Museum at One Garden City opens in Letchworth

Q & A with Josh Tidy, town historian, author, blogger and curator of the new Museum at One Garden City and the International Garden Cities Exhibition

Josh, how are you feeling?

Excited. Super excited!  I’ve been working at the Heritage Foundation for sixteen years and it’s been a dream to open a brand-new town centre museum to tell the story of Letchworth Garden City. Now that our new museum space is open, I am very excited indeed. 

Can you tell us where you are? 

The Museum is at One Garden City, which is also the brand new home to the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation. The Museum is right by the front desk, and it’s a wonderful and welcoming space, open to visitors from Monday to Saturday 10-4. 

What’s behind the idea for the Museum?

The idea is to tell the story of Letchworth through the people who lived here, whether its idealistic pioneers or humble factory workers. Letchworth was created to be a working town, and Museum at One Garden City also hopes to bring to life the stories of all those pioneering businesses past and present. This is a town with a legacy of making things: furniture, bicycles, prams, books and corsets and so much more. 

What is there to look at?

So many wonderful things! The museum showcases items from the Garden City Collection – which looks after over 250,000 objects from books and bicycles to corsets and cinema seats. The idea is to change the displays regularly so there’s always something new to see each time someone pops in. We have all sorts of things that we hope will interest and delight our visitors - a writeable wall, drawers full of evocative aromas, and most importantly, stories about the people who made Letchworth the unique and special place it is. 

Who would you like to visit the Museum?

The museum is open to everyone, whether they’re used to visiting museums or not… we hope it will appeal to lots of people – shoppers can pop in when they’ve come to Morrisons (right next door to us), school children and students, families, individuals and of course visitors to Letchworth. We also have a separate space to welcome groups – so we’d love to see every Letchworth school group through our doors.

The interior has a real wow factor – could you tell us a bit about the design?

Thank you. We were aiming to make the space ‘instagrammable’ – is that a word?! – and our bright mid-century modern living room is proving a hit! It features some fabulous furniture made by Meredew in Letchworth in the fifties and sixties and of course this look is both very retro and very ‘now’. Our main colour scheme is teal and navy blue, although the exact shade is called Blueberry Pie. I am told I have a promising back-up career in interior design! The museum team has been working on the space for over a year, and we’ve been influenced by lots of different places, like the new Museum in St Albans or the wonderful Museum of Norwich. 

Social media: blessing or a curse?

Definitely a blessing. We have been amazed and delighted that that even before opening, our social media accounts were gaining followers, keen to get in on the act. We are hoping people will give us ideas, offer feedback and share museum things they’ve seen and loved love with us on our social media - @MuseumOne on Twitter and @MuseumOneGC on Facebook. 

If Ebenezer Howard were to pop in, what would catch his eye?

Possibly the plaster bust of himself! It takes pride of place and has been lovingly brought back to its former glory by our Collections Officer Sophie Walter, who is also a trained ceramics conservator. I like to think it’s keeping a watchful eye over the museum space. It’d be great if he came to life at midnight like Night at the Museum – I’d love to have a good chat with him…

If there were one object here that you could have in your home, what would it be?

Our old telephone on our hallway table. I quite like the idea of sitting down to take a telephone call and giving the caller my full attention. In the age of smart phones, it must seem baffling to our younger visitors, but I think the telephone table is definitely due a revival.

As a father of a young child, what particular aspect of the Museum do you value?

There are several. We have a play shop, a school desk, dressing up clothes and a trail. And we have our magical drawers of smells, ready and waiting to be sniffed and discovered. And we are ready and waiting for school visits to come and explore. Prepare to be amazed! 

Is there such a thing as a free coffee?

There is here! We are keen to find out what people think about the new museum space. If you would like to drop by and complete a short survey about your visit, we will give you a voucher for a free coffee in Broadway Gallery, a few minutes’ walk away in the Arcade.