Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Since the last blog on the Manor House Museum, things have moved on apace. Actually, that's a lie. We've had the usual succession of horror leaks from the local council (on the assumption that the final plan will be somewhat less bad and therefore be greeted with an enthusiastic sigh of relief), accompanied by ever more frenzied statements from the Friends of the Manor House.

After the original coverage, which suggested the need for a radical solution, under the title 'Bradford could drop Ilkley's museum', we rapidly moved to a point where the threat was upgraded to 'Ilkley's museum could be boarded up'. This followed a meeting between the local council and various groups concerned with the Manor House. With Labour Bradford facing cuts, and having no Labour councillors coming from Ilkley, the Manor House will be cut from the Bradford Museum service (leaving four remaining museums plus a gallery). Various next-step solutions could include re-opening as a commercial organization or arts centre. The problem for the 'Friends' would be the loss of professional museum support from Bradford services, and therefore its loss of accreditation (from the Museums Association). If the museum is boarded up, the objects could be lost in Bradford storage, say the campaigners. 

Following a further briefing, of Ilkley's councillors last week, another flurry of speculation was launched. On the one side, the Friends again suggested that objects would be lost, and people need to make their voices heard (quite correctly), while the blessed Anne called for more radical solutions. She (again quite correctly) splits the issues around the collection (the 'museum') from the building and its community use. 

Working through some of the issues: initial horror on the local town's talkboards  focuses on the impact on tourism. But, as I suggested in the last blog on the issue, it's highly questionable whether Ilkley IS a tourist town anymore. Certainly it seems incapable of supporting a top-end hotel unless the latter becomes a property developer on the side. Where we do have tourists, they're looking to the moors, the promenade and the restaurants, not to a tiny museum focusing only on our own history, alongside some fairly amateurish exhibitions. ('sorry the kids have left home darling, here are some paintbrushes...').

The harsh reality is that the Manor House simply isn't very good as a museum. It's far from well marketed, and I would guarantee that far more people will go to the Literature Festival and other events held there, rather than to view the oddball collection of items based around the town's history. Apart from my despair at the city's archaeologist and his views on the Panorama Rocks being promulgated through the museum, the Manor House collection is basically a Mike Dixon book in 3D. It's of interest to some of us, who love the town, but it doesn't justify major expense. Have a section of the library dedicated to Ilkley History (as happened form 1908-1961), and you're probably done. 

I've looked by the way, but can't find any stats on visitor figures, never mind demographic surveys of visitors. 

However, contrary to the Friends' horror, even if continuation of the museum was to be desired, the lack of city museum service support does not need to end in lack of accreditation (for what that's worth). Plenty of museums through the AIM are community run and accredited. Some of them are even rather good. A direct comparator would be the Ribchester Roman Museum, in a town far less blessed by tourism than Ilkley. Up to 2000, Ribchester was as dowdy and damp-smelling as the Manor House, but the Trust who ran it then put together a very successful HLF bid paying for a complete upgrade. And it's rather lovely now. Still independent. 

Back to the Manor House, the building currently also offers a venue for school groups and for community groups. The former will pay (what's the revenue received?), as should the latter. The blessed Anne is quite correct that the building itself (and its contribution to the town) is more important than the current use it's being put to. Seeing what's been achieved by the Otley Old Grammar School project should be an inspiration. The building will need support, of course, and I doubt the National Trust will take it on (it's ancient for a start, and the modern NT is only interested in industrial and celeb-associated buildings), but that doesn't mean they won't help. 

But it can't be beyond the art elite that occupy the town to come up with a use for the building that will both meet its heritage restrictions and actually provide a positive draw. The lack of a proper art gallery (I mean one that shows more than Joy Godfrey's work) in Ilkley is utterly bizarre. 

My prediction is that Bradford will agree a taper to funding, if there appears to be a genuine attempt to devise a new plan (saves an ongoing campaign against the council, and it's not that much money). That is, IF people are actually interested. Turn-out at public meetings, response to consultation might be crucial. 

Question, though. When Percy Dalton gave the building to the town and provided the money to convert the 'Old Castle'  in 1955, did he include any conditions or controls over future use of the building?

Also, if Bradford hands it over to a Trust/group, will they also give back the famed missing items from the original collections, now mixed in with the general Bradford collection. 

Finally, the Ilkley PC precept collects £120,000 a year. I can't be alone in thinking this would be better spent on the Manor House (and, yes, the collection) than on continuing to subsidise the Summer Festival?

But, remind me, why do we need Bradford Council again? Posts to follow...

4 responses
Stop talking sense. We need more emotive rants and unbalanced opinion to get the bile and vitriol flowing.
As austerity begins to bite hard, BDC are no longer in a position to maintain the Manor House. Annual running costs, without staff payments run at about £40.000 per annum which in the current financial climate is unfeasible. Ideally, I suspect. they would rather off load it onto some community partnership along with the town hall. Selling it to the private sector is probably difficult because of the cost of adaptions and the restrictions on the building because of its Grade 1 listed status. They also probably know that as soon as some greedy developer got their mits on it, a journey to the filling station on Leeds Road for a can of petrol and a box of matches would surely follow. Doing a 'Drummond Mills' has been going on for years in Bradford and I know that developers in Ilkley have similar scruples. Ilkley Parish Council, are terrified of involvement just in case it cost them money, which they would far rather spend on brass bands and agreeable 40's evenings to celebrate which ever jubilee Her Royal Highness has this year. Meanwhile, all the ,interested groups, are going around trying to find some way of bringing the museums tat back to the town and combining it with which ever gullible 'arty crafty' type is prepared to take a lease. I don't see any rich philanthropic individual stepping forward with the required wads of cash needed to get any scheme under way . In any case the wealthy Ilkley families, who used to help finance public works, have all headed south. All in all the prospects for Percy Daltons legacy don't look good.
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