No one was certain how many people would turn up to last Thursday morning’s meeting to discuss the cuts to the Ludlow Museum Resource Centre. The organisers had booked Oscars in the Ludlow Assembly Rooms for the meeting but this was quickly overwhelmed. The assembled company, numbering more than 180 on my count, decanted into the main theatre.
Museum Resource Centre staffing is to be reduced from three people to just a half time post based in Shrewsbury from April. The person in this post will serve the MRC as well as other facilities around the county. That means limited opening hours here in Ludlow and that volunteers and researchers will be turned away from our world class collections. The legacy of Roderick Murchison and other geologists, as well as the many archaeologists and historians who have contributed to our collections here in Ludlow, are from now on going to be almost very difficult to access.
The Murchison cross section 1852
Such is the concern over these cuts, particularly amongst geologists, Thursday’s meeting drew people from all over the country.
Giles Miller, a senior curator at Natural History Museum and chairman of the national Geological Curators’ Group told the audience why he had travelled from London. “What you have here is a real gem, an amazing resource” he said. “The visitor centre is second to none,” but if the cuts are implemented, “it will be like having a Ferrari in the garage, but saying the keys and the petrol are in Shrewsbury.”
Sir Neil Cossons can boast an illustrious career as former director of the London Science Museum, the first director of the Ironbridge Museum Trust and a former chairman of English Heritage. He told the audience that the Museum Resource Centre is internationally important. He said we need to take a positive and optimistic view on how facilities like the MRC should be managed and run. He believed Shropshire Council lacked expertise:
We need to establish a group to meet Shropshire Council face-to-face to demand a five and ten year vision for the collections. We need to do the job for [Shropshire Council] they are not capable of doing themselves.
Michael Rosenbaum, Ludlow resident and Emeritus Professor of Engineering Geology at Nottingham Trent University, described how a geology trip around Ludlow with former curator John Norton that set him on his career path. He told the audience the geology collection was world renowned and without the in-house expertise to back it up, it would affect researchers across the globe.
Professor Hugh Torrens, Emeritus Professor of History of Science and Technology at Keele University, hailed the significance of the Ludlow collection and said:
The Silurian was invented here. We should do something similar to the Jurassic Coast in Ludlow. It is time to build on the resource centre, not close it.
Much Wenlock historian and former Shrewsbury Museum curator Vivien Bellamy said we need to open out the debate to cover all museums in Shropshire as all are threatened. “We need a strategy to support all museums over the next five years.” She suggested that Shropshire might need to form a conservation partnership with Worcestershire and Herefordshire.
The meeting also heard from volunteer historians and geologists who worried how all the current voluntary effort could be squeezed into one day a week. They described how valuable the Museum Resource Centre is to them and how valuable their work is for other researchers.
A letter from Philip Dunne was read out. He pledged to help and said the resource centre must be kept open full time with qualified staff. There should also be sufficient skilled staff to support the Buttercross.
No one from Shropshire Council attended but the council circulated a statement.
For my part, I expressed concern that it will be hard to reverse Shropshire Council’s plans for staff cuts. We should nevertheless fight them. We must also look to the longer term. We may have to run facilities ourselves that Shropshire Council might have run in the past.
We hold these collections not just for Ludlow, but for all Shropshire and the world beyond. We have a civic duty to allow access to them. Shropshire Council’s plans are antediluvian. The council fails to understand the value of the collections to the community, to worldwide research and to our local economy.
To join the Save Ludlow Museum Resource Centre campaign, email: saveLMRC@gmail.com