Harpenden Museum - realisation of our dream - Part 3

The museum space - temporary exhibition in October 2021

Since 2003 when the Society lost its museum accreditation and premises attached to Harpenden Hall we actively sought the support of the local community and local authorities to acquire, develop and maintain an appropriately located and sized permanent local history museum to display items from the Society’s existing and future local history collection, both in fixed displays and for exhibitions.

We have been most grateful for the support of Harpenden Town Council in providing a History Room in Park Hall from 2007 to 2023 for the temporaray storage of our archives and also to St Albans District Council for access to storage for artefacts at Sandridgegate from 2018 to 2023.

Painstaking negotiations

By following and commenting on the St Albans City & District planning policy documents and preparation for the Local Development Plan, the Society ensured that there was recognition of the need for museum facilities in the north of the District. So when, in mid-2016, the District Council (SADC) first proposed the possible development of the old Sports Centre in Rothamsted Park as a Cultural Centre, the Society began negotiations to acquire suitable space for a museum.

In the period to late 2017, it is fair to say that these negotiations centred on the challenge of how the Society could finance a new museum in the creche area of the former Sports Centre.

Les Casey bequest

However all this changed in November 2017 on the death of the Society’s former curator, Leslie Casey, and the discovery that he had, in his will, bequeathed his house and part of his estate to the Society for setting up our longed-for Harpenden Museum. The legacy from Leslie’s estate thereby, at a stroke, enabled the Society to start negotiating a lease for the whole of the former creche area, and to finance the construction of a wall to separate the Les Casey archive room from the museum display are.

By mid-2019, detailed Heads of Terms were agreed with SADC for a 25 year lease to formalise the Society’s occupation of appropriate space in the Cultural Centre, now named the Eric Morecambe Centre (EMC). For various reasons (particularly COVID), it took a considerable time from the agreement in principle to actually signing the lease in November 2021. The lease affords the Society a 107 square metre Museum on the ground floor plus an additional 10 square metres of storage.

Creation of Harpenden Museum

The creation of Harpenden Museum therefore now enables the Society to fulfil our Mission Statement as well as supporting community cohesion within the town. It will become part of this wider cultural centre which offers a range of local community activities, including an enlarged and improved theatre. The Museum will be run by the Society’s members and volunteers, to welcome residents, school and other groups and visitors to Harpenden to share what we know of Harpenden’s history – as well as stimulating more research.

Our curator David Keen has designed display layouts for the museum display area with a mix of fixed and changing themes, drawing on the wide range of local artefacts, paintings and photos within the collection, stored in the adjoining Les Casey Archive Room. We will also hope to make our archives accessible (by prior arrangement when necessary) for enquiries and research projects. There is much to discover in our indexed archives.

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