It’s always sad when for whatever reason a museum has to close its doors to the public. However, as with all things, there are right ways to do things, and wrong ways.
The Lackham Agricultural and Countryside Museum, in Wiltshire, was closed in 2009 due to lack of funds. Since that time, an extensive collection of over 4000 objects has been ‘mothballed’, but now the museum is taking the step of trying to trace the original owners who donated the various items in order to offer the items back. The full story is on the BBC website and is an example of trying to ‘do the right thing’.
Less satisfactory is Stamford Museum in Lincolnshire. It was closed in 2011 and while some of the exhibits were relocated to the Discover Stamford area at the town’s Library the rest are in storage and available only by prior arrangement. Stamford was the home of the famous antiquarian Dr William Stukeley and there are many objects associated with him that ought to be on display – including his framed sketches of the druidic temple he constructed in his garden nearby.
Worst of all, let’s look at the Church Farmhouse Museum, in Hendon North London. The London Borough of Barnet, the owners of the Museum, closed it on 31 March 2011 as part of their austerity measures and made the staff redundant. There were stories at the time of parts of the collection being disposed of in a skip. Some items have been offered to other museums outside of the borough.
The only other museum in the borough, Barnet Museum, is itself under threat having had its funding withdrawn, and is only still open as the council cannot prove ownership of the building which houses it. It now transpires that, not being satisfied with trying to sell off the listed property for development, (PDF link) the council are looking to auction off the remaining items from the collection in October.
Bosses at Barnet Museum, in Wood Street, Barnet, have accused the council of betraying people’s trust by selling off hundreds of items donated to the museum by local residents.
Barnet Museum archivist Dr Gillian Gear said she was “disappointed” that she had not been given the opportunity to claim more items from the axed museum before they were sent away for auction.
“We have collected our own stuff and a very limited number of domestic items,” she told the local press. “But I was advised by the council that everything else was spoken for and found a good home. I didn’t realise it was going to be sold off and not remain in Barnet. I’m very disappointed. It is a bad sign if people cannot trust a local council.”
A petition has been hastily organised on the local council website, objecting to the auction. Notable signatories include several Labour Councillors as well as several members of RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust. We would urge all who feel the auction is morally wrong to sign as soon as possible.
“Here in Barnet artefacts and records tracing the history and heritage of our borough used to be available to view in two museums. That was until the current council administration closed Church Farm House Museum as part of the ‘One Barnet’ programme. Many people will be surprised and shocked at the vast collection of artefacts from this Museum that the council is now disposing of by auction.
Some may have a substantial monetary value and others not, but how we value our history and heritage for the benefit of future generations has clearly reached rock bottom. Respecting our heritage, preserving it for future generations, and appreciating our past should be common sense and the duty of those we elect to be the custodians of our history. It will be a very sad day when all these items are sold or disposed of.”
We ask that the council advertise by public notice for donors to reclaim any items they donated to the Museum and that any remining items are either offered to Barnet Museum or are re-housed for viewing or for archive in Barnets Libraries so that generations to come can enjoy and learn from them.
You can sign the Petition here