Dudley Council's Glass Museum Closure Plans Spark Outrage

By Culture24 Staff | 21 January 2009
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A picture of a glass museum at night

Broadfield House Glass Museum is under threat. Pic courtesy the museum

Controversial plans to close the Grade II-listed building where one of the UK’s most popular glass museums has thrived for almost 30 years are to be pursued by the local council later this year.

Dudley Council will carry out a feasibility study considering proposals to relocate the town’s Glass Museum from Broadfield House to Wordsley’s Red House Glass Cone as part of cost-cutting measures aimed at saving £120,000.

“The proposals look to bring all the borough’s glass heritage onto a single site, based at the Red House Glass Cone,” said a spokesman for the council. “As set out in the budget proposals, a feasibility study will be carried out during the next financial year into moving collections and services from Broadfield House to the Red House Glass Cone.

“Our aspiration is to create an improved visitor attraction based in the heart of the historic glass quarter. This would provide a more efficient running of our museum service.”

Heritage figures and local residents have reacted angrily to the news after an anonymous employee at Broadfield House last week told the BBC that the site would close by April 2010.

“I have been visiting the museum for about 21 years and see this as a totally retrograde step by the council,” said author and curator Nigel Benson, who runs specialist glass gallery, 20th Century Glass.

“Maybe I’m being cynical, but it’s easier to go for downsizing than to work for extra funding – it’s certainly easier to placate other council workers and the electorate by closing or downsizing what might be seen as a luxury by some local councillors.

“It would appear that someone has had the idea that vacating the current premises in favour of moving to smaller premises could save money. If this happens, not only will it be difficult to maintain current services, but it is highly unlikely that the collections will have enough space to be stored in, let alone be displayed.

Mr Benson added that last year visitor numbers went up from 11,000 to 15,000 but he said, "It would seem that no account of this has been taken."

"Importantly, in the current economic climate where it would seem that many more people are proposing to holiday in this country, no account or thought appears to have been given toward gaining important revenue to help the income of the counsellors’ own electors.

“Surely now should be the time to consolidate on the work of the museum and raise its profile, helping to keep, and possibly create, work in the area.

“This museum is a highly important record to the industry that is indigenous to the area, as well as holding the most comprehensive and diverse collections of British glass in the country.

“No other museum would seem a likely candidate to hold these collections, so it is likely that we will also be deprived of having access to a large number of exhibits that will no longer be available and are not held elsewhere.”

Outspoken local councillor David Blood told the council’s select committee on regeneration, culture and adult education his constituents would “never forgive” him if he allowed the switch to happen, describing it as a “major calamity”.

In a letter to Dudley Council leader David Caunt, Glass Association Chairman Brian Clarke appealed for any decision to be “a step up and not down.”

“We are aware that Broadfield House, though having a name in the glass world, is not sacrosanct – a better facility could easily be envisaged,” he said.

“Our concerns are that as a world-class facility, the collections should remain on view, should have room to be viewed and the library and research facility should remain intact and accessible.”

The proposal is further complicated by the Red House Glass Cone building being owned by Wedgwood Waterford, who recently went into receivership.

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