|Hat making scene|
As a sub-committee of Atherstone Town Council we mounted our first exhibition in February 1994 in Denham House. It showed the work of Jonathan Huxley and featured pictures of Atherstone Ball Game At Christmas that year we rented an empty shop on Long Street and showed a Victorian Christmas. We soon found out who could lend us what and were amazed at the collections that existed in the town.
In 1995 we used the Old Surgery in the Market Square for the first time to celebrate the 50th. Anniversary of VE Day and what a celebration it was! We discovered that the town has a passion for the feeling of belonging engendered by WWII and everybody has a tale to tell and a souvenir to share.
We celebrated D Day and VE Day+60 with full re-enactments
in the town in 2004 & 2005 electrifying the town with an air display
by a Spitfire to the music of Glen Miller.
In 1995 we also discovered the Atherstone artist, Charles Wills. Wills was born in poverty yet had a boarding school education going on to university to train as an artist. He was a familiar figure in the town in the 30s 40s and 50s and there are many beautiful pictures in private collections as well as the 10 bought at auction by the Friends as a gift to his birthplace. Charles was the first of a long line of local artist to be showcased in their own town. We became adept at hanging pictures and had some memorable ‘Private Views’ when artists and guests shared wine and art.
In 1999 we found a ‘home’ at the White Hart in Long Street near the station and were able to offer secure, dry accommodation to artifacts on loan from Warwickshire Museum Service. Much of our success has been down to the friendly co-operation of County and Borough services and to close links with local groups such as the Civic Society, the Family History Group, the WI, Art groups, Theatre Workshop, the Archaeological Society etc. Running a gallery has put us in touch with other, professional, galleries and we have benefited from their expertise. The IKON in Birmingham gave exhibitions and ran workshops in Atherstone for three years from 2000 to 2003 and we have been part of Warwickshire Arts Week since its inception.
Starting as amateurs our volunteers have gained immensely from contact with professionals and have taken advantage of the many training opportunities available. Our presentation has been enhanced by computer equipment bought through funding grants. Above all, we have been excited to discover and record the history of this area.
• These are just some of the things we have discovered about the area since we started searching.
• Hats have been made in Atherstone since Tudor times.
• Most armies of the world used to wear Atherstone hats, belts and braces.
• Atherstone Rockers had their HQ at the White Hart, the Mods were over the road in the basement of what is now the Chinese restaurant.
• Atherstone’s canal was once one of the busiest in the UK.
• Much of what we know about the Baddesley Pit Disaster of 1882 could have been lost. An envelope collector, about to throw the contents away, decided instead to give them to his local paper. They were all the paperwork regarding the Relief Fund which lists all the families involved and what help they got, something the papers of the time did not report. However, the ‘Herald’, as part of its support for us, copied all the editions which had reports of the disaster for our archive. Thanks!
• Did you know that when they were excavating the site for ALDI a complete yard was revealed with lino intact ? The previous builders had just built on top.
The big excitement has been the ongoing saga of the Battle of Bosworth! In 2002 an academic, Michael Jones, published a book in which he debunked the idea that Richard III was killed near Bosworth and placed the battle on the outskirts of Atherstone. In 2005 Bosworth conceded defeat and there is now a 3 year project underway to find the true battlefield. John Austin, local historian and member of the Friends, is very much involved.
John has also written several books on the history of this area which we are proud to have published.
Finance has always been a problem, particularly paying rent, so in 2005, just as we were about to close, we were asked to support Atherstone’s bid to become a ‘Booktown’ by taking shared rented premises in the Market Place to run a Heritage Centre open 5 days a week. This funding ceased in November 2006 forcing us to close, but our many friends are working behind the scenes to find us a more permanent but sustainable home.
Meanwhile we will continue to look after and catalogue your gifts/loans. Nothing has been disposed of, merely put in store. We are slowly enlarging our web site so the whole world can see what an interesting place this is ! We will also support the Booktown, Dickens Night, St. Mary’s Fun Day and help organise events such as the Book Festival which is scheduled for Autumn 2008.