Memories are made of this

PUBLISHED: 13:15 07 September 2006 | UPDATED: 10:48 06 May 2010

Curator David Hodges and Hitchin Museum’s penny farthing

Curator David Hodges and Hitchin Museum's penny farthing

THE mantraps stand in a corner of the crowded room, surrounded by boxes, photographic equipment and a penny farthing bike. Rack upon rack of boxes extend to the ceiling with enticing labels such as sheep, weights and measures, ceramics and tobacco. It is

THE mantraps stand in a corner of the crowded room, surrounded by boxes, photographic equipment and a penny farthing bike.

Rack upon rack of boxes extend to the ceiling with enticing labels such as sheep, weights and measures, ceramics and tobacco.

It is hot, dusty, crowded and, above all, intriguing standing inside the storeroom at Burymead, Hitchin, where many of the museum archives for North Hertfordshire are kept, courtesy of the district council.

For the first time in years the public will be allowed in to see the collection this Saturday, September 9, as part of the national Heritage Open Day weekend. They can also see behind the scenes at Hitchin Museum in Paynes Park with a look at the database, a few gems from the library and a stroll round the archives and paintings.

The Burymead collections include social history exhibits that are available for special exhibitions and provide a fascinating insight into life in the past.

A yoke hanging in a corner would once have been worn by a poor farmer taking goods to market in Hitchin. He would have been familiar with the tools stored nearby which include a ditch spade, eel spear, thatching needle, hurdlemaker's rending axe, billhook and dandelion spud.

"We have got everything but the kitchen sink," said David Hodges, curator at Hitchin Museum. "We have got a toilet though, made in Baldock."

He's also got a cannon that was probably used to start boat races and an air raid siren.

"We've all sorts of wartime memorabilia - there are 40,000 items and we store everything at Burymead except art, costume, photos and documents."

In addition to the photographs, which give a fascinating insight into 19th century life, there are also 300,000 negatives, many from local newspapers.

Other boxes are labelled greeting cards, books, firearms and militaria, magic lanterns, candle holders, coffee grinders and cake tins.

"We've got everything to do with food, it's not just packaging, it's all the gizmos that have appeared throughout the ages," said David.

"There's every subject you can imagine. We really have some weird and wonderful things."

His words are borne out further down the rack with more boxes labelled cosmetics and jewellery, knitting and sewing, old beer bottles and spectacles. Perhaps the most bizarre of all is 'fox head in perspex,' part of the extensive natural history collection.

Vast wooden painted shields lie on their backs, celebrating Baldock's involvement in Warship Week in 1942, while nearby are wax cylinder records and a notice that proclaims: 'Persons found trespassing or picking lavender in this field will be prosecuted.'

"My favourite notice is from the town hall and gives dancing rules and regulations. It says 'no jiving or jitterbugging, by strict order!'" said David.

Many of the items are loaned out to schools. The archives of Hitchin Football Club, one of the oldest in the country, are at Burymead along with an intricate model of the football pitch constructed by museum technician Derek Wheeler.

Other models dating back to the 1980s were made as illustrations for Dorling Kindersley books. When they were being turfed out someone from Hitchin Museum was around at the right time to take them.

They have joined a wide array of radios including a 1920s crystal set, a reel-to-reel video recorder from the 1960s and a collection of swords. That's to say nothing of Roman coins, a model of an aurochs (extinct horned cattle), mechanical toys and a Victorian bellows camera...

There is only one way to see all this and that's to go along to a tour on Saturday. Call 01462 474476 for times and to book. Hitchin Museum is also running Behind the Scenes at the Museum tours at 11am, noon, 2pm and 3pm on Saturday which does not need to be booked in advance.

There will be other attractions throughout Comet country during the weekend. Holy Saviour Church in Radcliffe Road, designed by the Victorian architect William Butterfield, will also be open on Saturday from 10am until 2pm and 3.30pm until 6pm, with a special history display and refreshments.

Visitors can look around St Ippolyts Church, one of only two in the country dedicated to St Ippolytus. It is open now through to Sunday from 9am until 5pm.

The strong community spirit at St Katharine's Church helped Ickleford to win the 2006 Hertfordshire Village of the Year accolade. See what makes it special on Saturday and Sunday from 10am until 4pm.

The British Schools Museum in Queen Street, Hitchin, which normally has an entrance fee, will be giving free entry tomorrow (Friday) and Sunday from 2pm until 5pm, and on Saturday from 10am until 4pm. Call 01462 420144 for details.

Hitchin also has guided walks at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday - call 01462 453335 for details.

In Baldock there will be guided tours of the Grade II* listed Georgian Manor House at 21 High Street on Friday and Saturday between 10am and 4pm.

In Letchworth GC, the St Alban's Liberal Catholic Church on the corner of Norton Way South and Meadow Way will be open on Saturday from 10am to 4pm and Sunday from 2 to 4pm.

St Mary's Church at Shephall Green, Stevenage, is open on Saturday from 10am to 6pm and Sunday from noon to 6pm. There's a talk on the history of the church and Shephall village on Sunday at 3pm. Guided walks of Stevenage High Street in the Old Town will be held on Saturday and Sunday at 11am and 2pm. To join one, meet at Holy Trinity Church at the southern end of the High Street.

For full details look on the website www.heritageopendays.org.uk or call 0870 240 5251.

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