Collecting your Covid-19 memories
North Hertfordshire Museum has been collecting objects and archive to help tell the story of the impact of Covid-19 on our local community. If you live work or study in North Hertfordshire we want to collect some personal stories and experiences from you in the questions below. Your answers will form part of our Covid collections to help show life during the Covid era in the future. Please email email@example.com. with your responses.
Town, village or postcode
Tell us about something you are personally proud of during the Covid pandemic and why
Tell us about something you are really looking forward to after lockdown ends and why
Tell us about something you did for the first time during lockdown
How did you adapt to do things differently during the lockdown? (This could be something in your work or personal life)
What will you remember the most about your life during Covid?
Any other information that you think will be important for future generations to know about this period
Your answers will form part of our Covid Collections to help show life during the Covid era in the future. As such they may be used as historical resources by researchers, or by the North Hertfordshire Museum in displays. Your data will be stored securely and not used in its entirety by North Hertfordshire Museum i.e. if used we may say ‘Michael a builder from Hitchin said’ or ‘Claire from Baldock told us’ or ‘a resident from Brand Street explained’. For any queries or concerns please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When people think about museums, most people think ‘Old’. People picture photographs of dour looking Victorians or broken pieces of pottery from the Roman era. Museums did not stop collecting in Victorian times and we continue to chart the history of our towns and villages into the modern era. We recently acquired this concert ticket for the appearance of the band The Damned, who played at the Regal in Hitchin on Wednesday 6 October 1982.
The Regal was a cinema which opened on the site of what is now the Regal Chambers GP Surgery in 1939. Up and down the country the cinema industry boomed with 1.64 billion admissions seen in the year 1946. From the 1950s onwards the popularity of cinemas declined as televisions became cheaper and towns, often home to a few cinemas each, saw the mass disappearance of cinemas from the high street. As part of this slump The Regal closed as a cinema in 1977. The cinema industry saw its worst year in 1984. At that stage, the musical second life of The Regal was almost at an end as well. The Regal had reopened as a concert hall and recording studio in 1980, perhaps hoping the reinvention would allow them to tap into the exciting music market and appeal to new and younger audiences. Despite the change The Regal closed once again, for the final time, in 1985.
The Damned were the first punk band to release a single, New Rose, beating the Sex Pistols release of Anarchy in the UK by five weeks in 1976. In December 1976, The Damned were set to be an opener for the Sex Pistols on their Anarchy in the UK tour. The tour marked a fascinating moment in music history. Only seven of the scheduled twenty gigs took place as many were cancelled by local authorities or concert venues out of a ‘moral panic’, largely based on the fact that the Sex Pistols had sworn on live television, goaded by the presenter to ‘say something outrageous’. University heads, venue controllers and council leaders feared violence and vandalism and more, should they have let the tour reach their town. A scheduled appearance of the tour in Caerphilly in Wales was protested against by a Christian group who sang carols and prayed for the very souls of those involved. A year later The Damned supported Marc Bolan (of T-Rex fame) on tour. The Damned also appeared on Bolan’s ITV television show Marc in 1977. Bolan was looking to revive his career and draw the attention of younger audiences unfamiliar with the height of his popularity, five years previously, but died tragically in a car crash that September.
In 1982, the year of their appearance in Hitchin, The Damned began to change. Captain Sensible, the main songwriter, scored a solo number one hit with Happy Talk, leading to a solo career. He drifted away from The Damned in the mid 1980s, playing a last concert in 1984. Meanwhile, the band adapted to the emerging Goth scene, with singer Dave Vanian’s already Dracula-like stage persona fitting in well with the new subculture.
Following the departure of Captain Sensible, lead singer Dave Vanian, who was born in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire took the band in the direction of gothic rock. Influencing the style of the goth subgroup. In 1976 the music magazine NME stated that Vanian “resembles a runaway from the Addams Family”. Vanian, a name derived from ‘Transylvanian’, adopted an on and off-stage fashion style that some compared to a vampire from classic horror films. You can see the obvious comparisons on the pictures below. It Is amazing to think that on an October Wednesday in 1982, in some of its final days, The Regal played host to a band that in its own way shaped music history. Hitchin caught a glimpse of the emergence of Punk and Goth and the beginnings of their music and fashions that continue to endure worldwide.
Part of my work across the last year has been to increase the levels of information held for objects in our collections, making them available to the public via our online database. Information on how to search the database is at the end. I recently came across a record with a slightly fuzzy image of a man, (which was out of focus when the photo was taken many years ago). Through the fuzziness I could see the face of a man who looked like he was sleeping. I scrolled down to read the short and simple record that told me that this was the “corpse of Benjamin Tatham”.
Why had somebody drawn a picture of the recently deceased Benjamin Tatham? Well it may seem strange now, but post-mortem art was fairly common in the past. Initially only the wealthy could afford to commemorate their dead with a mourning portrait. Later with the invention of photography post-mortem photographs became affordable to many, for some this would have been the only image to remember their loved one by. A search on Google reveals many photographs of deceased people, including this image of German Emperor Frederick III who died in 1888.
Our drawing of Benjamin Tatham was created by Hitchin artist Samuel Lucas Senior. It’s thanks to Samuel and his prolific sketching output that we can look upon the faces of many Hitchin residents of times gone by. The image below is a sketch he made of school master Benjamin Abbot of Tilehouse Street.
Both the image of Benjamin Tatham and of Benjamin Abbot entered our museum service at the same time on 12 August 1940 among a collection of many Lucas sketches, close to a century after they were drawn. This means that the post-mortem drawing of Benjamin Tatham stayed with Lucas and was not given to Tatham’s family. Perhaps Samuel Lucas visited the family to pay his respects and, ever the sketcher, could not help himself but sketch a final image of Tatham posed in his bed, or coffin. Perhaps the image stuck with him so much that he jotted down his memories at a later time. Maybe this formed a preparatory sketch for a later image given to the Tatham family? We think this is the only drawing of the dead that Samuel Lucas Senior created.
What do we know of Benjamin Tatham himself? Well we know that in life he worked as a woolstapler, a dealer in wool, on Bancroft, just around the corner from our museum. Trade directories show him operating from Bancroft in 1823, 1832, 1839 and a final appearance of 1846, perhaps suggesting his death shortly afterwards. To the best of our knowledge this is the only image of Benjamin Tatham to survive to the modern day. Samuel Lucas’ simple but moving sketch allows Benjamin Tatham to live on into 2021. More than one hundred and fifty years after his passing, we can look at this picture and imagine the man, dealing wool in Hitchin, walking the same streets we walk and interacting with the other residents captured in Lucas’s sketches. Perhaps he is amongst the crowd of people in the Lucas painting of the Market Place.
You can explore our collections database via the link below.