Hinckley and District Museum has now completed its third successful season and it is an appropriate time to record how the Museum was established and the nature of its setting and exhibitions.
In the past there had been various efforts to set up a museum in Hinckley. A. J. Pickering, the renowned local archaeologist and historian, was a keen supporter of the idea but by the time of his death only a limited development had taken place. This consisted of a museum in the attic of Forest View House which had become part of Hinckley Grammar School. The Hinckley Upper School, later in 1974 to become the John Cleveland College, occupied the land surrounding Forest View from 1963. In the Forest View Museum were numerous exhibits which A. J. Pickering had collected on his travels. Many were local and included a large collection of books and papers, some of which had belonged to Thomas Harrold. Other important items collected by Mr. Pickering were deposited for safety with Leicester Museums.
In 1973 I was appointed to teach history at the Hinckley Upper School. My interest in local history and the teaching of an evening class led to the establishment of the Hinckley Local History Group in January 1975. In the previous summer I had been involved, with student volunteers, in moving what remained in the Forest View Museum to cupboards in the main college since the attic had become unsafe. This collection remained in the college although some was unfortunately destroyed in a fire in March 1992.
During the 1980s various efforts were made to excite local interest in a Hinckley Museum. We were the largest community in Leicestershire which lacked such a facility. Bill Partridge in particular was a a strong advocate of a museum. Finally in 1991 a group of some fifty people, many from Hinckley Local History Group, met at the Great Meeting Chapel and decided to set up a committee which would work towards establishing a Hinckley and District Museum.
Tom Atkins became the Chairman with Bill Partridge as Vice-Chairman and Evelyn Lord as Secretary. Meetings were held, prophetically, in the Framework Knitters' Cottages in Lower Bond Street.
The early efforts of the committee were devoted to establishing the basis on which a museum collection should operate, attempting to raise local interest and funds and finally finding a building in which to house the museum collection. Greg Drozdz, Publicity and Press Officer, wrote in Hinckley Historian No 28, autumn 1991, "It's now or never - A Museum for the Hinckley Area".
For a year eight members of the committee attempted to address the issues detailed above. We made some progress but after a year Tom Atkins decided that he would retire as Chairman. I took over in the Chairman's post and with the help of Don Allinson the efforts to gain recognition as a charity and also the status of a limited liability company were undertaken. Don's expertise and specialist knowledge were vital in achieving these two objectives and we became Registered Charity no. 1015922 and Hinckley and District Museum Ltd. We also obtained a great deal of help and advice from the County Museum Service. At this stage Michael Moore was the museum expert who provided us with advice on such items as collection policy which embraced objects of interest with a local connection but excluded those concerned with Natural History.
Without a place in which to display material which people were now offering to the Museum Group we were faced with a problem. It was decided to keep local interest alive by mounting exhibitions in different venues in the town.
The first exhibition entitled ”Hinckley at War", covering the period since the beginning of this century, took place at Hinckley Library in August and again in December of 1992. Phillip Lindley, from Hinckley Library and a member of the Museum Group, was instrumental in arranging these displays along with other members of the committee. The public were keen to loan and donate items to the exhibitions.
By 1993 we were meeting as members of the Board of Hinckley and District Museum Ltd., R.eg. Co. No. 2734125, with Don Allinson as Company Secretary and Phillip Lindley as Treasurer. Our meetings were now taking place on a regular basis in Hinckley Library. In 1993 events continued to move on fairly rapidly. An exhibition of old photographs of Hinckley was staged at St Mary's Church and the possibility of leasing a building in Burbage presented itself, although the building proved to be unsuitable. In the Autumn of 1993 the possibility of leasing the Framework Knitter's Cottages became known to us and after eighteen months as Chairman I handed over the task to Michael Roberts whose retirement and previous employment with Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council made him the most suitable member of the Board to undertake the task of negotiating arrangements for our home on Bond Street. In this task he was ably supported by Don Allinson. The task of negotiating with Atkins for a lease was a long one, finally completed at the beginning of 1995, and the need for funds to equip the building as a Museum was also considerable. Atkins were ready to grant a lease at a peppercorn rent and to carry out work on the building to render it in a good state of repair. It was an important last gift by the company to the town before Atkins was taken over by Coates Viyella.
We had set up an organisation called "Friends of Hinckley and District Museum" and David Knight had edited "The History and Antiquities of Hinckley" by John Nichols which had first been produced in 1782. Contributions from "Friends" and sales of the book helped to increase our funds. An appeal was made for support to organisations and companies in the town and an attractive prospectus was produced. Arthur Tomlin, our artistic director, painted the Framework Knitters' Cottages and this picture appeared in the prospectus. Over the course of two years nearly £10,000 was raised thanks to the generosity of individuals, organisations and companies and on the occasion of the opening of the Museum a list of our benefactors appeared in the entrance hall. In addition to funds many companies contributed in other ways such as with reprographic facilities or providing facilities in the building. British Gas and East Midlands Electricity were very helpful in this respect. So numerous were the contributors to the Museum that it is impossible to mention more than a few of them. The Borough Council gave a grant of £3,500 before the opening in the following year.
In the spring of 1995 it was decided to open the Framework Knitters' Cottages to the public before we undertook the process of setting up exhibitions. Over two weekends in April the Hinckley public flooded into the building in hundreds and raised the ghosts of past residents of the building which dated back nearly three hundred years. The Museum Cottages are described in a guide compiled by David Knight, Originally there were certainly three cottages built around 1700 and of box-frame construction, vertical timber posts carrying wall plates which support the roof trusses. A photograph of the cottages at the turn of the century indicates that there was one large and two smaller cottages in a somewhat dilapidated state. After the First World War the cottages were purchased by Clive Atkins with the idea that the site would be developed by Atkins. Fortunately a decision was taken to restore the cottages at the end of the 1920s, the larger cottage being changed to become a hall which is today the main exhibition area of the Museum. The two smaller cottages were combined into one and a bathroom extension was added. Until shortly before the Museum took over this cottage was tenanted. When the cottages were restored in the 1920s the roof was returned to its original thatch. Occupants of the cottages in the past, according to census returns, included framework-knitters. Later a butcher's shop and at the end of the last century a Marine Store and General Dealer occupied some of the building. Today the Museum is yet another occupant of the cottages, the only thatched building which remains in central Hinckley.
Arthur Tomlin took over as Chairman in April of 1995 and under his direction preparations were made for opening at the May Bank Holiday week of 1996. The task was a daunting one but good fortune played a part. Francis of Hinckley ceased operations in Castle Street in the Summer of 1995 and the Museum was able to purchase the showcases from the jewellery department. After suitable refurbishment these cases became the main display cabinets for the Museum. Decorating, cleaning and preparing for the exhibitions now occupied Directors and Friends for the coming year. The ladies in the Museum, Janice Gardham, Jean Jones and Jill Webster played a vital role in the preparation for opening and also emphasised the importance of providing catering facilities. The Museum is now acknowledged as-*"An elegant place to take tea", as one of our regular visitors has stated.
By the Spring of 1996 curtains had been manufactured, alarm systems and rewiring carried out and some re-thatching completed. Roger Morley and Jean Gilbert took the garden in hand and today it is a special feature of the Museum. We finally opened to the public with displays occupying the main exhibition hall on 22nd June 1996. Arthur Tomlin as Chairman hosted the opening which was performed by David Everitt, the Deputy-Mayor, and attended by many councillors. Phillip Lindley, now Company Secretary and Treasurer, was the mainstay of the business organisation of the Museum. A team of volunteers to carry out the numerous tasks involved in operating the Museum was organised by Jean Jones.
In that first season exhibitions covered a number of topics. Most prominent and fitting was the display connected with Hosiery set up by Bill Partridge with the assistance of Joe Lawrance. Also shown were exhibits connected with Prehistoric, Roman and Medieval Hinckley, the Boot and Shoe Industry and the local Co-Operative Society. As a legacy of the days when Atkins used the building for Board Meetings there is a stocking-frame rebuilt by Bill Partridge which is two hundred and fifty years old and reputedly the oldest in existence. During the first season over 1,000 people visited the Museum paying 50p for admission with 25p for concessions. In the visitor's book were recorded the names of people from North America to Australia and a party of visitors from France. Publicity for the Museum was successful. The local newspapers played an active part in this with the Leicester Mercury publishing a weekly History File written by directors of the Museum. The Museum closed at the end of October 1996 but a Christmas Fair was also held to help with fundraising. Since the Museum has opened Greg Drozdz has conducted regular "Ghost Walks" in the town with many new ghosts appearing! A regular programme of talks has also been organised. These activities have done much to raise additional funds for the Museum.
At the end of 1996 I took over as Chairman once again and the Board was expanded to ten members. A number of sub-committees were set up to deal effectively with various aspects of operating the Museum. Doreen Rose, with a particular skill in the presentation of exhibitions, took over the task of exhibition management.
In 1997 Easter was early and our opening day was scheduled for 31st March. We succeeded in meeting our target with one day to spare. Exhibits for the season included a large collection of Prehistoric Flints made by one of our directors, Authur Cross, together with flint implements which could be handled by visitors. We were working on "the hands on" approach. Other displays covered Roman Hinckley, Hedging and Drainage, The Feoffment Charity, Samuel Davis, Hinckley Cinema, the Volunteers, Militia and T.A., the Atkins Family, Charlotte Mary Brame, Local Heraldry, Bottles, Old Maps and Photographs. For this second year the room upstairs was also used for exhibitions. The two rooms beyond were turned into an office and storage space. Downstairs a large room was furnished as a tea-room or for meetings.
April 1997 was a most important month for the Museum. On 2nd April the Duchess of Gloucester conducted the official opening of the Museum and unveiled a wall plaque after touring the exhibitions and talking to exhibitors. Just over two weeks later on 17th April the Museum won First Prize in the Heritage Awards for Independent Museums in Leicestershire presented by the County Council and the Leicester Mercury. Along with the award came a cheque for over £200! The season was a great success with 2,500 visitors who came from places as varied as Herford and Hong Kong. At the end of the season came the process of dismantling the exhibitions and returning exhibits followed by preparations for the next year.
This season opened for the public on Easter Monday, 13th April 1998. As a special feature a group of Medieval; Knights, the "Routiers de Rouen", put on a display throughout the day which attracted nearly 200 visitors. Exhibitions related to items as varied as Prehistoric Sculptures, the Turnpike, Cabinet Making by the Cross Family, Church Paintings by Arthur Tomlin, Wartime Wedding Dresses, Visiting Servicemen in World War II and the Century and Concordia Theatres. At the time of writing our visitors for the year will clearly reach 2,000. Many parties visit the Museum during the week from local organisations and schools. All the Museum work is done by unpaid volunteers who include the Directors and Friends of the Museum. If you have not yet visited the Museum please pay us a visit in 1999. If you are already a visitor please come again to see our new exhibits next season.
Museum Chairman and Editor
Author: Hugh Beavin
Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine