The Green Howards Museum in Richmond re-opens after £1.7m facelift
PUBLISHED: 00:05 14 April 2015
The past is being kept alive in Richmond where a popular museum will soon re-open after an extensive redevelopment
You’re never far from history in Richmond, with its stunning Norman fortress, Georgian buildings and large cobbled market place. And the past has been given a new future at one of the town’s most popular museums.
The Green Howards Museum, which is housed in the former Holy Trinity church, has been given a £1.7m facelift. The new look museum which is dedicated to the 300 year history of Yorkshire’s Green Howards regiment, will be officially opened next month, although the doors have been open since Remembrance Day.
‘There’s a massive amount of history here,’ said Lynda Powell, the museum’s director and curator. ‘We have the uniforms and military hardware but we also have a lot of personal items which put the past in context and make it more personal.
‘The museum first opened in 1973 and although there have been small refurbishments since then, it was essentially the same as it was in the 70s. Now the museum is much more modern and bright and our visitor numbers have gone up by about 135 per cent since the redevelopment.’
One new addition is a special exhibitions room which is currently hosting a display about the First World War battle of Ypres. After the official re-opening on Richmond Sunday, May 10, it will house an exhibition by the local U3A group on the history of the church building.
Richmond has strong links with the military, with the sprawling Catterick barracks just down the road and a senior military figure will cut the ribbon to officially re-open the museum after a parade through the town, a church service and a wreath laying ceremony. The re-opening will round off a weekend of family activities at the museum, which is now part of the Richmond Cultural Education Partnership – a group of three of the town’s historic landmarks which are working together to attract schools and other groups.
Visiting parties can also learn about the history of the town at The Station, where the last train left more than 40 years ago. It is now a thriving arts and community centre with three cinema screens, a splendid vintage shop, space for classes and workshops and a restaurant.
The Georgian Theatre Royal completes the trio and the chief executive there, Warnock Kerr, is aware that he is merely a bit part player in building’s long-running drama.
The theatre has been providing entertainment here for more than 200 years and Warnock is hopeful it has a long future ahead. ‘It’s a lovely old place, full of history and heritage and it is very prestigious,’ he said. ‘We need to make sure we keep it going.’ The theatre was built by actor-manager Samuel Butler as one of a chain of theatres across the north of England.
It opened in 1788 but has only been staging performances for about half its existence. The curtain came down in 1848 and the building was used as an auction room until 1960 when an appeal was launched for the theatre’s restoration. Audiences were able to enjoy shows once again in 1963 and since then the building has been further restored, expanded and is now treasured as the last surviving Georgian playhouse in Britain, and the best surviving example in Europe.
Glaswegian Warnock joined as a volunteer shortly after he moved to the area in the late 1970s. Now retired from the textile industry, he became the theatre’s chief executive in 2010 and said: ‘I face all the normal pressures of running a theatre – putting an appealing programme together and making sure the audience turns up – but also the extra pressure that comes with this theatre’s heritage and history.
‘We are the custodians of an historic monument and we must be vigilant that we preserve and conserve the building and the auditorium for future generations. This is not just a theatre, putting on plays, shows and music, it’s also a museum and a heritage tourist site.’
Warnock has a small team of staff and a group of about 100 volunteers who run daily tours and host touring companies 48 of the year and stages performances by the local dramatic society.
‘This is an important theatre,’ added Warnock who has appeared on stage in Richmond in Roles from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller productions. ‘We have had a lot of very well-known performers on stage here and the Globe Theatre touring company come here regularly because they love it. It’s a unique place and it is a real privilege for me to be involved.
‘The biggest difficulty we face is funding. We only have 200 seats and although we have a good relationship with the Arts Council, government funding is very tight at the moment so we have to rely heavily on private funding.
‘An awful lot more money seems to go to the south east and London than goes to places in the north and especially in rural areas. Very little seems to find its way to gems like the Richmond Georgian Theatre. Although this seems like a prosperous area and there are some well-heeled people, the average salary here is well below the national average.’