Tuesday, 9 February 2010

9 February 2010 Canterbury Museums in Danger from Canterbury Council

A few days ago we blogged an example of how broad based community activism on the part of people who cared about their environment and the heritage of their community, saved the Steeton Pill Boxes.  Now there is another aspect of our Heritage which is in danger from what might be seen as cultural ignorance and political short termism which you might be able to help save.
In addition to its main site Canterbury City Council operates two unique small museums, The Roman Museum, a third century Roman Town House, complete with tessellated pavements, discovered as part of Sheppard Freere's pioneering campaign of urban archaeology in the late 1940's and the West Gate Towers, Canterbury's last remaining City Gate and containing a small museum of the defence of Canterbury and one of the earliest examples of ports for firearms in the UK dating to around 1380.  Both are much loved by the local people and the "Roman Pavement," in particular has operated as a terrific educational resource allowing children, including mine, hands on contact with genuine Roman artifacts and the sense of actually walking around a real Roman House and street.
Now Canterbury City Council, who are, lets remember, custodians of a UNESCO Listed World Heritage Site [WHS],
are showing how much respect they have for that privileged status by threatening to close both museums with no prospect or guarantee they will ever re-open; as well as making the Herne Bay Museum only available for Educational Groups [presumably because people only want to visit museums when they are taken along on organised trips, so tough on Mum and Dad when the kids want to show them what they did at school].

Here is what Paul Bennett of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust has to say about the proposal...

"We are justifiably proud of the Canterbury World Heritage sites. The city and its archaeological assets, most specifically its museums, form part of the WHS ‘buffer’ zone and therefore the loss or erosion of such assets, close to the Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church, will reflect badly on Canterbury.
It is the very combination of museums in different locations that with greater engagement ought to provide added value to the Canterbury experience. We should be exploiting Canterbury’s heritage assets more fully at this difficult time, not considering closure of the best of them for potential re-use as a retail outlet. Canterbury is not just a provincial town, its name is known all over the World for its heritage and it is therefore irrational, even in difficult times, to chip away at what is the main basis upon which visitors come to the city in the numbers they do."
Paul Bennett
Director, Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Not surpisingly, there is a growing campaign to protest at this proposal.  An on line petition already has nearly 2500 e-signatures, but more support is needed to show the Council that this move will be both a huge PR Blunder and cost them votes. 

You can find information about the campaign at...

...and on the SAVE CANTERBURY'S MUSEUMS own campaign website...

The on line petition plan is at...

...and there is a public protest on Saturday 13 February meeting at Noon outside the Roman Museum in Butchery Lane, Canterbury.  If you are within striking distance of Canterbury do try to go.  Details here...

On a personal note I cannot believe I am having to write this.  I grew up just outside of Canterbury and I was bitten by the archaeology bug in Canterbury, in part because I was able to visit a real Roman House and hold a real musket in the West Gate Towers.  This is a City which sells itself on its 2000 years of Heritage and to threaten to wilfully toss aside two of what should be its prize assets and deny today's young people and visitors those experiences beggars belief.

Unfortunately, although most museums could be kept open for the price of a small percentage of Fred the Shred's pension, they are often seen as a soft target when Councils are under political or ideological pressure to make cuts, particularly as they do not form a statutory provision and most are under promoted.  This appears to be what is going on in Canterbury. 

In the end if these Museums are lost to visitors and more importantly the future generation of young archaeologists and historians, it will be that much easier for the next short sighted Council looking to save a few quid and the Museum to close might be yours. 

As for Canterbury there is much time left to try and turn this around.  The decision to close has already been made by the Council Executive and goes to a  Full Council Meeting on February 18th. 

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