Northampton Museum and Art Gallery originally opened in 1866 in the Guildhall. The museum occupied two rooms towards the back of the building. In 1884, the museum along with the library and the reading room moved to its current location in Guildhall Road which used to be a part of the county gaol (jail). The building was constructed in 1846 to provide extra accommodation for Northampton County Gaol. In 1880, the county gaol was closed and the building was purchased by Northampton Town Council to accommodate the town museum and library.
In 1883, the interior of the building was reconstructed and a stone porch was built to allow access to Guildhall Road. In 1884, the library and reading room opened to the public and occupied the ground floor of the building. The museum moved in on the 14th of April 1884. In 1889, the L shaped extension was created and opened at the front of the building to provide extra space for the library. By 1901, the museum was well known for its boot and shoe collection and is world famous in the present day for Northampton’s rich history in shoe production.
In 1910, the library and reading room moved to a new building in Abington Street which they currently occupy. The whole building was then completely dedicated to the museum. A new boot and shoe display was set up in the old reading room where it still remains and the old reference library became the art gallery located on the first floor.
In 1935, there were some major building alterations completed. On the ground floor, a new entrance hall and offices were built to replace the old porch. The lower exhibition gallery was built which is now the lower part of the Osborne Robinson Gallery. On the first floor, the Shoosmith room was built to make more space for the museums art collection, but is now used as a lecture room.
In 1987, an extension was made to the North of the museum, designed by the Borough Architect’s Department. The exterior consists of large glazed areas to the sides facing the road. On the interior, the building provided additional display spaces on four floors, linking together the existing building.
Northampton Museums shoe collection is the largest in the world and has expanded rapidly from shoes to tools and machinery for shoe making. The collection consists of over 12,000 pairs of shoes and over 50,000 archival records relating to shoes and shoe making.