Hidden treasures in our councils’ vaults

CHARLES DICKENS Original rent book for the Mile End Terrace property
CHARLES DICKENS Original rent book for the Mile End Terrace property
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You wouldn’t think of them as bastions of art, but our town halls are sitting on millions of pounds worth of paintings, sculptures and artifacts.

As spending cuts see libraries, galleries and museums across the area tightening their belts, many fear exhibitions and showcases of artworks will dwindle.

JON SNAPE Image shows the similarities between the Portsmouth Guildhall and Bolton Town Hall

JON SNAPE Image shows the similarities between the Portsmouth Guildhall and Bolton Town Hall

Councils are coming up with various schemes and projects to get items out of dusty vaults where they are tucked away for safe keeping.

But some feel there is more that could be done to remind people of the rich culture in our cities and towns.

Artist and photographer Jon Snape lives in Havant and has his work displayed across Portsmouth.

He says councils are making a good effort at putting their collections on display but should focus on work from contemporary artists more.

‘There is nothing wrong with having collections of work which are historically important to a town or city,’ he said.

‘But an equal emphasis should be put on supporting local contemporary artists who are living and breathing today. I’m not talking about weekend painters, but professional artists who are creating some very good stuff.

‘It’s good councils are opening up their collections more but I think galleries like GASP in Portsmouth are doing a better job.

‘Perhaps the emphasis should be less on what things they have in their vaults and more about what’s being created in the city now.’

But Councillor Peter Edgar, the chairman of Gosport Borough Council’s museum joint management committee, says items of historical importance mean a lot to people.

Officers and councillors from both Gosport Borough Council and Hampshire County Council work together on the committee to develop new displays and exhibitions in both the town’s museum and Discovery Centre.

Cllr Edgar said: ‘Paintings in our town hall or museums are not owned by the councils or councillors.

‘They are owned by the people of Gosport and they should have the opportunity to enjoy them.

‘I was able to put funding towards a painting of High Street in a pre-war era which is now in the foyer of the town hall for everyone to see.

‘We also have a very famous artist in Martin Snape and there are dozens of his paintings in the ownership of the town hall.’

Gosport’s council regularly throws open the doors of its town hall as part of the heritage open days project.

It means members of the public can view the rare paintings, silverware and statues inside.

But the majority of the paintings and drawings in ownership of the council were loaned to the Hampshire County Council museum several years ago for storage.

Cllr Edgar added: ‘We have really got to open the civic wing more often.

‘It’s a pity these things have been hidden away for so long.

‘But these heritage days where people are taken on tours of the town hall are a great opportunity and I hope they can continue.’

IN LINE with Portsmouth’s reputation as a historical hotbed of creativity and talent, the city’s museum exhibits and civic regalia are insured for a staggering £30m.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show there are 415 pieces of art on display at the city museum, 48 at Charles Dickens’ birthplace, 17 at the D-Day Museum and six at Cumberland House.

There are also 15 works on display in the Lord Mayor’s department and nine paintings and prints are currently on loan to exhibitions at other museums including the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard and The Spring in Havant.

And there are more plans under way to make sure even more of it isn’t left to get dusty in a basement vault.

In August, the council announced it was looking for a venue to house a permanent Sherlock Holmes exhibition which could earn the city millions of pounds and would use items that are currently in storage.

Portsmouth City Council says it has 90,056 items in its museums database.

These include 2,354 images of art, 16,574 local history images, 866 natural history images, 6,522 images of military history, 93 Charles Dickens images, 273 sculptures and 2,555 items from the Conan Doyle collection.

Many of these images are documentary-style photographs of other works but there are also oil and watercolour paintings, drawings, prints and posters.

Putting each of these items on display would be an impossible task, but all of the items in the city’s museum collections are accessible by appointment if they are not already on display at museums and exhibitions.

And there are also access days held at the council’s main storage centre and city museum for people to look at items stored in these buildings.

The access days are arranged by appointment so staff can get any requested material out of the vaults for display.

In the last 12 months, the council has been donated 44 items worth a total of £66,220.

The council’s museum service has also purchased two items of art at a cost of £220.

IN FAREHAM the most noteworthy pieces of council-owned art are all on display in the pedestrianised area of West Street.

These include the £358,570 Henry Cort sculptures, which were commissioned in 2001.

There are also the £25,000 silver jubilee gates and £25,000 Falklands’ arch.

Fareham Borough Council also owns a Martin Snape painting worth £12,000 and a Hayter Kinch painting worth £1,200 which are both display in the mayor’s parlour.

There are also many smaller pieces including paintings, prints and trophies which were given to the council and are on display in the town hall.

The council says all of its art is accessible by the public and it occasionally borrows art to go on display.

An engraving of Lord Nelson currently sits in the mayor’s parlour on loan from HMS Collingwood.

In the past 12 months, Fareham’s council has not spent any money acquiring new pieces of art.

MOST of Havant’s artwork now sits in storage while the council undergoes a major renovation project.

Once the town’s civic offices reopen, many of the items will go back on display and a committee will meet to decide where to put them. Any items that there isn’t room for will be found a new home.

The total known purchase value of artwork owned by Havant Borough Council is around £142,000 but the exact value of these works is unknown. Much of the town’s art was donated by previous mayors, honorary aldermen or is on loan from Havant College.

And the majority of purchased art was bought through the previous Labour government’s Liveability fund.

An underpass mural in Emsworth showing scenes of the village was bought for £30,000 using cash from this fund.

In the past 12 months, the council has spent £3,582 on new pieces of art for the Public Service Village development.

GOSPORT’S council owns £96,822 worth of art.

The majority of the paintings and drawings owned by Gosport Borough Council were loaned to Hampshire County Council’s museum service years ago for proper storage.

But these paintings can be viewed for free on the internet.

They were catalogued and scanned as part of the online Your Paintings scheme.

Your Paintings, run by the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation, aims to put thousands of paintings from the UK’s art collection on the internet.

There are also various exhibitions at the town’s museums and galleries and the town hall regularly opens its doors as part of the heritage open days for people to see the artifacts stored in the council’s civic wing.

In the past 12 months, the council has not bought any new pieces of art.

To view the council’s Martin Snape paintings, visit bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings