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Exploring Hertfordshire’s identity

PUBLISHED: 12:06 18 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:24 21 April 2017

Fairground ride (Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fairground ride (Getty Images/iStockphoto

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A major project brings together six heritage sites to explore the often surprising and rich history of the county in search of 
answers to the question: what is Hertfordshire’s identity?

Stories of Hertfordshire fairies, witches and other folklore will be explored at several of the venues (Getty Images/iStockphoto)Stories of Hertfordshire fairies, witches and other folklore will be explored at several of the venues (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Did you know that the last highwayman to be hanged in England met his grisly fate in Boxmoor where a small memorial stone still marks the spot? Or that if Stevenage Charter Fair doesn’t take place every year, then the rights, granted by King Edward I in 1281, lapse? These and other fascinating facts about Hertfordshire’s cultural heritage will be brought to life at museums and heritage organisations throughout the county as part of a major Traditional Hertfordshire project.

Led by the county council’s Museums Development Service and running until January next year, it is funded by an Our Heritage grant of £68,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund along with a £5,000 contribution from SHARE Museums East. Focusing on local folklore, traditions and superstitions, it brings together six cultural centres to build a sense of the county’s shared heritage and identity. Each organisation is interpreting the theme differently depending on its collection and priorities, but all have the aim of engaging with residents and visitors to Hertfordshire, young and old.

Head of the county council’s Heritage Services, Julie Gregson, explained, ‘When people think of Hertfordshire, they often don’t realise that it has such a unique cultural heritage and that it is one of England’s historic counties – first recorded in the 10th century. The various exhibitions look back to days gone by and include myths, stories of fairies and witchcraft, crafts, folk music plus a traditional fair.

‘The aim of this project is to celebrate life in the county, and inspire and reinvigorate interest and knowledge to help recreate Hertfordshire’s sense of local identity.’

Stevenage Charter Fair in 1907. The history of the fair since the 13th century is the focus of a Stevenage Museum exhibition (Stevenage Museum Collection)Stevenage Charter Fair in 1907. The history of the fair since the 13th century is the focus of a Stevenage Museum exhibition (Stevenage Museum Collection)

The events are designed to be fun and family-friendly with something for everyone including workshops for schools, half-term activities and evening concerts.

What’s on offer

Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

The county archive and research centre in Hertford will be working with Hatfield-based AFRICOMEU, which champions ‘the modern reformation of African heritage, music, culture and arts’, to record and share the traditions, ceremonies, rituals and beliefs surrounding life’s ‘turning points’ such as births, marriages and deaths. An exhibition, event and record book in the archive collection will be created, celebrating Hertfordshire’s diversity by considering traditions old and new.

Left: Today's Stevenage Charter Fair. Right: Mill Green Museum will uncover the stories of milling at the siteLeft: Today's Stevenage Charter Fair. Right: Mill Green Museum will uncover the stories of milling at the site

Dacorum Heritage Trust

An exhibition space will be created in a shop at The Marlowes Centre in Hemel Hempstead to present the legends and superstitions of Hemel, Kings Langley, Berkhamsted and Tring. This will include myths, stories of fairies and witchcraft and superstitions surrounding straw dollies. The exhibition will run from May 27 for two weeks and there will be opportunities for children to try traditional crafts during school holidays.

Mill Green Museum & Mill

The museum at this restored and working 18th century watermill in Hatfield will be collecting stories from local millers and Mill Green residents – including the wife of the former miller – to record their memories of milling and share milling dialect and phrases. This will form part of an exhibition uncovering the myths of milling and local stories about the River Lea. Teenagers will also be able to join a Young Millers club.

Portrait of Robert Snooks, the last highwayman to be hanged in England, at Boxmoor. One of the gruesome facts explored in the project (Dacorum Heritage Trust Collection)Portrait of Robert Snooks, the last highwayman to be hanged in England, at Boxmoor. One of the gruesome facts explored in the project (Dacorum Heritage Trust Collection)

North Herts Museum

The Hitchin site will host an exhibition focusing on local folklore and legends, such as that of the Alchemist of Lilley. The museum will also be working with Hitchin Folk Music Society to revitalise traditional songs and rhymes by setting them to music and performing them at an event on June 10 celebrating local culture, which will also include storytelling morris dancing.

Royston & District Museum & Art Gallery

The Royston venue will host an exhibition in September on local folklore as well as hosting children’s storytelling sessions based on local legends. There will be workshops on traditional crafts such as rag rugging on July 22 and willow weaving in the October half-term. Pop-up exhibitions will be held each weekend in August at a different venue in the town.

Stevenage Museum

Staff at the museum will record and share the history of Stevenage Charter Fair, which has been held in the town since the 13th century. Stories and images from last year’s fair will be exhibited alongside historical material and there will be a series of family-friendly events and a schools workshop for key stage one and two pupils. There are also plans for a Fun at the Fair exhibition in August, which will include a traditional fair in the museum’s garden.

To find out more about the events planned at all these venues, visit hertfordshiremuseum.org.uk or go to the individual organisation’s websites.

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