Numbering over twenty thousand objects and dating back hundreds of years, our social history collection tells us about how people spent their lives in our area. They let us know how people lived, worked and enjoyed themselves, and how they marked momentous events.

Key Objects

A hand tub fire engine, made by John Bristow in 1793, and used in Offley until 1920

A hand tub fire engine, made by John Bristow in 1793, and used in Offley until 1920

Offley Fire Engine

This fire engine, made in 1793 and based in Offley, had a remarkably long life. It was last used to fight a fire in the village in 1920.

Elizabeth Impey Suffragette Collection

This collection of objects relates to Elizabeth Impey a suffragette from Hitchin. Elizabeth campaigned for the right to vote for women and was imprisoned at Holloway. Some people in Hitchin sent abusive postcards to Elizabeth and her family.

Probably bought to watch the Queen’s coronation in 1953, this was a cheap model, costing £35 10s (£35.50). Stanley Lee of Hitchin sold it to a Letchworth Garden City resident on 28 February 1953.

Hitchin Rural District Council Incident Map 1939-1945

The coloured pins in this map mark the places where different kinds of bombs fell throughout North Hertfordshire and where German planes were shot down. It also shows the 792 houses that were damaged or destroyed during the war.

‘Penny Farthing’

Dating from about 1870, these were the first machines to be called ‘bicycles’ and were popular in the 1880s. Their large front wheel next to their small back wheel reminded people of a penny coin next to a farthing.

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