Somehow the existence of the Dorman Museum managed to pass me by until very recently. Having found myself attending an archaeology talk in the museum’s education suite just before Christmas it was immediately apparent that I had overlooked a fantastic treasure box right on my doorstep.
As with the much lamented Darlington Museum, an early victim of council cutbacks before austerity was even on the horizon, the Dorman Museum houses an eclectic collection of stuffed birds, fossils, mineral samples and household objects which paint a picture of Teesside life in a bygone age. There are model ships in display cases, archaeological finds and even the silver trowel used to lay the foundation stone of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – it was constructed of Dorman Long steel from Middlesbrough, if you are struggling to find the connection with Teesside.
Linthorpe Pottery at the Dorman Museum
The highlight of the collection, particularly for those with an interest in the decorative arts, are the Linthorpe Pottery gallery and the collection of pieced designed by Dr Christopher Dresser for John Harrison, who set up the pottery in 1879. Here there is connection with Darlington – John Harrison also founded the Onward Building Society with its head office in Darlington. He was found to have been syphoning money from the building society to support his pottery business, leading to a huge financial scandal, though it was only uncovered after his death in 1889. Harrison is buried in West Cemetery in Darlington.
Sharp-eyed viewers of the Antiques Roadshow will recognise a number of pieces in the decorative arts galleries which have recently been featured on the programme. There is an example of the iconic Christopher Dresser toast rack and a Martin Brothers vase decorated with their trademark Wally Birds. The gothic Wally Birds may not be to everyone’s taste but for those who love them they are extremely collectable and it is a pleasure to see them up close in a local museum.
With such a wide ranging collection there is something for everyone in the museum. If you have a taste for art nouveau and the decorative arts it is certainly well worth a visit, particularly as admission is free.