It’s taken £7.75m and five years of blood, sweat and tears from hundreds of individuals and organisations, but finally, the new St Albans Museum + Gallery and opened to the public on 8 June 2018.
And, when you walk through its doors, under the familiar Georgian pillars, you can see every penny of the money that was spent transforming the old Town Hall building into a major centre for arts and culture.
This project has been made possible through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) which gave £2.8m of funding and the St Albans City and District council which gave a further £3.3m towards realising this project. The raising of the remainder of the money needed (£1.7m) was a masterclass in the local community getting together to make something happen.
Led by St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust, it took the passion, persuasion and sheer determination of many including those from St Albans City & District Council and the University of Hertfordshire who have lived and breathed the project since before the bid was submitted to the HLF in 2013. The Trust and its partners have worked closely with organisations such as the Arts Council England, the Garfield Weston Foundation, and many local individuals to continue raising funds towards the ambitious project.
Over 1,600 local residents have become part of the St Albans story themselves; by paying £250 to have their name, or that of a loved one, inscribed on limited edition bespoke oak panels based on the historic wooden panels in the Courtroom and the graffiti left by prisoners in the cells. This idea alone raised nearly £400,000.
Cllr Annie Brewster, (Mayor of St Albans at the start of the project)
“We are so proud of the community drive to deliver what, clearly, people believe this city deserves. We had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform this jewel-in-the-crown for those who live, visit and work in St Albans by creating a central focal point for culture. We are a relatively small city, but we pack a huge historical punch – and we can now show our heritage off to the world.”
The construction work in progress
The Georgian Grade ll* listed Town Hall always had the potential to be beautifully restored.
Built in 1831, the building itself is part of the story of St Albans. It has one of the few pre-Victorian court rooms in existence, complete with atmospheric subterranean prison cells. It also boasts a huge assembly room, with impossibly high-ceilings adorned with beautiful coving and a balcony overlooking St Peter’s street. All these areas have been exquisitely restored. The giant gold framed mirrors reflect the hours of painstaking work spent painting rose gold detail on the ceiling and walls, and the newly fitted lavish gold and crystal chandeliers recently custom-made in Venice.
This Assembly Room now presents pieces from internationally acclaimed artist Susie MacMurray, known for her dramatic installations in historic buildings.
The ground floor reception area and sweeping staircase, unassuming before, now has the wow factor and is fit for purpose to house a permanent exhibition showcasing over 2,000 years of St Albans’s remarkable heritage and celebrating the famous sons and daughters of this historic city.
Clever design by the award-winning architects, John McAslan + Partners, has resulted in new parts to the building including a temperature-controlled and secure basement gallery (the Weston Gallery) which had been hand excavated to create a gallery which can now host national touring exhibitions and contemporary art shows.
Glazed links have been added to the first floor meaning visitors can walk around the entire building while taking in wonderful views of the city.
The ground floor has also been renovated to accommodate a learning studio, visitor information point, gift shop and café.
Called ‘The City that went up the Hill’, a permanent exhibition on the ground floor paints a picture of St Albans’s history 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 as well as evidence of Boudicca's revolt in the city.
Visitors can learn about St Albans' fascinating role at the start of the War of the Roses in 1455, and learn how St Albans’ played a part in the lives of Sir Francis Bacon, Sarah Churchill Duchess of Marlborough, and the Ryder Cup founder and former mayor, Samuel Ryder in a wall of fame.
More recent local figures will also feature, including Stephen Hawking, Stanley Kubrick, Jim Rodford and Eric Morecambe.
The museum and gallery aims to offer a fresh experience with every visit and will display a regularly changing programme of exhibitions and art, including national touring exhibitions.
Working in partnership with UH Arts, the University of Hertfordshire's arts and cultural programme, the museum and gallery will host a range of immersive art installations and displays, bringing art and culture into the heart of St Albans.
Kate Warren, Museums Manager
“It’s important that there is always something for everyone and that we provide a changing programme of historic exhibitions and cutting-edge art as well as family-friendly activities and evening events. We want people to visit over and over again and have a new experience each time.
It is expected that around 200,000 will visit each year – helping to rejuvenate the cultural heart of St Albans and boost the local economy."
Moving out of the Museum of St Albans
A partnership between the Council, St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust and the University of Hertfordshire plans to develop the old Town Hall into a new museum and gallery
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awards first phase development funding of £282,000 to the project. This first-round pass* means St Albans City and District Council can lead development of detailed plans for the new home for the Museum of St Albans (MOSTA) (based in Hatfield road).
John McAslan + Partners is chosen to transform the Town Hall into the new museum and art gallery
The former Museum site in Hatfield Road closes
HLF awards a further £2.5m to the project - Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF East of England, said: “This will provide a much-needed boost to both the local economy and tourism and provide a wonderful opportunity for people to explore the wider history of this beautiful city.”
Planning permission and listed building consent for the new £7.75 million St Albans Museum and Gallery project has been granted by St Albans City & District Council.
Announcement that work will begin within weeks.
£30,000 donated to create glass links in new St Albans Museum + Gallery.
Announcement that an extra £319,000 of improvements are to be made, including underfloor heating system, secondary glazing in the Assembly Room, security measures that will enable the museum to display exhibits of national importance, a high-quality finish to the Georgian courtroom’s wood panelling to restore it to its former glory.
£400,000 still to be raised.
Cllr Annie Brewster announces the honours board fundraising initiative – a chance for people to have their name on decorative wooden boards inside the new museum.
St Albans Museum + Gallery announces an opening date of 8 June
St Albans Museum + Gallery opens to the public