweller and silversmith. Quite why he left Huntingdonshire for Gloucestershire is not known but it was here that Herbert began his collection of books, documents, prints, paintings, photographs and objects relating to Huntingdonshire. It is reported that he could not understand why someone would want to buy a car when they could buy a medieval document for the same price!
Herbert maintained contact with his birth county, and family events called him back to St Ives. With his father’s death in 1903, followed by his mother a year later, the family home Vine Cottage was sold under his direction in 1904. Towards the end of his life Herbert seemed to be planning to return to Huntingdonshire as he bought Ferrar House in Huntingdon but he died at his home in Cirencester on what would have been his 72nd birthday, 27th March 1931.