The news that three of the five museums closed by Lancashire County Council in 2016 are to partially re-open (announced on the 12th April 2018) is most welcome. The museums concerned are the Helmshore Mills, Queen Street Mill in Burnley, and the Judges’ Lodgings in Lancaster. As this is the European Year of Cultural Heritage, which has a particular focus on industrial heritage, this is especially encouraging – https://europa.eu/cultural-heritage/
This positive outcome comes after a specialist consultant’s report on the future of these sites was commissioned late last year, and talks ‘with organisations which have expressed an interest in taking them on’, said Aidy Riggott the Council’s lead member for cultural services. Of the remaining two museums faced with funding cuts in 2016, Fleetwood’s Maritime Museum is now run by volunteers, whilst the Museum of Lancashire in Preston was closed.
Further background to the closure of the textile mills can be found elsewhere on this blog along with the campaigning efforts of the Association for Industrial Archaeology, the Council for British Archaeology and its North West regional group, and many others within the region and internationally. The two textile mills are internationally important sites: Helmshore because of its wide and chronologically extensive collection of British textile machinery, and Queen Street Mill as the only working example of a steam-powered weaving mill in Europe. The latter mill survives mostly intact from when it was first built in the 1890s and includes its original steam engine, boilers, and looms.
The fact that the two textile mills and the Judges’ Lodgings can be partially re-opened reflects the continuing maintenance of the collections and buildings at the Judges’ Lodgings and the two mill sites – the chimney at Queen Street has undergone some urgent repairs this winter and the boilers continued to be maintained, for instance. In fact the museums were never fully closed, since a reduced staff continued to run school trips.
The opening hours will be limited, though still very welcome, with the three sites open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Helmshore is due to re-open on the 26th May, Queen Street on the 7th July and the Judges’ Lodgings from the 21st July. Thereafter, the three sites will be open between Easter and October. The school tours will continue as before throughout. Detials can be found here http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/museums
This partial re-opening is being funded until 2020 so that the long-term future of these sites will depend upon the successful conclusion of talks with an unnamed museums’ trust and a second organisation. The Lancaster Judges’ Lodgings Museum Trust will be helping to run that site. The big question remains who will step in to secure the future of the Helmshore and Queen Street Mills after 2020. Watch this space.