Church Farmhouse Museum was closed last year in spite of local opposition

Council makes concessions in £25,000 Church Farmhouse sell off

Geraldine Kendall, 02.10.2012
Local museum and donors can reclaim items before auction
Barnet council in north London has confirmed that donors and a local museum will be able to reclaim some items ahead of a controversial sell-off of the collection from Church Farmhouse Museum, which was closed by the council in March 2011.

Concerns were raised that the Conservative-run council had failed to ensure objects were returned to their original owners or kept in the local area where possible ahead of its auction of 700 items, which is expected to raise £25,000.

The objects have been transferred to an auction house in Warwickshire and are due to be sold on 21 October.

A council spokesman said most important items from the collection had already been given to other museums and the objects up for auction were “mainly room dressing”. He said that the museum did not have a record of donors.

But Gillian Gear, an archivist at the neighbouring Barnet Museum, slammed the sell off procedure as “cavalier”. She said: “The council are trying to pretend they’d done all the correct [disposal] processes and they haven’t.”

“We were offered a chance to go through objects belonging to us and some other domestic items... but when I talked about taking some of the other items they said ‘no, the council have plans for those’. When I heard they were going to be auctioned off I was quite surprised.”

Gear said a council representative had told her, “We don’t do heritage.”

In response to the concerns, councillor Robert Rams said: “If there are items on this list which the donor wishes to be returned, we would be happy to remove them from auction. But we will need evidence that the item was donated and that the correct person is making the claim.”

The council also confirmed that Barnet Museum would have a further opportunity to save material from auction. “I am more than happy for Barnet Museum to suggest any more pieces they would like,” said Rams.

The Museums Association’s head of policy, Maurice Davies, said: “We encourage museums disposing of items from their collections to try to ensure that they remain in the public domain, in particular by offering them to other museums or other suitable not-for-profit organisations.

“If no museum or other good home wants an item being disposed of from a museum collection, then selling can sometimes be acceptable.”

Davies added: “One complexity in this case is that Barnet council no longer runs a museum, so is not directly subject to our rules, nor the museum accreditation scheme run by Arts Council England.”

Barnet Museum also had its funding withdrawn by the council last year and is in the process of gaining independent charitable status.

Comments

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Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
09.10.2012, 09:36
To clarify, the MA has in no way agreed to what Barnet are doing. It seems rushed and not to be following best practice. In cases like this, museums should follow the MA's Disposal Toolkit as far as possible, which is the kind of robust national approach you suggest.
Malcolm J Watkins
MA Member
Director, Heritage Matters
03.10.2012, 19:52
As I understand things, the Councik held its collections in trust, which should provide some protection, surely.
It does, however, highlight the need for a more robust national policy, and demonstrate the error of the MA in encouraging disposals by slaes byt allowing that they have a place.
If this happens, don't for one moment expect it to be the last time.