The new £7.75 million St Albans Museum + Gallery will open its doors to the public on Friday 8 June following a two-year restoration of the City’s Georgian Town Hall. Visitors will be invited to enjoy a dynamic programme of events to celebrate the opening of this arts, heritage and cultural attraction in the newly-transformed building.
Set to be a world-class centre for arts and culture at the heart of one of Britain’s most historic cities, the St Albans Museum + Gallery will be free to all visitors. It aims to showcase over 2,000 years of priceless heritage and host cutting-edge art exhibitions, sharing local, national and world treasures with all. National-touring exhibitions from top UK museums will also be available for visitors to enjoy for a small entry fee.
Housed within the Georgian Grade II* listed Town Hall, which was built in 1831, this new museum and gallery will rejuvenate the cultural life of the City and beyond. It is set over three floors, with a number of restored historic spaces and newly created state-of-the-art galleries. These spaces will be used to host regularly changing exhibitions and a vibrant programme of events. Visitors will also have the opportunity to explore the fascinating histories of the Town Hall, including its Assembly Room, Courtroom and Cells.
With the restoration and further additions, the Town Hall has been given a new lease of life. The beautiful historic spaces, such as the octagonal courtroom and prison cells, have now been fully restored and preserved for future generations. Glazed links have been added to the first floor enabling visitors to walk around the entire building and to take in wonderful views of the City. A new temperature-controlled and secure basement gallery has been hand excavated under the building to house national touring exhibitions and contemporary art shows. The ground floor has also been renovated to accommodate a learning studio, visitor information point, gift shop and café.
The project has been made possible with a £2.8 million award from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). St Albans City and District Council is also committed to providing £3.3million from the redevelopment of the museum’s former Hatfield Road site for housing and S106 developer contributions. A special partnership with the University of Hertfordshire has played a key role in the realisation of the project. There have also been generous donations from Arts Council England, the Garfield Weston Foundation and many other organisations and individuals through the work of the St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust. A local community fundraising campaign has raised nearly £400,000 towards the project.
At the heart of the new museum, permanent displays will tell the story of the District’s development from the pre-Roman era through to modern times. The story starts as far back as 110,000 BC – when hunter-gatherers first arrived in Britain and features Roman treasures and evidence of Boudicca’s revolt in the City. Visitors will be able to learn more about St Albans’ fascinating role at the start of the War of the Roses. They will see how the City played a part in the lives of Sir Francis Bacon, Sarah Churchill Duchess of Marlborough, and the Ryder Cup founder and ex-Mayor, Samuel Ryder. More recent local figures will also feature in displays, including Stephen Hawking, Stanley Kubrick and Jim Rodford.
Taking pride of place within the newly-created basement gallery, the museum will celebrate the fascinating printing heritage of St Albans in its opening flagship exhibition, First Impressions. This exhibition will explore the rich history of a vital industry both locally and nationally, charting the development of printing techniques, technologies, and typographic design through the centuries.
This free exhibition will show visitors the national, and sometimes international, impact of the City’s printmaking heritage. In 1479, St Albans became home to the third printing press in the country, aiding the spread of enlightenment and knowledge by supplying the University of Cambridge with its texts. During the 1920s and 30s, St Albans-based Dangerfield Printing Company provided London Transport with its now iconic posters. Later, during the Second World War, Gibbs and Bamforth joined the war effort and printed fake Daily Telegraph newspapers as propaganda.
Working in partnership with UH Arts, the University of Hertfordshire’s arts and cultural programme, St Albans Museum + Gallery will also host a range of immersive art installations and displays. Responding to the intriguing history and collections of the museum, Lyndall Phelps, Abi Spendlove and Katie Gillam-Hull will present Accumulate – a key opening exhibition. This exhibition of artworks and interventions created over three years will shine a light on the hidden elements of the museum collection.
Artist Susie MacMurray will also exhibit a range of sculptures, including a specially-commissioned installation located in the Assembly Room which will act as a backdrop to her work. With a reputation for poetic interventions in historic spaces, MacMurray will showcase artworks made with surprising materials and raise questions about the relationship between place and people.
Later in 2018, Hayward Gallery Touring will curate Hand Drawn, Action Packed; an exhibition bringing together ten major international artists whose practice explores the infinite possibilities of drawing. This exhibition will open at St Albans Museum + Gallery, before touring throughout the UK. Artists featured include Marcel Dzama, Marcel van Eeden, Inci Eviner, Yun Fei Ji, William Kentridge, Nalini Malani, Otobong Nkanga, Raymond Pettibon, Amy Sillman and Rinus Van de Velde.
The V&A Museum of Childhood’s major exhibition Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered will also be shown at St Albans Museum + Gallery later this year. This blockbuster exhibition will celebrate the joy, excitement and occasional frustration of playing board games.
Further exhibition announcements will be made ahead of the museum’s opening.
Richard Shwe, Deputy Chief Executive (Commercial and Development) at St Albans City and District Council, said: “This project to create a wonderful new museum and gallery for St Albans District is finally coming to fruition. It has taken years of planning and hard work to transform the beautiful old Town Hall right in the heart of the City into an amazing museum and gallery.”
“Be sure to make a date to come and explore this fabulous new museum and gallery when it opens its doors to the public in June. There will be something for everyone, from displays featuring the fascinating medieval and Roman heritage of St Albans to cutting-edge art exhibitions set to generate interest nationally. The stunning building will also act as a gateway to other local attractions, directing visitors to St Albans Cathedral, Verulamium Museum and the Roman Theatre, for example. The new museum and gallery is sure to become a major attraction, helping to boost the local visitor economy and rejuvenate the cultural heart of our City.”