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Museum curators: 'What I'd save in a fire'

PUBLISHED: 15:01 07 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:52 20 February 2013

Chosen by David Hodges, Curator at the Hitchin Museum and Art Gallery

Chosen by David Hodges, Curator at the Hitchin Museum and Art Gallery

If the curators of three of Hertfordshire's museums had to save just one item in their collections in the event of a disaster, what would it be? Claire Pitcher put them on the spot...

CARDBOARD VICTORIAN DOLLS HOUSE, CIRCA 1880


Chosen by David Hodges, Curator at the Hitchin Museum and Art Gallery


This fully furnished Victorian dolls house is only 20cms wide and made entirely from scraps such as cardboard, cotton wool, matchsticks and foil. The level of detail is absolutely incredible and the amount of work that must have gone in to it is astonishing. Its even made so that the first floor and roof are detachable so all the rooms are made to the same detail. Theres even a wisp of cotton wool smoke coming out of the chimney.


As far as we know this house is unique. The London Museums were consulted and they had never come across anything like it. It was found in a loft in Hitchin where it had seemingly lain undisturbed since the 1880s, which is why it is in such good condition and why the colours are still so vibrant. Its local, appeals to all ages, is attractive and for those very reasons is just the sort of thing that the museum is here to inspire people with.


I remember it coming into the museum, and how fascinating I found it then over the following months I had the growing realisation that it was probably unique. Also, when I think about the person who made it, it brings a lump to my throat as I think about the care and pleasure they must have got out of making it. I can just imagine them coming home with some more bits and pieces to continue the project. I like to wonder about the person who made it was it an older child or an adult? Did they regard it as a toy or a model? Were smaller children allowed to touch it? Im sure they would be so pleased to know how much pleasure it is bringing to people now.


The Hitchin Museum covers all aspects of the history of Hitchin and the surrounding villages, as well as being an Art Gallery. The galleries cover the social history of Hitchin all the way through to the 1980s, covering transport, trades and industries, the war and home life. There is a costume and toy gallery and a complete Victorian Pharmacy.


Hitchin Museum, Paynes Park, Hitchin SG5 1EH. 01462 434476


NANCY DAWKINS DOLL CIRCA 1730


Chosen by Sarah Keeling, Assistant Curator at Hertford Museum


Well Id like to save our toothbrushes but I couldnt choose just one so instead I would have to pick one of our beautiful dolls known as the Nancy Dawkins doll. Nancy was given to the museum in 1946 and were not quite certain whether she was made as a toy or perhaps as a fashion doll originally. She was created in the 1730s, her dress is from that period and shes made of several different materials. Her body is made of wood, her arms are kid leather and she has real human hair!


Over the years she had become quite damaged because her clothes are made of silk; even just being out in the light caused tears in the fabric and so in 2007 she was restored ready for the refurbishment of the museum.


Nancy is an important doll, partly because shes so old, but shes also popular with visitors who often comment on her. Some love her but others find her a little bit strange and off-putting. She lives in a special case next to our Childhood display so that visitors can compare her with more modern toys like Sindy dolls.


Ive always been interested in dolls and how much they can show us about the times they were made through the fashions they wear and the materials they were made from. As a curator I also like her because of the different types of information she can give us and the stories she can tell not only about her use as a toy or the fashion of her dress but she can also be used to show visitors some of the problems we have caring for objects and the care that needs to be taken with her if shes to survive for another 250 years.


Visitors to Hertford Museum can see a wide range of items on display, from a Samurai Warrior to the countrys largest collection of toothbrushes (from the Addis Factory which used to be in Hertford) as well as objects that show the history of Hertford and the everyday lives of the people who live here.


Hertford Museum, 18 Bull Plain SG14 1DT. 01992 582686



LETCHWORTH, THE ROAD by Spencer Gore, CIRCA 1912


Chosen by Sian Woodward, Acting Curator at Letchworth Museum & Art Gallery


For me, this painting captures the spirit of north Hertfordshire; the ideal image of it as a rural district. It reminds me of those posters that used to be produced to convince people to visit different areas of Britain. This is an image of fresh air and countryside and is deliberately idealised the house on the left had a half- timbered upper section which Gore omitted to keep the white shapes simple. The painting is also a reminder that this area was a source of inspiration for many artists at that time.


The museum purchased this painting in 1983 with grant aid. The view is looking back down Wilbury Road in Letchworth, standing near the junction with the Bedford Road. This painting is one of a series of paintings Spencer Gore did while he was in Letchworth at a time when he was experimenting with colour and composition.


Spencer Gore was a founder member of the Camden Town Group of artists along with Harold Gilman. It was at Gilmans house that Gore stayed in Letchworth, and the house may be visible in this painting in the middle distance. Before this time Gore had been influenced by impressionist artists such as Pissarro, but this period saw him painting in a more experimental style. He stayed in Letchworth for four months in 1912 and produced at least 23 paintings. This painting therefore represents an important artistic period for Gore and modern art, but it also has very local connections.


It depicts a part of north Hertfordshire at a particular time and it was painted at a time when Letchworth had developed an important artistic community. Another artist who was part of this circle and living in Letchworth around this time was William Ratcliffe. The museum has a large collection of Ratcliffes art and he exhibited at the museum in his lifetime.


Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery has a display of natural history from the north Hertfordshire area and beyond, including the famous Letchworth black squirrel. The Mezzanine Gallery displays change every few months, and at the moment has an exhibition on 19th century corsetry. Upstairs are two other galleries; the first has a display called Behind the Scenes at the Museum, the other gallery shows the archaeology of north Hertfordshire including the treasures of a local Iron Age Chieftain and the mother with her three babies found in Baldock that featured recently on BBCs History Cold Case.


Letchworth Museum, Broadway, Letchworth Garden City SG6 3PF. 01462 685647


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