Sorry saga is over as North Herts Museum's front doors to swing open to the public

PUBLISHED: 06:54 26 June 2019

North Hertfordshire Museum and Hitchin Town Hall. Picture: Danny Loo

North Hertfordshire Museum and Hitchin Town Hall. Picture: Danny Loo

Danny Loo Photography 2018

North Hertfordshire Musueum will officially open to the public next week - almost nine years after plans were first given the go-ahead.

Although there has been access to some of the galleries at the district facility in Hitchin's Brand Street for a year, the museum's entrance doors - at the centre of a two-year dispute - will swing open for visitors for the first time on the morning of Saturday, July 6.

Family activites, as well as exhibitions that bring the history of North Herts to life, have been promised for the day.

Visitors will be able to enjoy an array of displays that feature art, archaeology, nature, football, toys and even a Victorian chemist's shop counter.

The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Neville Reyner, will attend the opening, along with a handful of North Herts District Council members.

The opening of the front entrance puts to bed a stand-off between NHDC and Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, which owned the section of the building known as 14-15 Brand Street.

A sale of the building was agreed in November last year, followed by the signing of a document in January of this year - but only now is the museum ready to open its front doors and ensure it is fully accessible to all.

READ MORE: North Herts Museum: How did we get here?

It puts an end to a saga which began in earnest back in November 2010, when a proposal to retain Hitchin Town Hall for community use and incorporate a new district-wide museum next to it - replacing Hitchin and Letchworth museums - got NHDC's backing.

But what started as a harmonious partnership between the council and Hitchin Town Hall Ltd - which was formed in 2012 to help fund the scheme - collapsed in March 2014 when contractors working for NHDC built a brick wall across the width of the town hall stage, something Hitchin Town Hall Ltd said was a breach of contract by the council.

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A development agreement was subsequently terminated and, while Hitchin Town Hall did open in 2016, the museum debacle continued.

But now - after years of dispute which saw locks changed, legal wrangling and financial jostling - visitors will finally be able to use the full facilities that North Herts Museum can offer.

Councillor Keith Hoskins - executive member for enterprise and co-operative development, and who spoke in favour of the community scheme in his role as town centre manager for Hitchin Initiative when it gained the council's support back in 2010 - is excited to be part of the museum's grand opening.

He said: "We are very excited about the grand opening, which we know residents have been keenly anticipating.

"We hope that visitors will be inspired by the history of North Herts. It [the museum] really is a fantastic facility which we can all be proud of."

The museum project has been supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which provided a grant of almost £1 million.

Anne Jenkins, director of Midlands and East England National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: "It is wonderful to see that the museum is ready to open its doors.

"We're delighted that National Lottery funding will enable even more residents of North Herts, and visitors from further afield, to engage with the fascinating heritage of this area."

Speaking about the facilities the museum will now offer, she added: "It is a much more inclusive space for its visitors."

The museum now boasts a new entrance hall, fit with a welcome desk, a gift shop and a café, and has collections from the old Letchworth and Hitchin museums - as well as many items from around the district that have never before been on public display.

North Herts Museum will be open Tuesday to Saturday between 10.30am to 4.30pm and between 11am and 3pm on Sundays. Entrance is free.

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