The museum was started to house the collection of the Société Archéologique. Some of the driving forces behind the start of the museum were art historian William Henry James Weale and architect William Curtis Brangwyn.
The museum displays both the interior of a house of a rich family as it would have been in the late Middle Ages, and a collection of everyday tools and utensils. On display are furniture, bobbin lace, objects in gold and silver, weapons, musical instruments, and ceramics. The most famous object in the collection is the painted terracotta bust of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor from 1520, attributed to Conrat Meit. Another highlight is the collection of Flemish tapestries from the 16th and 17th century.
The museum regularly holds exhibitions, like the 1987 “Masterpieces of Bruges Tapestry”, or the 2013 “Love and devotion”, centered on the Gruuthuse manuscript.