Exhibition showcases Hertfordshire's heritage wealth

Painting: The Red Curtain, William Ratcliffe

The Red Curtain by William Ratcliffe is part of a new exhibition of Hertfordshire's heritage at North Herts Museum - Credit: North Hertfordshire Museum

Paintings and objects from museums across Hertfordshire acquired with help from the Hertfordshire Heritage Fund are going on display at a new exhibition at North Hertfordshire Museum. 

Over 60 different objects and paintings from museums across the county will be exhibited at North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin in the first exhibition of its kind.

The oldest pieces on show are implements from a Bronze Age hoard lent by Welwyn Hatfield Museum Service and recent items include a 1968 small three-dimensional painting by Richard Smith entitled M3 from the collections of North Herts Museum,  a 1968 tapestry by master weaver Percy Sheldrick, lent by Ashwell Village Museum and Edmund Walker’s evocative 1987 painting of the lost heritage of DE Havilland. 

The works were purchased by Hertfordshire Heritage Fund which was launched in 1988 in response to grave concerns that historic treasures and artworks were leaving the county, and often the country. ‘The aim of the fund is to help museums and archives to purchase items for public museums and archives for all to enjoy,’ says Ros Allwood, cultural services manager for North Hertfordshire Museum. 'Over the years the fund has helped almost half of the county’s museums buy examples of art, archaeology and history, giving out over £86,000 in grants.

From helping the St Albans Museum and Gallery buy a wonderful Louis Wain cat drawing, to Ware Museum’s purchase of an 1819 £1 Ware Bank note, the fund has contributed to the acquisition of several thousand documents for the county archive, and hundreds of items for accredited museums in Hertfordshire.

Louis Wain cat drawing

The Hertfordshire Heritage Fund helped the St Albans Museum and Gallery buy this Louis Wain cat drawing - Credit: St Albans Museum and Gallery

‘As almost all museums nowadays struggle to find funding for purchases, this fund makes a huge difference,’ says Ros. ‘For more expensive items, the promise of a grant from the Hertfordshire Heritage Fund enables museums like ours to approach the large national funders, such as the Art Fund or the Arts Council as it proves to these organisations that there is real concern that the item should stay within the county.

'This way, we’ve used grant-aid to build up a substantial holding of works by the ‘Camden Town' painter William Ratcliffe, who spent much of his life in Letchworth and later in Baldock. We’ve acquired oils and watercolours valued at many thousands of pounds, even though we’ve not been able to add very much funding of our own. The fund has been a real lifesaver.’ 

Bushey Museum Enamel Vase by Hubert von Herkomer

An enamel vase by Hubert von Herkomer will be also be on show - Credit: Bushey Museum

From St Albans to Stevenage, Ware to Watford to Welwyn, there will be a wonderful array of loaned items to enjoy. From the county archives, visitors can see the rare Humphry Repton Red Book for Panshanger. This hand-coloured book by the period’s most important landscape gardener dates from 1799-1800 and shows his before and after designs for the estate.

Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies is also lending material relating to Hitchin Priory and the Delme-Radcliffe family who lived there, as well as an envelope from Rosina Bulwer-Lytton of Knebworth House annotated with rude comments against her ‘Ruffianly Blackguard Sir Liar Coward’ husband.  

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The Hertfordshire Heritage Fund is run by a small number of committed volunteers. They have around 50 supporters but would welcome more. 

Dates: Running until February 27

Tickets: Free

Address: North Herts Museum, Brand Street, Hitchin, SG5 1JE

Opening Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10.30am-4.30pm; Sunday 11am-3pm

Website: hertfordshireheritagefund.co.uk