Blythe House

DCMS looking at future of Blythe House

Simon Stephens, 29.01.2014
West London site houses millions of objects held by three national museums
The future use of Blythe House in west London as a storage and conservation space for three national museums is being assessed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as part of a wider government drive to get value for money from its estate.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum Group and the British Museum all store artefacts at Blythe House.

“The government is assessing the use of properties right across the government estate, seeking to secure efficiencies and value for money,” said a DCMS spokeswoman.

“As part of this wider effort, DCMS is working with the Government Property Unit to assess the current use of Blythe House as government seeks to provide a long term, cost effective solution for museum storage and conservation facilities.”

The British Museum holds more than two million items at Blythe House, although the exact number is difficult to estimate as many are archaeological assemblages and other groups of collections.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said it aims to house more of its collection on the Bloomsbury site and is investigating how it might be able to accommodate this: "Until these plans are realised Blythe House is the best solution for housing these objects safely where they can be seen and studied by as many people as possible. But it would clearly be more efficient and economic if all this material could be in Bloomsbury."

The British Museum will move some of its collection from Blythe House to Bloomsbury when its £135m World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre opens later this year.

The Science Museum has more than 170,000 objects at Blythe House, including objects from the collections of the Wellcome Trust covering the history of medicine.

The future of Blythe House was referred to in the minutes of a Science Museum Group board meeting on 21 October, which said: “One of several property issues was to maintain momentum on Blythe House."

The Victoria and Albert Museum stores a range of material at Blythe House and last year opened the Clothworkers' Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion at the site. This houses more than 104,000 objects, ranging from small archaeological textile fragments from Egypt to enormous tapestries created for medieval European palaces.


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MA Member
11.02.2014, 11:35
This is one area in which smaller government can thrive via the Big Society. There should be more decision making on the ground, with government being a mere grant provider and regulator. Why do we have a Whitehall department when so many museums are run by local councils, voluntary groups and private companies, when theatres are largely for profit, when sport is largely sponsered or grant maintained but run by schools and an assortment of voluntary groups, galleries similar to museums, the media privately run or through royal charter? A devolution of the roles of the DCMS down to regional or even local level should not hurt frontline services. Instead government just seems to be tinkering. If museums were less dependent on central government and more business like, then there would be massive scope for savings. It's important people are able to access the objects on a universal level. Public access should be at the core of reform. Any new estate should be cost assessed ,not be given a blank cheque. History transcends the state. It's part of our lives and accessing it is important.
Oliver Green
MA Member
03.02.2014, 10:35
Agree that this should not become part of the London v the north debate. Going west is just as good but I'm not convinced that Wroughton was ever a good idea for a national museums collection centre. It may be close to the M4 but it is on a narrow country road with no public transport nearby.
A much better site would be the old Filton airfield just north of Bristol, close to the M4/M5 intersection, Bristol Parkway and other railway stations, local bus routes and Cribbs Causeway retail centre.
This is where BAC developed, built and flew Concorde. Airbus has just made a big investment in new facilities on Aerospace Park, together with the renovation of its art deco 1930s buildings, and employs over 3000 people here. The airport has just closed, but this is a modern heritage site with a promising future.
There are plans to develop an aerospace museum/heritage centre incorporating the two remaining First World War hangars on site but isn't this an opportunity to think bigger? What about a major national museums collections centre for science and industry here on a large but accessible site outside London?
NMSI could move all its large objects collections out of Wroughton, and free up the cramped and unsuitable aviation gallery spaces at S Ken and MOSI. Thinking even more laterally, Filton could be developed as a much cheaper storage and collections centre with full public access for everything else at Blythe House from all three nationals that use it.
It could bring art, science and industry together and look to the future as well as the past, or is this becoming too idealistic?
01.02.2014, 19:32
There's a lot of the UK west of London as well! At one time there was a proposal to boost access to collections by setting up a National Collections Centre at Wroughton, right on the M4 etc. Shame that idea never survived.
Now Wroughton is destined to be used for a vast solar array, great for the Science Museum balance sheet, shame about the collections.
29.01.2014, 21:48
I'm very enthusiastic about Judith Martin's suggestion of re-locating the storage facility 'somewhere north of Watford' in order to facilitate access to the riches of London-based museums by museums nationwide. A site with good access to the motorway network would be an obvious bonus.
Oliver Green
MA Member
29.01.2014, 20:35
A 'cost effective solution for museum storage and conservation facilities' means different things to different people. In the current climate it is government code for cuts and clearly the most financially efficient thing to do would be to move all the collections out and sell Blythe House for conversion into expensive apartments.
But the idea of moving the stored collections of three major national museums out of London could be a slippery slope if past policies of some nationals are followed. The Science Museum Group's Wroughton site near Swindon, which with hindsight was a poor choice for a storage outstation, was always difficult to access and is now effectively mothballed and hardly ever open to visitors. Where is the public benefit in that? Perhaps NMSI should simply dispose of the large object collections stored there by distributing items to other museums that might want them and junk the rest?
A more imaginative solution for Blythe House would be to make better use of the site by providing improved public access and facilities, which the V&A is now doing with its new Clothworkers' Centre. By contrast neither the BM nor the Science Museum appears to encourage visits to its stores by anyone except the occasional serious academic researcher, which makes a big expensive store in central London hard to defend. No wonder the public perception of a museum store is that it's like the warehouse scene at the end of Citizen Kane/Raiders of the Lost Ark.
There seems to be a sad lack of creative thinking here, and if the only driver is money I'm afraid it will all end in tears.
Judith Martin
Project Organiser, Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust
29.01.2014, 18:34
I'm no fan of selling the family silver, as anyone who's read my posts re. Croydon or Southampton will know. But this one strikes me as feasible. Not only is it a huge building in a very expensive area, but if the facility were relocated north of Watford it might go some way to redressing the huge cultural imbalance between London and elsewhere. The institutions using it would have to factor in the cost of moving objects for display or storage, but presumably it's an employer of skilled professionals who would make close links with institutions in Manchester, Liverpool or wherever outside London and boost those areas.

But only if there is an alternative use for the building itself, not demolition and rebuild as expensive rabbit-hutch flats.
31.01.2014, 07:56
I'm pretty sure, as an old Post Office Savings Accounts building, it is likely to be a listed building, and demolition, I hope, would not be on the cards as an option.
Judith Martin
Project Organiser, Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust
05.02.2014, 15:19
It is indeed listed but only grade II, and that isn't by any means always allowed to stand in a developer's way. Conversion to flats in the existing building would bring useful income to the museums (presumably; maybe only to the Treasury) but would be an unimaginative use and wouldn't allow any public access. Some innovative thinking is required.