My name is Emma Harper and I’m the Curator for Welwyn Hatfield Museum Service. As we all know 2020 was to have been a celebratory year for Welwyn Garden City, marking the centenary of this remarkable ‘marriage of town and country’. However, with the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of events had to be cancelled. At the museum service we created an exhibition entitled ‘Welwyn Garden City: By Wisdom and Design’ at Mill Green Museum and were thrilled with the response it received from visitors during February half term, but sadly it has remained closed since March due to the restrictions of the pandemic.
In the meantime we’ve been thinking about how we might collect and preserve these remarkable times for the future. One of the challenges of collecting the contemporary is often spotting what the historical trends and moments are at the time, but it has become clear that the impact of the Coronavirus is definitely one of those moments. In July we launched a project to collect and record the impact of lockdown and the virus on all aspects of our community’s lives, from work to home to school and leisure.
We then began to think how we might represent the centenary, given that so many events were not able to take place. We have objects in our collection from the town’s 75th and 90th anniversaries and in normal times we would have collected physical ephemera of the celebrations such as brochures, programmes and photographs. Some physical material has been produced, such as the Centenary brochure, Centenary Walk and City of Trees maps and we will add these to our collection, but we still wanted to capture the hard work that had gone into planning what would have been a wide ranging commemoration for all ages.
Working with the Welwyn Garden City Centenary Foundation who were also looking into ways of archiving their work, we are carrying out a series of oral histories with the different individuals and teams who worked on all aspects of the Centenary celebrations: from the events themselves to the marketing, signage and logistics. Due to the current circumstances these are being conducted using online video platforms which in itself captures an important part of the history of this past year. Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) will also be working with the Foundation to record and preserve the digital archive records relating to the Centenary and all three partners will ensure everything is well catalogued and cross-referenced so that future researchers can easily find and access the material.
However, there’s one element missing – you! We’d love to hear from anyone who attended a physical (or virtual!) Centenary event to hear your experiences – and even record them. Do you have any objects or photographs from the events? Maybe you’ve been walking the Centenary walk or enjoying the City of Trees during lockdown?