The Bingham Gallery is situated in the very heart of Cirencester, central to the legacy of Daniel George Bingham to his native town, where he was born in Black Jack Street in 1830. After completing his education at a local school, his first job was a junior clerk at the new GWR railway station. The Area Manager, James Forbes, quickly spotted Bingham’s potential. A series of promotions followed, leading Bingham first to London and later to Utrecht in Holland.
Bingham always remembered Cirencester fondly, regularly returning to the area to visit relatives. He purchased a property in Box in Wiltshire, near his wife’s family, but Utrecht remained his home. Bingham’s regard for his first home, where he was educated and embarked on his career, made him determined to give something back. For his first project he settled on providing the town with a public library, and in 1903 he was able to purchase 1 Dyer Street. The foundation stone was laid in January 1904 and the library opened in September 1905.
The facilities included a news and reading room on the ground floor, a 200-seat lecture theatre on the first floor and reference and lending libraries on the top floor. Bingham also wished to open a gallery. He shared this dream with the children of artist John Beecham, after accepting five of their late father’s paintings to hang in the reading room. Sadly, this dream was not realised in his lifetime.
A forward-thinking philanthropist, Bingham ensured financial provision for his legacies through careful investment, including various properties in the town. On his death in 1913, the future of the library was secure, overseen by the Bingham Library Trust.
By the 1960s, libraries became the responsibility of Local Government and in 1975 a new dedicated library was built. Since then, Bingham’s vision has continued in the work of the Trust and in its preservation of Cirencester’s rich heritage. In 2005, a century after the library opened, the Trust finally realised Bingham’s dream by establishing the Bingham gallery.
Iconic paintings from the collection are on permanent display in the gallery, which is used for various events and available for hire. It also hosts the Trust’s annual themed exhibitions which showcase a selection of other works from the collection. The exhibitions open to the public on set days with a grand opening usually in early summer.
The pandemic prevented the Trust from opening the gallery in 2020. However, an online version of the exhibition Treasures from the Collection is available on the website. This celebrates Cirencester’s heritage and the Trust’s preservation of local art and archives. The collection continues to grow, and donations of art and archives are welcome. Advice on caring for personal art and archive collections is also offered.
The Trust is currently considering an additional online exhibition to reflect life in a pandemic. Aware that many people have found comfort in arts and crafts, the Trust is interested in receiving stories, accompanied with a photograph, of finding solace in creativity to use in an online exhibition. More information can be found on the Trust’s website.
The archive collection is a lesser-known aspect of the Trust. It owes its instigation both to Bingham and his librarian, Sidney Harrison. Known for his enthusiastic nature, Harrison was passionate about history and heritage. He aimed to collect “every book, print, political squib, map, report, catalogue, newspaper, and periodical issued from a printing press in Cirencester, every book written by a Ciceter man or woman, and every book containing reference to this grand old town”. Today it contains nearly 6000 items including local ephemera, photographs, drawings, records of clubs, societies and businesses, deeds, maps and plans. Since 2007 it has been located at Gloucestershire Archives, ensuring its preservation in the best archival conditions, whilst remaining fully accessible to the public.
The Trust further honours Bingham’s legacy by providing, supporting and encouraging the promotion of education in the appreciation of art, including music. Funding a Children’s Librarian is key, as well as exploring additional ways to work in partnership with young people. Currently there are some plans in development for future collaboration with schools.
More about the history of Bingham and his legacy, the Trust’s aims and services, exhibition information and contact details is available at https://www.binghamlibrarytrust.org.uk
Helen Timlin, Collections, Exhibitions and Interpretation Officer