Concerns over state of old Hitchin Museum as Brand Street standoff continues

PUBLISHED: 17:01 13 May 2018

Charnwood House, home of the old Hitchin Museum. Picture: DANNY LOO

Charnwood House, home of the old Hitchin Museum. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2018 Danny Loo Photography - all rights reserved

A historic building given for the use of the Hitchin community 80 years ago has now been closed to the public for more than five years amid the North Herts Museum debacle.

Charnwood House, home of the old Hitchin Museum. Picture: DANNY LOOCharnwood House, home of the old Hitchin Museum. Picture: DANNY LOO

Charnwood, a grade II-listed 19th-century house off Paynes Park, was the Hitchin Museum until North Herts District Council closed it and the Letchworth Museum in September 2012 – with the collections later moved to the new district-wide museum next to the town hall in Brand Street.

But amid the dispute over the entrance to the new museum – which sees it still closed, years after it was intended to open in 2014 – Charnwood remains closed for museum service use.

Now a group of neighbours hoping to make Charnwood into a community hub has expressed concerns over “crumbling masonry, peeling window frames and reports of basement flooding” – and queried whether the district council will put up the money to restore it to its former glory.

Bernard Eddleston chairs the Charnwood Community Management Association, which aims to lease or buy the house when the district council deems it surplus to requirements.

This sign still up at the old Hitchin Museum, with the still-closed North Herts Museum's scheduled opening date given as 2014. Picture: DANNY LOOThis sign still up at the old Hitchin Museum, with the still-closed North Herts Museum's scheduled opening date given as 2014. Picture: DANNY LOO

He said: “A considerable sum of money will need to be spent by the district council to bring the building up to acceptable standards. Will such monies be forthcoming?

“Every time we walk past the old museum, we see it further deteriorating. It’s just frustrating.

“We can see no reason why the museum service cannot vacate the building now, even though the new museum dispute has not been resolved. They could move everything out – we think it can be a valuable community hub.”

District council asset management head Ian Couper said in response: “Charnwood House is still being used by NHDC’s museum service and has not yet been declared as a surplus building. Should the museum service declare the building surplus to its requirement, the council will then be able to review the options for the building – which may include reusing it for other council purposes, letting or disposal.

The sign at the old Hitchin Museum. Picture: DANNY LOOThe sign at the old Hitchin Museum. Picture: DANNY LOO

“The council obtains condition surveys for all its buildings, and plans maintenance based on these. There are works planned later in the year to the exterior of the building, which include repairs and painting.”

Charnwood opened as a library in 1938 after the Moss family of grocers gave it to the then Hitchin Urban District Council. The upstairs became a museum in 1941. The library moved to an extension next door in 1966 and is run by Herts County Council.

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