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Experts sift through thousands of historical objects for new history centre display

Posted on Thursday 15th February 2024
Chris Copp and Sophie Harris with the State Chariot NR

Chris Cop and Sophie Harris from Staffordshire County Council’s Archives and Heritage service

With construction work well underway on the new Staffordshire History Centre, behind the scenes staff are going through the difficult process of identifying the items which will go on display when the centre opens in the Autumn.

The project has been made possible thanks to a grant of £4,858,699 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.  It will see a new history centre on Eastgate Street in Stafford incorporating Stafford Records Office and the heritage building that formerly housed the William Salt Library. 

Staffordshire has thousands of fascinating documents and objects in its museum, archive, and William Salt library collections, many dating back more than a thousand years.

Now, for the team, choosing the items which will appear in the modern exhibition space in the new centre is proving a challenging task.

Amongst the items making the shortlist is a Charles I Cap.  This red silk undress cap is embroidered with gold and silver threadwork. Originally owned by Charles I and dating from the 1630s, it belonged to the Bagot family of Blithfield Hall.

A Spider Phaeton carriage from 1890 is also in the running.   Made by Holmes of Derby and London, this Spider Phaeton comes from the collection of the 20th Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot of Ingestre Hall. It’s believed to have been built for the 20th Earl’s planned road race with the Earl of Lonsdale, Hugh Lowther in 1891.

A notebook belonging to canal pioneer James Brindley from 1772 is also a favourite to go on display.  This handwritten Survey book contains rough plans of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal from the junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal to Stourport Basin.

Other items including the Cannock Soldiers Club visitors book, a 16th century recipe book and oatcake making equipment are also being considered.

Victoria Wilson, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture at Staffordshire County Council said:

“We’re incredibly lucky to live in a county like Staffordshire, that’s steeped in history and our project will help us tell our amazing story and protect many of our valuable archives for generations to come.

“While the new centre will help showcase some of our amazing collections, I don’t envy the teams job of choosing what items and objects will go on display.  With thousands to choose from, it’s a tough ask but I’m sure visitors to the centre when it opens won’t be disappointed.”

“We’re all incredibly proud of the project and grateful for the funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery players.”

Running alongside the construction work and collections management, there is an exciting programme of outreach activities to promote the centre.  Events in schools and libraries are all helping to raise awareness of the project, and shape plans for displays and exhibitions, ahead of the opening next year. Young people, community groups and focus groups have supported the development of displays by sharing their ideas and choosing their favourite items – the historic toys proved very popular with young visitors to libraries.  

In addition to the Heritage Fund grant, Staffordshire County Council provided £2.1m and Stafford Borough Council has directed £250,000 of UK Shared Prosperity Funding towards the project.

People can keep up to date on the project blog here: Staffordshire History Centre

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