Hitchin Museum and Art Gallery
The Hitchin Museum and Art Gallery was a local history museum in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England, with an extensive collection that told the story of the town’s social history and of the rural industries that contributed to its prosperity.
Hitchin Museum was founded in 1939 by the Hitchin & District Regional Survey Association in a house given by Ralph & Hubert Moss, grocers in the town. The house, formerly known as Agadir and subsequently as Charnwood, was built in 1825 and has a south front dating from c 1840.
The building opened in 1939 as a Public Library and in 1941 the top floor opened as a Museum. The Library, run by Hertfordshire County Council since the late 1960s, is now in an extension next door. Although it was initially run by Hitchin Urban District Council, since its dissolution in 1974, the Museum has been run by North Hertfordshire District Council, together with Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery and, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Royston Museum and the First Garden City Heritage Museum.
In 2004-5, North Hertfordshire District Council undertook a Fundamental Service Review of its Museum Service. Although it found that visitors greatly valued all aspects of the service (Hitchin Museum & Art Gallery, Letchworth Museum & Art Gallery, the Education Service with its School Loans scheme, the Archaeology and the Natural History Services), the two museums were both described as unfit for purpose and the Museums Resource Centre at Burymead Road in Hitchin as outdated and inefficient. The Review had five main recommendations, one of which was to close the two existing museums at Letchworth Garden City and at Hitchin, and instead run a museum and gallery on a single town-centre site. A Feasibility Study was commissioned to investigate the possibility of converting Hitchin Town Hall to museum use, which is scheduled to open in 2015. Hitchin Museum closed to the public on 1 September 2012 to allow staff to dismantle displays, clean objects and prepare for the opening of a new Museum of North Hertfordshire in 2017.
Hitchin Museum and Art Gallery had six main galleries: two art galleries, one on either side of the front door, and a social history gallery on the ground floor, which led into the Yeomanry Gallery. Upstairs were the Costume Gallery and the Pharmacy Gallery.
The Yeomanry Gallery displayed the uniforms and medals of the Hertfordshire Yeomanry and Artillery, formed in 1805 to constitute a "Home Guard" against Napoleonic invasion.
The Art Collections principally comprise works by local artists, especially the Quaker brewers Samuel Lucas the Elder (1805–1870) and his son Samuel (1840–1919).
The costume collection comprises some 4000 items and is thought to be the largest collection of its kind in the county. It includes men’s, women’s and children’s clothes and accessories, household furnishings and needlework samplers. A large proportion of the items date to the Victorian period, but the collection includes items from the 18th century to the present day. Among the wide range of garments are christening robes, wedding dresses and mourning clothes, evening gowns, wartime utility clothing, uniforms and modern high street clothing.
The textile collection includes examples of the many different craft skills which were particularly popular among ladies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are patchwork quilts, samplers, lace and embroidery. We also hold a large collection of fashion related material including fashion plates, magazines, shop and mail order catalogues, magazines, newspaper adverts and photographs. All of these are valuable as records of the clothes that people have worn and the way that they wore them. The Museum also has a collection of dolls from the eighteenth century to the 1990s, including elegant wooden, wax and china dolls, homely rag dolls to well known plastic figures like Barbie and Action Man.
Hitchin Town Football Club was an early foundation and collected memorabilia for a small museum. When the collection grew too large, it was passed to the Museums Service. It contains many items of national significance, some of which are on loan to the National Football Museum, originally in Preston, Lancashire, and moved to Urbis in Manchester city centre in 2011.
Photography and archives
The Museum has an extensive photographic collection, its earliest images dating from the mid-1850s. Thomas Benwell Latchmore and his son Thomas William documented Hitchin from the early 1860s, providing an invaluable record of the town’s development. Almost all the negatives were destroyed immediately after World War II for glass reclamation, but several of the photographers’ stock albums and many display copies remain, a core of around 2,000 images.
In the 1980s the Hitchin Comet newspaper transferred its back collection of glass negatives to the museum. These are mostly in 5" x 4" format.
The Museum also has an extensive archive and newspaper collection.
The Museum has an extensive Social History collection, documenting the industries of the town and the surrounding countryside and the lifestyles of their inhabitants.
The Hertfordshire Yeomanry Trust
The Hertfordshire Yeomanry Trust´s collection of uniforms, badges, weapons and other militaria is held by the Museums service, part of which was displayed at Hitchin Museum. Its archive of records and photographs is held by Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies in Hertford.
The Hertfordshire Medical and Pharmaceutical Trust
The Pharmacy Gallery was based around a recreation of Perks and Llewellyn’s Pharmacy, which stood in the High Street until the 1960s, on a site now occupied by Poundland. John Perks started the chemist business in 1790. It passed through the family until 1878, when the then owner Samuel Perks went into partnership with Charles Llewellyn. Samuel died in 1878 and Charles 1893, the last two family links for the business name. The shop was taken over by Richard Lewis the then Shop Manager in 1906. The last shop owner was his daughter, Violet Lewis, a trained pharmacist who ran the business from 1930 to 1961. Violet sold the shop site to developers; she however saved the historic interior of the chemist shop which dated back to 1790, re-housing it in a special annex built onto her home. She opened the chemist shop to local schools and groups. By the 1980s, Violet was quite elderly. The Hertfordshire Medical and Pharmaceutical Trust was formed by a group of local people to raise funds to find a permanent home for the chemist shop. It will be redisplayed in the new Museum of North Hertfordshire.
- Foster, A M 1981 The Book of Hitchin. Barracuda, p 40
- North Hertfordshire District Council: Art, Museums and Heritage Forum, retrieved 2 November 2011
- Hitchin Town Hall: Museum Proposals, retrieved 2 November 2011