SALISBURY Museum's £2.4m new gallery was opened to the public at the weekend.

Birmingham University's clinical anatomist Dr Alice Roberts, who is well known for her television science programmes, joined the many visitors to the new Wessex Gallery for a day of free family fun.

The formal opening ceremony was held on Thursday evening when Simon Timms, chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West Committe,e performed the honours.

He told an audience of 80 invited guests the reasons why the fund had invested in the scheme.

“The first is quality,” he said. “You are holding here a collection that is just supreme. It is not just for Stonehenge or Avebury. You are holding it for the whole world.

“It is absolutely clear that this museum believes in partnership. There is this wonderful Wessex Museum partnership, which involved the support of Wiltshire Council, Dorset Museum, Wiltshire Museum, and English Heritage - linked to Stonehenge particularly.

“You also have open arms; you want everyone to be coming here. This is so important.”

Joe Studholm, the outgoing chairman of Museum Trust, said it was the end of Phase One of their “master plan to completely revamp all the galleries and facilities”.

He praised the work of the director Adrian Green who he said would be charged with producing the next phase.

Mr Green said: “There is always more to be done. This has taken a long to come about and I think from very early on when we were thinking about developing the museum the archaeology collection was very much top of the list. It's obvious really because we are somewhat blessed in this area of having some of the finest archaeological sites in the country, if not in the world. The collections here are equally important. We felt strongly that we needed to something about that.

“A project like this does not happen without the help of a huge amount of people. One of the most important are the staff.”

He also praised the work of volunteers who have done a huge amount of work behind the scenes.

The new gallery houses one of Europe's most extensive collections of Stonehenge and prehistoric artefacts including the Amesbury Archer and the Wardour Hoard.