Interactive exhibition explores Letchworth's shopping past

Letchworth’s retail past is being brought to life in a new exhibition opening on 7 July at the Community Museum, which explores the sights, sounds and smells of the first garden city’s best-known shops.

Curated by the Garden City Collection and International Garden Cities Exhibition, the Shopping in Letchworth exhibition has been designed to be an immersive experience with period shop interiors as well as a range of products from Letchworth’s favourite establishments. 

Gemma Leader from the Garden City Collection has been exploring the archives to select the most interesting objects for the exhibition.  She said:  “It has been fascinating taking a look back at the types of shops that existed and what people used to buy. We’ve been working with Norfolk Museums Conservation & Designs Services to help us take a different approach to telling the story of Letchworth’s most iconic shops, from the early days of the Garden City, right through to the 1980s.  It will be interactive allowing visitors to open cabinet drawers, pick up the objects inside, and to smell fragrances such as carbolic soap, Victorian lavender, tea leaves and coal. Adults and children can also dress up in costumes and take a selfie.” 

The exhibition will also feature a reminiscence corner with a telephone where visitors can sit and listen to recorded memories about Letchworth shopping. There will also be a wall of memories and a post box where visitors can share their memories with the Garden City Collection.

One of the star objects is an ornate late 19th century American till, which was used at the Mac Fisheries shop in Letchworth, a long way from its origins in Ohio. 

The highlight of the exhibition is a week-long programme of activities for families, all of which are themed around the exhibition.   Two Minecraft sessions will be held on the 3 and 4 August from 11am-4pm for children aged 7+ where they will get the chance to build and explore a new virtual version of Letchworth Garden City. 

Collections Officer, Sophie Dimond is hosting the sessions.  She said:  “We ran a similar session last year and the children loved it. This time we want the children to be inspired by the historical imagery and objects from the exhibition, to build and explore a new virtual version of Letchworth Garden City, with a focus on the diverse history of its shops.”

Artist Workshop Details:

Monday 31st July – Join local artist Chantelle Stephenson, be inspired by objects from Letchworth Garden City’s history and decorate your own porcelain object to take away with you. Suitable for ages 4 and above, £5 per mug, plate or vase. 11am-4pm in the Community Museum in The Arcade.

Tuesday 1st August – Have fun designing, printing and making your own colourful packaging with local artist Lisa Tilley. Suitable for ages 3 and above. 11am-4pm in the Community Museum in The Arcade. 

Wednesday 2nd August – Hannah from Tiny Tails Story tellers will be sharing A Shop full of Stories, interesting tales relating to Letchworth Garden City’s rich history. Join us from 11am-4pm in the lovely garden at the International Garden Cities Institute.

Saturday 5th August - Print and customise your own paper shopping bag using inspiration and imagery from the Garden City Collection, led by local artist Anne Marie Stijelja. Suitable for ages 4 and above. 11am-4pm in the Community Museum in The Arcade.

The Shopping in Letchworth exhibition will be open every Thursday to Saturday from 7 July to 30 September at the Community Museum. Opening hours 11am-4pm.

To book a place on the Minecraft sessions visit our Eventbrite page.