Category Archives: Collections

Fairlands Valley and Lakes

We recently answered an enquiry from a local resident who is leading a walk in Fairlands Valley Park as part of a Festival of Walking. He wanted to know more about the history of the park. Here is what we found out for him.

Everyone in Stevenage (and beyond) has made use of Fairland’s Valley and Lakes, whether for picnicking, sports, or even Dragon Boating. But what’s the history of Fairlands? It wasn’t always the public space as we know it today!

The Valley had initially been farmland, and although it was owned by many different families, the last family to work on the farm was the Marriotts family. The Marriotts’ farm provided milk to the residents of Stevenage. As the site was designated as parkland, the last sale of cattle was in 1957, and its last harvest in 1968. The barns stayed in place until 1973 when they were finally demolished, but the farmhouse is still there and was used until recently by local artists from the Digswell Arts Trust.

The Valley was designated as parkland in 1966, as proposed in the Master Plan and work began to develop the valley and the lakes in 1971. The work included building a dam across the valley to help create the lakes. Did you know the lakes are filled with rainwater? The water in the lakes depends entirely on rainfall! The lakes were then opened in 1972 in by Sir Alec Rose, only one year after work began.

Although it is easy to enjoy Fairlands, there are a few rules to follow when making use of the spaces:

  • Remember to take all litter home or use bins provided
  • Make sure dogs are kept under proper control
  • Make sure to read and comply with the bylaws displayed in the park and can be seen at the Sailing Centre Clubhouse

And most importantly, as noted in the first guidebook for the valley: Do not play transistor radios too loudly!

If you enjoy the lakes and other outdoor spaces why not take a look at http://walksaroundbritain.co.uk/walkingfestivals to find local walking festivals.

 

Who is Gordon Craig? Exhibition Opening

February 10th saw the official opening of our newly curated exhibition on Edward Gordon Craig in Stevenage, the town of his birth.

Granddaughters of Edward Gordon Craig, Marie Joy Taylor and Ellen Terry May Craig joined the town’s Mayor, Councillor John Lloyd, in cutting the ribbon.

Supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, the exhibition runs at Stevenage Museum until June 3rd 2017.

Who is Gordon Craig? An Exhibition

STEVENAGE’S THEATRE IS NAMED AFTER HIM, BUT…whoisripajp

REBEL AND PROPHET: THE FORGOTTEN MODERNISER OF THE 20th CENTURY STAGE

International theatre director, designer, writer, thinker, artist and lover.
Discover the light and dark of this pioneer and rule-breaker, both on and off the stage.

AN EXHIBITION AT STEVENAGE MUSEUM
11 FEB – 3 JUNE 2017

When it came to naming Stevenage’s new town theatre, his name jumped off the pages of theatre history. One of the most radical and influential forces on the world’s stages was born less than a mile away.

Son of actress Ellen Terry, the “uncrowned queen of England”, Edward Gordon Craig grew up on the London stage alongside Henry Irving at the heart of the 19th century’s theatrical elite.

But Craig was harbouring a revolutionary reaction to conventional theatre-making; the visionary was already hard at work…
A new theatre for a new century was to be born.

STEVENAGE MUSEUM | ST. GEORGES WAY | STEVENAGE SG1 1XX
OPEN WEDNESDAY – FRIDAY 10AM-4.30PM & SATURDAY 10AM-5PM | ADMISSION FREE

What have we been up to?

It’s been a few weeks since we last updated you on our flood recovery progress. Although there has unfortunately not been much of a change in the appearance of the building, as well as working hard towards reopening the museum we have been working hard to run successful events for people of all ages- from 9 months to 99!

 

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‘If Walls Could Talk’ session with our Down Memory Lane Group and Nicola Spurling and Elisabeth Shove from the DEMAND research centre

 

On Monday some of our staff went to the regional SHARE Museums East Conference at the beautiful Ickworth House where we heard some brilliant and inspiring stories and got some great advice from museums from the eastern region. Our curator, Jo, also gave a brilliant talk on how to deal with disasters in museums and a special shout-out went to all the fantastic staff and volunteers who have helped with our flood recovery so far.

 

 

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SHARE Museums East Annual Conference. Picture courtesy of http://twitter.com/B_S_Museum 

 

Our Education Officer, Kate, Curator, Jo, and Volunteer Development Officer, Emma, had a fantastic day on Tuesday at The Nobel School as part of an immersive WWI day for Year 9 students. We took along objects and archival material about local soldiers, nurses and nobility for students to explore their stories before creating a storyboard and acting out scenes that they had discovered.

 

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Museum staff, Knebworth House staff and actors at The Nobel School for a WWI day

 

 

Our volunteers have been doing a brilliant job of answering the many enquiries we receive every week, as well as cataloguing and photographing objects and continuing to process the flood-damaged parts of the collection. For the last 2 weeks we have been focussing on washing and repacking our large collection of textiles.

 

Our new flooring should be going down in the next 2 weeks and we then hope to have a date for reopening before the end of the year. Thank you for your continued support, and please keep your eyes peeled for more information!

Stevenage Charter Fair

Did you know the history of the town’s Charter Fair dates back to 1281, when Edward I issued a royal charter granting the town the right to hold a fair and market?

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Visitors to the fair in the early 1900s

On the outskirts were to be seen the caravans where the showmen and their families lived … Then there were the shooting galleries, where young women pressed you to try your luck, the swings, in which many too old to be called children enjoyed themselves. Passing there in safety, which required care, you were asked to have a throw at a cocoa-nut. The steam round-a-bouts with their music were much patronised; then there was a booth with a performing pony, a young girl on a tight-rope; in the next booth animals and birds went through various tricks; in another large tent there was a very good ghost illusion, also many other attractions. But alas, this year there was no wild beast show …

From the local newspaper, 1886

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The merry-go-round in 1907

Owing to the lateness of the harvest and the fine weather, the fair this year was a greater success than ever and the travellers all seemed to be doing a roaring trade. Special trains were run from Hitchin and other places, while brakes etc. brought people in from all the surrounding villages, so that at one time on Monday evening when the High Street got simply impassable it was computed that upwards of 9,000 persons were present. The old shows of the fat women, wild man of the woods etc., seemed much out of date, and were not nearly so well patronised as were the more modern cinematograph shows, of which there were three, with their newest attraction of singing living pictures . . .

From the local newspaper, 1907

Flood Recovery

In the next weeks we will try to keep you updated on the process of recovering a flooded collection (part of the collection). On Friday we were pouring water out of bags meant to protect a range of items from bowling shoes, stuffed birds, old trophies, boxes full of photos and post cards, whilst keeping hold of the paper labels tied to the objects.

On the photo you can see one of the surreal mini scenarios we found – a collection of rare birds eggs floating in their drawer.

The Diary of Fredrick Rowe

My name is Marianne and I am on work experience from the Barclay School in Stevenage, I decided to choose the museum because I am very interested in history and particularly love learning about historical events but mainly historical people i.e Queen Victoria, the Tudors, Marie Antoinette etc.
Today Mrs Maine came in and shared some of her Grandfather’s memorabilia from WW1, his old passport and a photograph of him and his comrades in East Suffolk hospital Christmas 1915.
Fredrick Rowe joined the army during WW1 on Sunday May 30th 1915. He was 34 years old.
Fredrick Rowe passport photo 1922
Fredrick Rowe passport photo 1922

“Sunday May 30th 1915

Left Aldershot at 6:15pm for Folkstone. Shipped from Folkstone 10:30pm, all in darkness for Boulongue 12 Midnight. Camped at S……… on that night.”

This is the first entry of Fredrick’s diary; this entry is about his journey to his first day in the diary. Fredrick became a runner for the army, this meant he was delivering from trench to trench; this could be a quite dangerous job for Fredrick as he found out. It was 6 months into him being in the army, until he was wounded on Sunday 17th November 1915

“November 7th Sunday

Fine day, got ready to be relieved, had dinner, sat talking with my legs out of the dug out, when all of a sudden a shell burst close against me and a piece blew my clasp knife all to pieces and that is what saved my life and I had a nasty wound to he abdomen, but did not penetrate. “Praise God, it is his will and I know he has a purpose in it”. I was in awful pain, I was dressed by a doctor and sent down t a dressing station, from there on to hospital where they are doing all they can(at Chocques)”

Passport pages
Passport pages

It wasn’t until December 1915 that a month after the injury, Fredrick decided he will not return to they army, possibly because of his age and his injury.

“December 21st Wednesday

Went and had x-rays but nothing found in the wound. I am glad for it has saved me from having another operation. In hospital at Ipswich until 10th January 1916, was then sent to Shrubland Convalescent home, had a nice time boating and some lovely walks through the woods.”

This was Fredrick’s last diary entrance for his time in the war. He was awarded four regular WW1 medals. For a while Fredrick became a bank messenger before going to France to join the Imperial War Graves Commission in France. Although Fredrick was not an actual soldier during WW1 he saw plenty of bombing, enemy planes, fighting, death etc.

“October 21st Thursday

“I in them and they in me, that they made perfect in one”. When the enemy found that we were so quiet they came up and threw a bomb in our trench, found no reply so they started to attack but only when the 9th Essex and 9th Fusiliers were in the alert and drove them back so all was quiet again, only a few high explosives have been fired and a sniper keeps on firing a shot now and again if he sees anything. Was relieved by a Scots Division at 5:00pm. I went down transport lines about 11:15am and stayed there until they went to Bethune; I arrived there at 4:30pm where I was billeted in the Tabacco factory.”

The Astonia cinema

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Astonia in 1969 from Stevenage Museum photo collection
The museum regularly gets new donations to add to the store of knowledge about the town. These can be photographs and objects, but sometimes they are memories. We recently received this from Margaret, who wanted to share her memories of the cinema of her youth, the Astonia.

How sad to see another landmark in the Stevenage of my youth now gone, I’m referring to the Astonia cinema in Pound Avenue, which eventually was turned into a snooker club.

The Home Guard in 1944 on the steps of the Astonia
The Home Guard in 1944 on the steps of the Astonia from Stevenage Museum photo collection

The Astonia Cinema was a beacon of excitement in the 1950s and 1960s. We couldn’t wait to go to “the flicks”, usually Friday or Saturday night, except for the Saturday morning kids’ cinema. The favourite latest films or epics of the day would be a “must-see” and I can remember waiting in queues which stretched might round the corner of Pound Avenue into Sish Lane, and even across the road outside the Stevenage Knitting Company, which is also now gone and the space built on.

The cinema lady usher would let a group of people in gradually, shuffling up the steps until the seats were filled. It was almost like a military procedure, all very calm and with little bad behaviour from the “younger set” anxious to get in. I also remember “big George”, who I understood was an ex-boxer who was always on hand to deal with any unruly lads who would cat-call and whistle at any unplanned breakdown in the film or hurl things across the rows of seats. Any unruly lads were soon deposited outside on the pavement!

If there was a lovey-dovey romantic film on, there was a natural clamour for the back row, a bit more expenixsive then the fronts stalls. Any impropriety was usually spotted and the couple were warned by a flash from the cinema usher’s torch. Acceptable behaviour was a clinch and kissing in the back row with an arm around your shoulders, sometimes there was more action there than on the screen!

The journey to the Astonia was usually Shanks’s pony as the finance was kept for the cinema ticket and food. You could buy sweets , popcorn and soft drinks from a kiosk in the foyer. As we were not old enough to frequent the old town pubs, places to buy food at that time were limited. There was a window of opportunity at the White Lion in the High Street where, from a small window near the saloon bar, you could get a hot steak and kidney pie or a bag of chips and a soft drink. Otherwise it was fish and chips from Fishy Furr’s, the open-plan style fish shop where the delicious aroma meandered almost the length of the High Street. This topped off a night out at the flicks except for getting home by bus which meant a long wait in an even longer queue. Many of us gave up and it was Shanks’s pony home too.

An alternative cinema called Publix on the Bowling Green end of the High Street was not so popular as it was much smaller and had a high staircase to get to the seats. Also there were residents scampering inside which could be heard, but that’s another story!

Typed by Jamie, Museum Volunteer

The Story of Shephall Manor 

Before the new town of Stevenage, Shephall was its own village with an ancient history; even appearing in the Doomsday Book. In 1542 George Nodes, Sergeant of the Buckhounds to Henry VII, was granted the manor and his family held it for the next 250 years.

Samuel Unwin-Heathcote was the first of the Heathcote family to become lord of Shephall Manor. He was known to oppose the coming of the railway and chased rail workers off his land and broke their instruments. After Samuel’s death, his son Unwin knocked the manor down and built a new one, completed 1865. Unwin died 1893 making Colonel Alfred Unwin-Heathcote the new lord and the last of his family to live in the manor until his death in 1912.

The manor was sold and used to house WW2 children evacuees from 1939; afterwards it became a Polish boarding school, then in 1954 an institution for children with behavioural problems.

The Coptic Church bought it in 1991, they built a cathedral on the grounds and still inhabit the manor today.

8 miles per hour

It was proposed by Mr. Ellis, seconded by Mr. Day.

That this Urban District Council petition the Hertfordshire County Council to make application to the Local Government Board under Section 9 of the Motor Cars Act 1903 that no person shall drive a motor car at a speed exceeding eight miles an hour within the whole of the Urban District of Stevenage.

Carried unanimously.

Urban District of Stevenage
Urban District of Stevenage motor cars 8mph