Beaney House of Art and Knowledge


The ​​Beaney House of Art and Knowledge is Canterbury’s main museum of art and local history, which has been operating for over 120 years.

The museum is a Grade II listed Tudor Revival-style building that dates from the late Victorian period and it has previously been known as the Beaney Institute and the Royal Museum and Art Gallery.

The museum was founded in 1899 after Dr James George Beaney left £10,000 for the establishment of a museum in Canterbury and Canterbury City Council added additional funds so the new museum could accommodate the city’s existing local history museum.

The museum underwent refurbishment between 2009 and 2012, which has improved the visitor experience without detracting too much from the museum’s Victorian-era charm.

What to see at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge

The museum’s original collection includes English and European ceramics, Anglo-Saxon grave jewellery and prehistoric Roman and Anglo-Saxon artefacts that have been found in Kent. There are also some exhibits relating to the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment).

The museum is organised into several galleries, which combine both artworks and traditional artefacts about local history and culture and natural history. These include the Garden Room, the Colour and Camouflage gallery, the People and Places gallery, the Explorers and Collectors gallery and Materials and Masters.

The Garden Room includes a number of artefacts with local significance including a Roman carving of a dog chasing its tail that was excavated from Church Lane as well as a significant collection of paintings by Canterbury-born artist Thomas Sidney Cooper (1803–1902).

The Colour and Camouflage gallery focuses mostly on colours in the natural world and how wildlife use camouflage to either stand out to attract a mate or hide from predators.

The People and Places gallery features sculptures of the Magna Carta barons, an interesting display about Susan Bertie, Later Countess of Kent plus art including Van Dyck’s 1638 portrait of Sir Basil Dixwell. This gallery is also noted for its display about the children’s book character Rupert Bear, which was created by Cantabrian Mary Tourtel, who illustrated the Rupert Bear annuals and comic strips from 1920 until 1935.

People and Places also has exhibits about the pilgrimage to Canterbury that followed the death of Archbishop Thomas Becket. This exhibit includes artefacts including pilgrim badges, a religious souvenir bought by pilgrims to commemorate their journey.

The Explorers and Collectors gallery is home to artefacts brought back to England from British explorers, including artefacts from Africa, India and ancient Egypt. In addition to artefacts from around the globe, this gallery also includes artefacts from Anglo-Saxon Kent as well as the Canterbury Cross, which dates from around 850 AD and was discovered in 1867, becoming a symbol of the Anglican church.

Materials and Masters is a gallery that shows how craftspeople have transformed raw materials into useful and decorative objects. In contrast to many museum galleries, Materials and Masters is arranged by raw material rather than by time period. This gallery is also home to a collection of 16th-century Dutch paintings.

Temporary exhibitions at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge

The museum also hosts a programme of temporary exhibitions. Current and planned exhibitions include:

Beyond Limits Photography Exhibition
The Beyond Limits Photography Exhibition (until 4 August 2024) showcases collaborative work between residents of Strode Park House and local photographer Harry Booker. It portrays a day in the life of four residents, emphasising their determination and resilience.

Canterbury’s Aphra Behn (1640–1689): Literature’s best kept secret
This exhibition (until 18 August 2024) highlights the work of local playwright, Aphra Benn (1640–1689) and explores her life from her early years to becoming a successful playwright, poet, translator and fiction writer. Born on the outskirts of Canterbury in 1640 as Aphra Johnson, the daughter of a barber and a wet nurse, Aphra Behn emerged as the first professional female writer in English, enduring challenges and gender biases. Behn’s notable works, including two enduring plays and the novella Oroonoko, are showcased in the exhibition.

Visiting the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge

The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge is on High Street, right in the heart of the city centre. Most other points of interest in Canterbury are nearby including Canterbury Cathedral and the Canterbury Roman Museum, which are both only a 2–3-minute walk from the museum.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday and admission is free of charge.

The 2009–2012 refurbishment programme added disabled access to the museum and it is now accessible to disabled visitors.

You should allow 1–2 hours to visit the museum.

  • Wheelchair access
  • Cafe/restaurant
  • Gift shop

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