This week the Heritage Lottery Fund announced the award of £386,400 to support the development of a full bid for the restoration of the Large Mansion and the development of the Museum. This development phase will require further funds to reach the £543,600 required. When the plans have been drawn up in detail and the surveys completed, the Project Team will then put in a full bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £3,425,000 as part of the £9,368,603 required to complete the project.
Taken with the recent news of the Parks for People award, this is the best news Gunnersbury has had for 30 years. Although there are a lot of hazards and difficulties ahead, this is the moment to contemplate the future for the Park and Museum. It has never looked better.
The Heritage Grant application to the HLF is in two parts. The Mansion is a good example of an early 19th century country residence. It was about 30 years old when the Rothschilds bought it, made some changes and built some additions. They used Sidney Smirke who, though not as famous as his brother Robert, was a significant Victorian architect. The Rothschilds’ internal decoration is still very visible in the grand rooms, and of course their enlarged kitchen wing has been visited by thousands of school children since the Friends restored it in the 1980s.
The Large Mansion is listed at Grade 2* (particularly important buildings of exceptional interest and of outstanding importance – only 4% of listed buildings are in this category). However, it has also been on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register for many years. You do not need to be an expert in historic buildings to see from the outside what this means – and when it rains the museum staff will confirm your opinion from the inside!
The plan is to restore this building to the appropriate high standards, both inside and out.
The Museum was founded in 1929 with a donation of archaeological discoveries from Acton (the Sadler Collection). It now has a collection of some 40,000 objects covering the history of the area of the boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow and the people who lived (and live) here. It is one of the oldest and largest held by any local authority in London. Its particular strengths are its collections of costume and textiles, local crafts and industries, and South Asian artefacts and materials. Its collections include transport, toys, weapons, science, domestic equipment, photography and entertainment (especially Ealing Studios).
It holds some stunning objects – everyone knows the Rothschilds’ carriages (and the plan is to build a new display area for them in Fox’s Yard by the Kitchens) – but do we know the eleven 17th century swords made in Hounslow and donated by John Tofts White? Or the huge patchwork quilt made in 1810 featuring animals and birds, scenes from the Bible and figures in contemporary dress? Or the Chinese armorial porcelain? Or the marvellous pedlar doll with her basket of miniature items for sale?
The plan is for the Museum to take over all the floors, install lifts and increase the number of galleries from 7 to 20. There will also be a learning centre, study space and new collections storage (accessible by appointment). At present there are perhaps 600 objects on display – by the end of the project we expect there will be 3,000. The 30,000 visits annually are expected to rise to 50,000, with the outreach officer bringing perhaps a further 6,500 from communities new to museum visiting. The schools and learning programmes will grow – at present 9,000 children visit in school parties each year, and many return with their families and friends.
There will be many opportunities for volunteering, training, work experience, apprenticeships and internships during the project, and a large outreach programme to ensure that people from across the two boroughs and beyond can get involved and engaged, be consulted and help in the planning and development of this project. We will also need a lot of help in fundraising, finding sponsors and attracting grants. There is a lot of work to be done – but, at last, we can put our affection and enthusiasm into a project which will establish the Museum, and its Mansion, perhaps for three or four generations to come.
James Wisdom, Chairman
27 July 2012