New museum

PUBLISHED: 11:38 13 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:05 06 May 2010

SIR, — You carried a report (Herts Advertiser, February 28) regarding a proposed new museum and art gallery in St Albans. I understand the origin of this was a press release by the University of Herts. This idea has been around for two or three years and

SIR, - You carried a report (Herts Advertiser, February 28) regarding a proposed new museum and art gallery in St Albans. I understand the origin of this was a press release by the University of Herts. This idea has been around for two or three years and it really must be very thoroughly debated by the district council.

The provision of a new museum and art gallery is a very important and costly enterprise and it is absolutely essential that the council gets it right. St Albans must not be saddled with an expensive failure. We have only one chance.

The present Museum of St Albans is housed in a building that was constructed over a century ago. At that time it was the Hertfordshire Museum. The requirements were modest by today's standards. It served the needs of a small number of citizens who were becoming interested in local history and archaeology and who wanted a meeting place where local artefacts could be stored and displayed.

There was no other museum in the city. Where in the city it was located was of no concern. St Albans was a small market town surrounded by a countryside of farms and a few little villages. Compared with today, the population it served was miniscule.

And there's the rub. Today St Albans is a busy city, the centre of a conurbation of towns and villages. It is the commercial, business and cultural centre serving a total population of around a quarter-of-a-million. It attracts thousands of tourists, shoppers and visitors every years. School parties by the score are drawn to the museums, the Abbey and the historic streets.

The simple truth is that the Museum of St Albans is out-dated, far too small with difficult access for disabled people to the ground floor and no possibility at all of getting to the upper levels or to the balconies in the ground-floor gallery. The building is not fit for purpose. That is nobody's fault - it is the passage of time. The museum's staff do a very good job indeed with the building they have.

Over and above the present inadequate building , it is isolated in the wrong location to succeed. If your are visiting St Albans by car, you will almost certainly park in one of the main car parks on either side of the main shopping and market area - that is St Peter's Street and Market Place. Arrive by one of the 30 bus services that converge on the city and you will again arrive in St Peter's Street which serves as St Albans central bus station. You will be in the midst of the shops, the pubs and the restaurants.

And if you have come to see historic St Albans, you will be drawn towards the great Abbey tower visible over the roofs of Market Place, the Town Hall and tourist office, the Clock Tower and then beyond to Verulamium, the lakes, the ducks, the Roman walls and museum etc. You will almost certainly not be drawn in the other direction to discover the Museum of St Albans, out of sight and out of mind in Hatfield Road

It may have free entry but it still only gets around 25 per cent of the visitors who go to Verulamium Museum where entry is charged unless you are a local resident.

This situation was fully understood by the marketing manager for St Albans Museums, Alison Coles, when she wrote a marketing strategy in 1998 which clearly would have the backing of the senior management of the museums service. In that she was quite unambiguous about the situation in the Museum of St Albans. Her language may have tended towards understatement but it was crystal clear. I quote: "Poor location and not easily identified as a museum" and then later, as a recommendation: "Move to a more central location".

In other words a location where it becomes an integral part of all the other attractions of the city. No matter how much it is improved, it will never be successful where it is.

DENNIS OWEN,

Fishpool Street, St Albans.

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