Thursday 28 July 2011

Pimp my past: Broken Barnet Tories sell our museum

Church Farmhouse Museum, now closed, ruthlessly cleared of annoying visitors, exhibitions, and all historical artefacts, and presenting an exciting development opportunity for some lucky purchaser.

Tonight at 7pm our Tory councillors will meet for the latest Cabinet Resources meeting. As this committee consists of no opposition members, it is of course a rubber stamping exercise, and all proposals will be voted through by a posse of hard line One Barnet ideologues, namely: chair Daniel Thomas, supported by Leader Richard Cornelius, Brian Coleman, Sachin Rajput, Andrew Harper and Robert Rams.

Amongst the proposals on the agenda tonight is Item 7 - the agreement to sell Church Farmhouse Museum.

This magnificent listed seventeenth century building and its substantial grounds have been in the ownership of the people of Broken Barnet since 1944, when it was purchased for them by the former Middlesex County Council. As the council's own website describes:

'Church Farmhouse Museum in Hendon is one of the oldest surviving dwelling houses in the borough of Barnet.

It was built in about 1660 and was the centre of a busy dairy and hay making farm until the first half of the previous century.

The museum has a furnished 1820s kitchen with adjoining laundry room, a bake oven, a huge fireplace and a stone flagged floor. The 1850s dining room has panelling from an earlier period and the rest of the house is full of interest, from the distinctive chimney to the unusual layout.'

As the name suggests, the farm is associated with the neighbouring ancient church of St Mary's, a wonderful building with an impressive graveyard, said to have been the inspiration for Bram Stoker when describing the resting place of Lucy Westenra in 'Dracula'. (The jaded, blood sucking bodies of the undead still stalk the streets of Broken Barnet, and tonight several of them will be sitting around the corner in the Town Hall, flogging off the Church Farmhouse.)

For decades the museum has specialised in the most remarkable series of exhibitions, on local and wider themes too. This, as well as the permanent collection, has drawn visitors from a wide background of the community and from beyond the borough, serving as a vital historical resource for school parties, but also serving in other ways, such as providing reminiscence sessions for older residents in care.

When Mrs Angry was small, she was often taken to the Museum, and particularly remembers a schooltrip to see some of the original watercolour illustrations of Beatrix Potter. The infant Mrs Angry was hardly tall enough to see into the display cases, but the wonder she felt at being so close to the original pictures of Tom Kitten and Peter Rabbit was something not easily forgotten. To see a display like this in the intimate rooms of the Farmhouse Museum is the perfect experience for a child, and something that will be now be lost forever. What a terrible shame.

The Church Farmhouse Museum has been shut, despite a campaign of protest from residents.

They were told that it was a matter of funding.

They were told that community groups would be allowed to take over, in the true spirit of the Big Society.

You were told a pack of lies, citizens.

There never was the slightest intention to allow the Museum to continue, because the grasping Tory philistines of One Barnet have absolutely no interest in the cultural or historical life of this borough, and see the building and its grounds not as something unique, to be valued and cared for, but as something from which to make profit.

The Museum, therefore, is no longer a museum, it is, according to the report going to committee this evening, 'a range of development opportunities'. The report clearly indicates a suggestion that a residential development will be allowed on this sensitive site, oh, subject to permission. Of course.

The Museum is not a unique, precious and much loved piece of our heritage, it is 'surplus to the council's requirements'.

They want to flog it off because this will 'support the council's priorities and bring this currently unused area of land back into use'.

The local archaeological association, HADAS, and other interested community groups of residents, genuinely thought they had a chance to save the museum and preserve it, by their voluntary efforts, for the borough. They never had the slightest chance of this, in fact.

Mrs Angry was reliably informed this week that a couple of years ago, an individual known to her was approached by a Tory councillor and informed that his colleagues 'had their eye' on the property, and would put it up for sale. And so they have.

Earlier this week, Mrs Angry hears, Tory councillor John Marshall was highly critical of some of the radical library proposals, which affects his ward of Hampstead Garden Suburb. Mrs Angry would hope that he and many of his colleagues would also therefore also oppose the blatant philistinism which is driving this sale forward. It's not too late for these rebels to find some courage, dig their heels in and kick up a fuss on behalf of the community they claim to represent.

And while we are on the subject, perhaps local Hendon MP Matthew Offord would like to stir himself and show some interest? Been very quiet lately, hasn't he? Does he ever contradict the policies of his former council friends? Or does party unity come before everything? Still waiting to hear his views on MetPro, aren't we?

Underlying this sale is a wider issue: there has been for some time a quiet, but stealthy, asset stripping property survey in hand, marking out any and every sales and development opportunity that might be lurking in the far reaches of the borough.

This has reached ridiculous extremes: a few months ago a local shopkeeper showed Mrs Angry a most intemperate letter from the council demanding to know why a local children's play area, supposedly situated behind his business, was being used for parking. The shopkeeper was mystified by this: there is and never has been a play area, only a small, broken surfaced, concreted,weed infested parking area next to a local scout hut. Mrs Angry looked at the letter and pointed out to the shopkeeper that the letter was not, as you might expect, from the Highways department, but from a council property valuer. A range of development opportunities, there, in a newly found piece of council ground next to a scout hut, no doubt.

So there you have it, citizens - from the smallest weed infested corner of the borough, to one of our oldest buildings, and our only museum: Broken Barnet is up for sale.

Ironic, really, isn't it? Via the scrutiny of the MetPro audit, Barnet has recently humiliated itself by the revelation of a cataclysmic failure with its performance in in procurement, yet in another, rather less savoury sense, procurement is something at which our Tory councillors excell. When it comes to whoring our heritage to the highest bidder, well - you must admit - nobody does it better.


Mr Mustard said...

That's funny Mrs A, look under M for museum on the Barnet Council website and there is no mention of the still open
Barnet Museum
Perhaps in the minds of the Council it is already closed ?

Mrs Angry said...

I suppose they would argue they do not own the building - just as well or all that worthless Battle of Barnet stuff, Livingstone's drum, the workhouse registers etc would be thrown in a skip by now.

I wonder what lofty ideals Brian Coleman, FRSA, talks about down the Royal Society to his fellow Fellows: best way of closing museums? Bet that goes down a treat.

MickeyN said...

Barnet Museum battles on! The volunteers of the Barnet & District History Society (BDLHS) have submitted a proposal to run the Museum to council officers (3rd June). The council officers will meet the BDLHS on Monday 1st August. BDLHS is grateful to all the support from visitors, petitions, blogs, press coverage, legal advice, kind words,thoughts and donations - more supporters than voted for ANY councillor EVER. Thank You!

Mrs Angry said...

good luck to the Barnet Museum: sadly, your fate will depend on how much your building is worth to the council, which knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing, here in Broken Barnet.