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Hertfordshire Association of Museums

Museum Object of the Year 2021

Vote for your favourite object nominated by one of Hertfordshire’s fantastic museums.

Staff and volunteers from each of our museums have nominated an object they think will capture the public’s imagination.

Voting for the 2021 OOTY year will close at midnight on the 21st November. Follow us @hertsmuseums on Facebook and Twitter.

Victorian Slate Desk

British Schools Museum

What did some Victorian children use instead of mobile devices for their homework? These portable slate desks! Slate pencils were used on the slate board to practice their writing, arithmetic and drawing

More about the Victorian Slate Desk

This Victorian portable Slate Desk was patented by C.C. Shepherd's in 1877.

Sold around the world, these desks were aimed at rich children who were more likely to be receiving an expensive education. By the time this desk had been in use for three years, the Government made it compulsory for all children aged 5-10 to attend school. Factories were not permitted to employ children aged under 10, but could use older children on a part-time basis. Poorer children who could not attend the British Schools or Ragged Schools may have gained some education through Sunday Schools, until the Government finally fully supported universal education.

The beautiful slate desk is oak framed and has a fixed compartment to house two slate pencils and five double sided writing, drawing/picture, and arithmetic boards, used for copying. The advantage of slate pencils is that the writing can be easily rubbed off– want to see how? Come and give it a try at the British Schools Museum!


John Evans’ Butler Key

The Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd

This key belonged to William Hemmings - Sir John Evans’ butler. Evans was a famous archaeologist, philosopher and scientist. The key would have been used in the 1800s to open Evans’ wine cellar.

More about the Butler Key

This key belonged to William Hemmings - Sir John Evans’ butler. The key would have been used in the 1800s to open Evans’ wine cellar.

Evans was a famous archaeologist, philosopher and scientist. At the age of 17 Evans began working at John Dickinson & Co Ltd. Dickinson was John Evans’ uncle and later became his father-in-law when Evans married Harriet Ann Dickinson, the daughter of John Dickinson.

Hemmings was described as a well loved and respected man who had gained for himself the reputation of the perfect butler. Originally from Piccotts End, he was the eldest son of a large family which was very well known. His father was a gardener to the Gadebridge Estate for many years.


The Golden Tap

Harpenden Museum

The Golden Tap supplied hot water to residents of former Harpenden P.o.W. Camp. Its use led to a serious accident and the local council being taken to court.

More about the Golden Tap

When Harpenden Prisoner-of-War Camp closed, the huts were used as temporary housing while council house estates were being built. Facilities were grim. There was a communal wash-house, the only hot water source being a brass tap, known to the residents as The Golden Tap.

To prevent accidents and avoid the tap being left on, the handle was detachable and kept in a safe place. Inevitably, someone forgot to remove the handle, a child turned on the tap and was scalded. Harpenden Urban District Council was taken to court, charged with negligence, and ordered to pay several hundred pounds in compensation.

The tap was removed. It’s just an ordinary brass tap, but the footnote it adds to Harpenden’s history is a reminder that housing crises are not new and that the immediate post-war period was a time of great hardship for many, following the trauma of the Second World War. The temporary accommodation provided by the P.o.W. Camp huts lasted until 1958.


Abbots Langley Doll House

HIVE Heritage Centre

This architectural model is a rare and unique example of professional model making dating back to the early 1950’s and was commissioned by the NHS to depict a new, general medical hospital planned for the Leavesden Hospital site.

More about the Doll House

This large architectural model is a rare and unique example of professional model making dating back to the early 1950’s.

It was most likely commissioned by the NHS to help visualize what a new, medical hospital would have looked like if built on the south side of College Road, Abbots Langley (Leavesden) on the site of the former Canadian RAF, Kaki University, billets which were part of the Leavesden Mental Hospital facility from 1946 to 1948 making this artifact part of the history/heritage of the local area.

There was much rebuilding after the war and many organisations commissioned these types of architectural models to assist in their rebuilding plans. This particular model is very rare and unique because: many of this size could not be stored for long after being created and were disposed of, it was in good condition when donated to the HIVE Heritage Centre in 2019, it was designed and built in the Shepherd Bush, London, studios of internationally known architect Kenneth McCutchion and it is one of the very rare occasions that an architectural model included working electric lights in each room which were powered by several large batteries concealed in the wooden base of the model.


Ghost Cat

North Hertfordshire Museum

This poor moggy haunted a house in Baldock. The haunting stopped when the owner found the cat’s body in his attic. Some believe cats were put in walls or under floors to supernaturally protect a building from rats and mice … perhaps even witches!

More about Ghost Cat

A favourite among our museum visitors, this poor moggy haunted 83 High Street Baldock. The householder could feel the ghostly cat move and settle down on his bed every few weeks. This stopped after he found the desiccated (dried) cat amongst some straw insulation in the attic, above his bedroom. Some think that people in the past put cats in walls or under the floors to supernaturally protect a building from rats and mice … perhaps even witches! This spirit of this cat could have been wandering the halls for up to 400 years! It now protects our museum.


English Electric bringing you better living  – at Stevenage

Stevenage Museum

Find a new job and a new house in a new town!

More info about the English Electric booklet

This year Stevenage new town celebrates its 75th birthday. At the heart of the experiment was the need to provide decent homes. One way to secure that home was to get a job. This booklet promises just that: a new job, a new house, a new town!


Charlotte Smith – Sketch Book

Tring Local History Society & Museum

A sketchbook of pencil drawings made by Charlotte Smith between 1829 – 1831, depicting scenes of Tring and local countryside, providing unique and fascinating impressions of streets, buildings and scenery as they were at that time.

More about the sketch book

Charlotte Smith was one of nine children who, with their mother, lived as tenants at Tring Park mansion between 1827 and 1834. 
Charlotte sketched scenes of Tring and its local area. Many of the scenes remain familiar today, but several have changed significantly, and since her sketches predate photography, they provide a unique historical record of these locations.
This sketchbook had found its way into an antique shop, where it was purchased by another lady artist whose son donated it to our museum after her death.
The book had suffered serious water damage and needed restoration. This was carried out by Victoria Stevens ACR of Library and Archive Conservation and Preservation Ltd., the cost being met by a Conservation and Collections Care grant from AIM, with Pilgrim Trust funding.