This month marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Dacorum Heritage Trust, which came into being on September 19, 1993.
Before that time, the Dacorum Museum Advisory Committee had developed touring exhibitions and publications to make the general public aware of the rich – but mainly unseen – heritage of this part of Hertfordshire.
Someone recently remarked that Hemel Hempstead was a New Town with no past. How wrong could they be!
Dacorum has many towns, villages and hamlets within its borders and there are so many aspects of our history that still need to be researched.
The Trust operates as an umbrella organisation, joining together all the local history societies.
Over the last 20 years, a varied programme of touring exhibitions, such as Dacorum At War, Early Archaeology, Sporting Dacorum and The Canal In Dacorum, have given local residents a taste of this heritage.
In 1996, a heritage officer was appointed. Michael Dillon, the first holder of that post, wrote recently: “DMAC had been collecting objects for many years, stored in bedrooms, attics and a garage, hardly in the best conditions and rarely used for exhibitions.
“I could clearly see that something ought to be done and that this should be the catalyst that could bring the societies and collectors together to provide communal care for the collections and, eventually, a communal heritage store.”
The former fire station in Berkhamsted was adapted, with the help of Dacorum Borough Council, to house the artefacts previously scattered around the district.
This store has become the vital hub of all the Trust’s work, but it cannot mount large displays or take many visitors.
The post of documentation officer was created in 1994, ably filled by Mike Stanyon, who helped to set up the IT hardware and the Modes operating system which, in a more up-to-date version, is still in use.
The hard work of fitting out the store was carried out by a team of dedicated volunteers.
Indeed, there would not be a DHT if it were not for the efforts of so many volunteers over the years, including the board of directors.
A new curator, Matt Wheeler, arrived in 1996 and re-invigorated the Trust. Research and a local collections policy became key features and an educational outreach facility became possible when an assistant curator, Catherine Peet, was appointed.
The Friends of Dacorum Museum was re-launched in 1998 and welcomes new members today.
The latest curator is Dr Paul Hyman and, together with assistant curator is Nina Glencross, has helped oversee the creation of the Trust’s new website which is already receiving many hits. Why not have a look?
Tours of the museum store, touring library displays, themed resource boxes, workshops and talks for schools and societies, photographic competitions, the fundraising Super 100 Heritage Club, a quarterly newsletter, the making of films and videos, and the weekly Gazette Heritage page have all have helped DHT to become an accredited museum, even without a proper museum building!
One of the Trust’s initial aims was to investigate the idea of a borough museum.
This aim is still paramount and seems to be getting closer to realisation at long last – so watch this space!
The Trust’s heritage store in central BerkhamsteD is home to more than 100,000 objects relating to the history of the borough. open by appointment, Monday to Friday,10am - 4pm. Call 01442 879525 to find out more.