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Residents and businesses asked to help a once-in-a-lifetime cultural project in the heart of the City

Residents and businesses asked to help a once-in-a-lifetime cultural project in the heart of the City

Beautiful visuals of the proposed new St Albans museum and art gallery have been released by architects, John McAslan and Partners. The London-based firm of architects has worked on many award winning heritage projects such as the King's Cross Station development. 

Earlier this month, the project passed the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Stage C Review, a challenging landmark for the scheme heralding the beginning of the project's next phase. This will involve seeking planning permission for some stunning alterations to the old Town Hall and is subject to the approval of English Heritage. 

Cllr Annie Brewster, Portfolio Holder for Heritage, Sport and Leisure at St Albans City and District Council and Trustee of the Museums and Galleries Trust, said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to add a new jewel in St Albans' crown.

Interior view of New Building

“In 1831, George Smith designed the Grade II* Listed neo-Palladian Town Hall in the middle of the City to demonstrate the, then, town’s great importance. It was designed for everyone to use. The Georgian ladies wanted a grand 60 feet ballroom. The locally elected representatives – finding their accommodation above what is now W H Smith too small – sought a larger Council Chamber. The Magistrates wanted a double height central courtroom with cells beneath to vie with Shire Hall in Hertford. These features are all still here in a building 4 million people walk straight past each year. Now the City has a chance to create a magnificent cultural hub around these original features.”

Exciting plans will enable the northern and southern parts of the first floor to be connected. Contemporary glass wings will be used to create a walkway around the east and west sides of the building. From these new vantage points, visitors will be able to take in views of the medieval City towards the Clock Tower and the, largely hidden from view, Cathedral and down Holywell Hill.

Architect's drawings'
A changing exhibition programme will be held in this new circular gallery reflecting the heritage our City and District can claim since its early Roman settlement. This includes Alban, the first British Saint; Nicholas Breakspear, the first and only English Pope; and St Albans’ central place in the story of Magna Carta. The country's first hot cross bun originated at the Abbey on Good Friday in 1381. The City was also the location of two Battles of St Albans during the Wars of the Roses and the birthplace of the world-famous Ryder Cup golf competition. Former notable residents have included scientists Sir Francis Bacon and Stephen Hawking and, film maker extraordinaire, Stanley Kubrick.

The ground floor will offer a centrally located reception and information centre directing people to all there is on offer locally. It will be the stepping off point for visitors to explore the City's 2,000 years of visible history with City Guides, physical maps or electronic apps.

A new temperature-controlled and secure basement gallery will be created under the building to house national touring exhibitions and top contemporary art shows. 

The old Ball Room will be able to host dinners, dances, lectures and music performances, as originally intended by the city fathers. In addition, it will provide a wonderful venue for the latest exhibitions and cultural events. Tours, re-enactments and artists in residence workshops are all among the educational content planned. 

The history of the building itself is fascinating and will be brought to life in the new museum and gallery. For the first time, the ancient basement prison cells will be fully accessible to the public. These were once used to house the accused before judgment in the Georgian courtroom upstairs. The courtroom featured in the 1997 Oscar Wilde film “Wilde”. It is hoped the original horseshoe shape of the outdoor railings, once in front of the Town Hall in the Market Square will be recreated with lights or small fountains.

City Centre Manager, Richard Marrett commented: “St Albans deserves such a central cultural hub for our residents and further-a-field visitors to enjoy. Other cities, such as Liverpool and Glasgow have benefited from similar projects but few have such an extensive timeline to shout about. The whole area around the Town Hall will be reinvigorated with this planned development. I know the City will get behind it.” 

Executive Director of Tate Liverpool and a Director of the Liverpool Waterfront Business Partnership, Andrea Nixon said: “It is always exciting to see new exhibition spaces developing in city centres. Through my work, I can attest to the vital role that culture, heritage and the arts play in ensuring that Liverpool has a vibrant and expanding visitor economy, as well as providing a regular exhibition programme for residents.”

The project has already received keen encouragement from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey. Three times Ryder Cup Captain, Tony Jacklin, and Literary Festival and TV and radio star, Terry Wogan, have also shown their support. 

Cllr Brewster added: “Despite all the hard work being done, this project is still not guaranteed and we need the help of residents, visitors, and businesses - all of us who love St Albans - to make this project happen. We need to raise match funding of £1.7m towards the total cost of the £7.75m project. 

“It's going to take all of us, and whether you are a passionate philanthropist making a six-figure commitment or a pupil raising money at school, the new museum and gallery project needs your help. There are some exciting recognition opportunities within the museum and gallery for individuals and businesses and we'd love to talk with you about how we can work together to make this project a reality. ”

To support the project contact St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust by calling Trustees Mike Gray on 07710 039100 or Cllr Annie Brewster ([email protected]) on 01438 832255.

(From a press release from St Albans City Council)
by Philip Kenchington, - 23/03/2015 00:00


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