Beds, Herts & Bucks

North Hertfordshire Museum finally opens to the public in Hitchin

North Hertfordshire Museum
Image caption Up to now, the public were not allowed in through the doors designated as the main entrance (right) but had to go through the Town Hall

A £6m museum has finally opened to the public after a six-year row over its main entrance.

The North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin did not open its doors in 2015 as planned because of a dispute over land ownership for part of the site.

It meant only pre-booked guided tours could visit and they had to enter via the adjacent council-owned Town Hall.

The museum said staff were "still pinching themselves" and "can't believe it's really happened after so long".

North Hertfordshire District Council's cultural services manager Ros Allwood said: "It's been an interesting journey but that's all history now, we just want to go forward."

Legal issues

The council decided to convert the Town Hall, which it owns, and adjacent land at 14 Brand Street into a new museum and venue in 2010, combining the former Hitchin and Letchworth museums.

In 2013, the project was expanded to include 15 Brand Street, but planning and legal issues prevented the authority from buying the land needed for the main entrance.

It was not until November 2018 that the council agreed to purchase the land for £550,000.

The council has paid nearly £5m for the whole redevelopment, with £1m coming from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Image caption In the Discover North Herts gallery, visitors can travel back 90 million years and see artefacts including a tusk from a mammoth which roamed through what is now Baldock
Image caption The finished museum contains exhibits from prehistoric times to the present day showcasing the people, art and collections of North Herts including folk tales and local artists' work

Ms Allwood said items from both former museums are on display, but there are also items visitors have not ever seen, even if they had been on a previous guided tour.

There is also a local studies area, an education room and a gallery to bring displays in from around the country.

Image copyright Tim Bradley
Image caption In a temporary exhibition gallery Blood and Bone is an interactive installation of inflatable sculptures which make bodily noises as you walk through them

Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Hoskins said it was "worth the wait".

"It's had its difficulties, but it's fantastic and a gem for the whole of Hertfordshire," he said.

A council review of how the various parties worked together on the project and "what lessons can be learned" is under way.

Image caption Archaeological artefacts found in the district are on display
Image caption Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother was christened in the village of St Paul's Walden in 1900 and her christening gown has been lent to the museum by her family
Image caption Visitors can use tablets to discover the various layers of history in the area
Image caption Hitchin Town FC is thought to have hosted the first football museum in the UK and many items from the club are on show at the new facility

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