Public Rejects Museum Closures As Councils Look To Tighten Belts

By Quin Parker | 11 February 2004
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Shows a photograph of an area of snow-covered Roman ruins. The tops of stone walls are just poking out of the snow, while at the centre of the image there is a large wall with two holes that might be windows in it. In the background there is a stone-built church.

Photo: local authority proposals for budget cuts include the partial closure Leicester's Jewry Wall Museum. © Leicester City Museums.

Museum services across the UK are fighting cuts due to council tax-related budget pressures – but tax-payers are now starting to reject threatened closures.

Leicester, Worthing and Kingston Councils are three of the many local authorities looking to save money by changing or cutting opening times of local museum services.

Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester is one museum in particular danger of partial closure. The museum is situated next to the remains of a Roman bathhouse and displays numerous artefacts found on the site and at other digs in Leicestershire.

The museum contains a walk-through exhibition of the history of Leicester and how it grew from its roots as the Roman town of Ratae Corieltauvum, through Saxon to medieval times.

The most famous exhibit is the Glen Parva Lady, a reconstruction based on the skeleton of a Saxon woman dating to 500 AD found during an excavation elsewhere in the city.

Shows a photograph of a large wall, into which has been created an arch. In the arch there is a man standing and pointing upwards, while two children look up.

Photo: around 27,000 people visit the Jewry Wall Museum and the neighbouring archaeological site each year. © Leicester City Museums.

Jewry Wall also boasts a tactile model of the bathhouse site with braille labels and differently-textured surfaces to represent each layer of the archaeological dig.

It is believed that the name of the museum comes from the Latin word ‘jurata’ (meaning 'court officials'), after the medieval courthouse that had been built next door in the 13th century.

Right now Jewry Wall has one full-time curator, compared with ten curators in 1994. 27,000 people visit the site and the museum every year. Leicester City Council is looking to put the emphasis of Jewry Wall on education and outreach.

A Leicester City Council spokesperson said: "Current budget proposals for the museum service include reduced opening of at least one day at all museum sites, with further reductions reflecting visitor patterns. This is to maximise attendance while minimising costs."

"Details of proposals are still being worked on and final decisions will not be made until February 25."

Staff at Jewry Wall refused to comment on any possible cutbacks, but there is a feeling among some of those who work at Leicester’s several museums that they are being seen as a soft target.

Others believe that, despite publicity in the local press, the city residents are not enthusiastic about supporting the museums and their fate only matters to outsiders. This is in spite of an extensive campaign to rebrand Leicester’s image and encourage civic pride.

Shows a photograph of the entrance to Worthing Museum and Art Gallery. A paved ramp leads up to the large entrance, which has a stone canopy supported by columns. In front of it there is a sign and a public bench.

Photo: residents of Worthing on the south coast have voted against plans to curb council tax rises by closing the town's museum and art gallery. © Worthing Borough Council.

In contrast to this, residents of Worthing, East Sussex, recently refused to support cuts to museum services in return for reduced council tax rises.

Worthing Council may now decide to keep the town’s Museum and Art Gallery open six days a week.

Worthing consulted with residents and asked them to choose between a possible 14.9% rise in tax and cuts to cultural and education programmes. 55% of respondents believed that museum services were a higher priority than keeping council tax down.

Sheila Player, Leader of Worthing Council, said: "I am staggered by the amazing response…we hope the Scrutiny Committees will approve the findings."

Worthing’s Museum and Art Gallery contains a mixture of local historical information, fine and decorative art, period clothing and a sculpture garden.

Shows a photograph of the exterior of Kingston Museum as seen from above. It is a large square red-brick building and its roof slopes up to a small turret, upon which there is a weather vane.

Photo: Kingston Museum is another threatened local-authority funded institution that has had a recent reprieve. Courtesy Kingston Museum.

Similarly, Kingston Museum, in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, was recently saved by a local campaign to prevent it from closing one day a week.

The museum is in its centenary year and holds a number of local events and exhibitions, including a current satirical show by local artist Peter Rush of papier-mache models of politicians and celebrities.

Although Kingston-upon-Thames is a London commuter suburb, it enjoys a strong identity. The Surrey Comet reports that had Kingston Council closed the museum one day a week, it would have only saved them £15,000 out of a £160m budget.

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