6th Dec, 2016

Long serving volunteer says it's a "tragedy" to lose Berkswell Museum

Lauren Clarke 11th May, 2016 Updated: 31st Oct, 2016

“IT’S A tragedy to have to disband this unique rural collection of historical artefacts.”

Those are the words of a devastated long-serving volunteer following the closure of the Berkswell Museum.

The museum in the heart of the village has closed its doors for the final time following dwindling visitor numbers and a lack of interest from younger volunteers.

Speaking to the Observer in the wake of the closure, committee member Margaret Argyle, a volunteer at the museum for 35 years, said the tough decision to close the venue had been a long time coming.

“We have been having problems for years,” she said.

“We have tried changing the hours and days we were open, we tried desperately to market ourselves – we even set up a Facebook page.

“But it is increasingly difficult to attract volunteers these days – particularly young people.

“The idea of community service and a community coming together to save its history has gone out the window.”

The Berkswell Museum opened in 16th century cottage in the former home of a district nurse in the centre of village in 1981 and is the only one of its kind in the borough.

Having been built up over the years, the collection of artefacts grew to include memorabilia, farm implements, tools and household items which gave visitors a unique glimpse into the history of the village.

The museum also features information on three famous village residents – first Ladies Singles Champion at Wimbledon, Maud Watson; former England Cricket Captain R.E.S. (Bob) Wyatt; and TV and film actor Jeremy Brett, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Margaret believes changing lifestyles were partially to blame for the falling visitor numbers.

“On Sundays 30-odd years ago people would spend time with their families – going for a walk and popping in the local museum,” she explained.

“Now they are shopping or going to sporting events.

“People used to visit us to find out more about their local and family history, but the subject has been taken off school curriculum and people just use the internet instead.”

Since its closure committee members have been working hard to reunite families with the items they loaned or donated to the museum.

But the experience has been tough for Margaret, who says more should have been done by the local community and Solihull Council to prevent the axe falling.

She added: “A lot of people have come to us and told us how sad they are, or how ‘dreadful’ it is to see the museum go.

“But it’s all a little two-faced – many of those people never did anything to keep it open or even bother visiting it.

“How can they be sad?

“The committee did everything and left no stone unturned in our attempts to keep it open.”

She added that, unlike most towns and cities, Solihull does not have a museum and the council did not seem to ‘bat an eyelid’ at the borough’s only museum shutting.

“Community service has gone out the door and it is very, very sad to have to say goodbye to the Berkswell Museum,” she said.

Anyone who believes they have artefacts belonging to them or their family in the museum and wants them back should contact Berkswell Parish Council on 07443 644896, Wendy Burns on 01676 522077 or Margaret Argyle on 01676 522453.