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St Albans Museum & Gallery

Founded: 2018        Governance: LA-supported trust      Scope: Art & local history    Visited: Summer 2018

When I arrived in St Albans, a place I'd briefly visited in the past but never spent any time in, I had no idea the city Museum was not only new, but absolutely brand new - it had been open barely a month. No wonder it hadn't appeared on tourist maps of the city yet. It did have the feel of an institution which was not quite finished, and where the easy bit - thought, presumably, to be the museum displays themselves - had been left till last. There is really very little stuff in it, in contrast to other museum spaces (the following day would find me sweltering my way around the Old Operating Theatre Museum in Lambeth which, as a specialist museum, doesn't appear in these pages, and that is positively stuffed with stuff). The local history material can be found in a series of low-key cases on the ground floor and a miscellaneous collection of objects on the landing, and it's the art which occupies a more prominent place. A collection of red velvet flower-like objects spill from a hearth; a tasteful chair guarda spidery pictures mounted against a wall. Mind you, one of the current exhibitions did mark an intersection of art and social history: a brilliant little show about squatting in St Albans in the 1980s which, despite the participants' insistance that it was a time of freedom and fulfilment, made me very thankful that it an experience I have, so far, avoided.

No, the star of St Albans Museum & Gallery is the building. It is the former Town Hall, and like many Town Halls boasts (that is the word) the usual Classical portico entrance. The rooms are spacious, white, and exhilirating and long may they remain so as school groups scuff around the skirting boards and overworked curators forget blobs of blu-tac on the walls and the oily marks they leave behind. What this Town Hall also has that others don't is a wood-panelled court room and a series of brick-walled underground cells. The court room is now the museum café: you purchase your drinks or food in the foyer and then go and consume it among the benches where magistrates frowned, lawyers orated, jurors yawned and prisoners sweated. If you need the loo, you go down to the cells which is where the toilets are located. You can climb a little stairwell into the dock, and that's the weirdest experience of all.

St Albans MuseumSt Albans Museum
St Albans Museum
St Albans Museum
St Albans MuseumSt Albans Museum
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