29 October 2023
Herefordshire Museum and Art Gallery

Last week the Herefordshire Museum and Art Gallery Lead Damian Etheraads and I had the chance to meet with the top brass at the National Portrait Gallery in London. 

Our goal was simple:  to take the next steps in building a deep and long-term relationship with this great national collection. And with others in due course, I hope.

Readers will know how excited I am by the potential of the new Museum and Art Gallery to do something absolutely extraordinary for the whole county.

Among other things, It should be able to act as a Museum of the Marches, telling the history of Herefordshire as the centre of the Marches, that wider shared area that crosses the border with Wales and includes parts of Radnorshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire. 

That area of the Marches -- "the margins" – has been border country for over 1,000 years. But all its tales of Norman castles and raiding parties obscure the deeper commonality and community that the Marches has as a wider whole. It is not just an incredibly beautiful place:  it is an area that is culturally, religiously, geologically and socially distinct from the rest of the UK. 

That's one reason why I really like the idea of a Shires National Landscape, which could create a sense of place and destination for tourists, akin to that of the Cotswolds.

But no less important are the enlarged viewing spaces for works of art that the new Museum and Art Gallery will offer. Hence our visit to the National Portrait Gallery, which has a vast array of treasures which are rarely if ever exhibited.

A long-term relationship between a national collection and a great regional museum can work at many levels. 

But the most eye-catching would be to have an exhibition and a long-term loan of one or more paintings associated with the great Herefordshire families of Cecil, Devereux, Harley, Scudamore and others. 

The Cecils alone as a family have given Britain Lord Burghley and Robert Cecil, the leading ministers of Queen Elizabeth and James I, and the Marquess of Salisbury, Prime Minister at the turn of the 20th century. Who would have thought that this illustrious family originally hails from Allt-Yr-Ynys, near Walterstone in South Herefordshire?

Whether it is for local interest, as part of our long term regeneration plans, or to create another national magnet for tourists, the new Museum and Art Gallery has a huge part to play. 

First published in the Hereford Times.