A WEST Cumbrian museum is celebrating its 30th birthday this year.

The Senhouse Roman Museum opened in 1990, and houses the largest collection of Roman military altars and inscriptions from a single site.

Staff care for and display the Roman and Romano-British collection recovered from the adjacent Roman fort and civilian settlement.

Manager Jane Laskey has been at the museum for 22 years, and has a team of three full time staff and 15 volunteers.

“I think the secret is never standing still. We always try to have something new for people to see, even if it is quite small,” said Jane.

“What we don’t want to hear is people say ‘there is no point going there because it is always the same’.

“Our staff and volunteers aim to be very welcoming and friendly, and we want visitors to enjoy their visit.”

The collection existed by 1587 when it was first recorded in the second edition of William Camden’s Britannia.

Camden and his friend Sir Robert Cotton visited John Senhouse, the owner of the estate of Alnburgh on which the Roman fort and civilian settlement stood, in 1599 to record many of the objects already recovered by the Senhouse family and displayed in and around their house at Netherhall.

John Senhouse’s descendants continued to excavate the site and recover objects to add to the collection for the next 400 years.

In 1870 Humphrey Senhouse V made one of the most significant discoveries. Whilst improving land on Camp Farm workers discovered and unearthed a series of huge pits containing 17 complete Roman altars and fragments of many more. These altars were added to the collection.

The collection was a gentleman’s private collection and not available for the general public. They were displayed around the house and gardens at Netherhall, the Senhouse family home.

In 1985 the Senhouse Museum Trust was established with the aim of finding a suitable building to house the collection. At the same time the Victorian Naval Reserve Training Battery, which stands between the Roman fort and the sea, stood derelict and at risk of demolition.

The building was transferred to the Trust and work began on repairing and refurbishing the building. At this time the Trust had little money but a huge amount of enthusiasm and drive. The refurbishment took five years and all the financial reserves of the Trust.

The museum opened to the public in April 1990.

However the previous five years’ work had exhausted the Trust’s financial resources and there were few funds for displays and events programmes. The Trustees set themselves the task of raising enough funds to allow them to continue to operate the museum and pay at least one member of staff.

Over the next ten years the Trust built up its reserves to allow it to survive, but, from an initial influx of visitors, numbers dwindled to less than 2,000 a year. In 1997 the Trust refurbished the Main Gallery and reinterpreted the collection to help visitors understand the significance of the altars. and what they can tell us about the Roman garrisons and individuals stationed at the fort.

The project won the National Heritage Museum of the Year Award 1999 in the ‘Shoestring’ category for achieving excellent results with limited resources.

In 2000 the museum’s millennium projects included the building of a viewing platform based of a Roman watchtower, which allowed visitors an elevated view of the earthworks of the fort. In the same year the Trust began a four year programme of geophysical survey of the 150 acre Camp Farm.

In 2009 the museum benefited from a significant legacy from one of the founding Trustees. This provided the museum with a degree of financial security and independent funds to support its charitable aims.

The museum has continued to refresh its galleries to include new finds and update its interpretation of the collections following new discoveries, and visitor numbers have increased to 8-9,000 a year.

The 30th anniversary celebrations include a conference in April (Celebrating Roman West Cumbria), a summer exhibition spotlighting the stars of the collections, temporary exhibitions of some of the more unusual objects from the store room, a community research project looking at the Senhouse Women and their impact on the town of Maryport, and a birthday party for the Friends of the Museum. Anyone can nominate an object for inclusion in the summer exhibition, a nomination form can be downloaded from the museum’s website – www.senhousemuseum.co.uk