Many of you may already have seen the new murals in the underpass of Hitchin Station and wondered about the different images shown and how the project came about. In early 2021 during the second national lockdown we were contacted by Groundwork East. They were looking to create a mural in the underpass of Hitchin Station as was part of Govia Thameslink Railway’s station improvement programme. After having a discussion with Groundwork, we agreed on the idea of creating large graphic panels to take advantage of our museum’s fantastic photographic collection.
The collection of photographs runs into many thousands and covers all kinds of subjects. Notably, we hold a lot of early examples: our earliest, which is included in the station display, dates from 1854. When Groundwork got in touch, we were coming to the end of our successful Frozen in Time exhibition. This was an exhibition of historic photographs of the district that had already involved a lot of sifting through different photographs and looking for inspiring exhibition material. This was a prime moment for another project using them.
Though Frozen in Time gave us a solid start for photo research, I had still only seen a small part of our overall collections. Though I knew we held photographs of the whole district, I thought it better to keep the Hitchin Station mural Hitchin focused. As I looked over some of our other photographs, star images began to emerge. Becca Huggins from Groundwork and I settled upon the idea of separating the images into themes. The final mural has 11 themes containing around 200 photographs. The themes are purposely varied to give a taste of local history. These include things like: Agriculture, “Captured Moments”, Football, Shops and War. Lovely photographs of the railway station and its staff (a must-have for such a project!) turned into a larger theme of transport as we also had so many amazing photos of local transport history.
A favourite theme of mine was the section showing momentous local moments. This section includes the oldest photo from our collection which I mentioned earlier. This features the building on the left, The Shambles, and the Corn Exchange (now Pitcher and Piano) on the right: a recognisable sight alongside a Hitchin of the past! The Shambles features on Samuel Lucas Snr’s Market Place painting. The photo is made even more interesting by the painting, which is on display in the museum. It also features on the mural as one of the few images that is not a photo! In the Lucas painting, you see different buildings on the right. These were demolished to make way for the Corn Exchange, with the owners of the Corn Exchange later demolishing the Shambles. The painting and the photo are just thirteen years apart!
Another striking photo showing a captured moment is one which shows the supporters of the MP Dr Hillier, gathered to cheer his 1910 election victory at the Hitchin Conservative Club which is bedecked in “Vote for Hillier” banners.
One notable part of our holdings, the football collection, features in its own theme panel. Hitchin was home to what is believed to be the world’s first museum of football. Founded in 1956, its almost 1,000 objects were donated to our museum in the 1970s.
One fascinating panel to gather together was Faces. We hold so many photographs of people. Some we know a lot about, others are complete unknowns to us. Our panel combines the image of, for example, Hitchin Suffragette Elizabeth Impey along with the picture of a sweet unidentified young child in a sun hat. We even managed to find some smiling Victorians!
The next time you travel by train do build in a few minutes to take a look at the History of Hitchin through our brilliant images!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com.
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.