Final behind the scenes look at new St Albans Museum + Gallery
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
With just over a week to go before its official opening, staff are working flat out to get St Albans’ new Museum + Gallery ready for its much-anticipated launch.
Restoring the Town Hall has taken two years and cost £7.75 million. Opening on June 8, it will be free to all visitors and showcases more than 2,000 years of heritage from St Albans and around the world.
The initial temporary exhibition is First Impressions, which celebrates the city’s key role in the country’s printing industry and will include both the first colour book printed in Britain and the first edition of the Herts Advertiser.
The exhibition reveals how St Albans became home to the third printing press in the country in 1479, aiding the spread of enlightenment and knowledge by supplying the University of Cambridge with its texts. During the 1920s and ‘30s, the Dangerfield Printing Company provided London Transport with its now iconic posters, and later, during the Second World War, Gibbs and Bamforth printed fake Daily Telegraph newspapers as propaganda.
Golden chandeliers were recently raised in the Assembly Room, which will initially feature a specially commissioned installation from artist Susie MacMurray - known for her dramatic pieces in historic buildings.
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Taking inspiration from the room’s former function, Susie has used a combination of silk velvet and raw wire to comment on the public and private roles of women who may have graced the dance floor, perhaps in the inaugural ball of 1831? Other displays in the Assembly Room include her acclaimed works Medusa and Strange Fruit.
At the heart of the museum, in the Grand Staircase Gallery, is a permanent exhibition telling the story of St Albans’ development from 110,000BC to the present day, taking in the Romans, Boudicca’s revolt, the War of the Roses, Sir Francis Bacon and Samuel Ryder on the way.
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The gift shop is currently being stacked with merchandise, with many items created especially for the venue, while others are included as part of the partnership arrangement with the British Museum.
Limited edition honours boards etched with the names of donors have now been hung on the walls of a Benefactors’ Walk of Fame, which connects the new Weston Gallery and the Georgian prison cells.
Cllr Annie Brewster, portfolio holder for sports, heritage and leisure, has been at the heart of the project since its inception, and was instrumental in not only achieving the lion’s share of fundraising, but ensuring the oak boards and chandeliers became a reality.
She told the Herts Ad: “I inherited this project four years ago, as I finished being Mayor, and feel truly honoured to have played my part in the history of this landmark building. Seeing new life breathed back into our iconic Grade II* listed Town Hall and Courthouse is almost a reality and is beyond exciting.
“I would like to thank everyone who has risen to this challenge, our magnificent team, our partners, our generous benefactors but, most of all, the community in its relentless support for this new chapter for the city.”