Sunday, 25 October 2009

Aston Hall

We’ve been to the recently reopened and refurbished Aston Hall this afternoon.

The Hall has always been one of Birmingham’s best attractions. In spite of its unashamedly urban setting it is – by any standards – a superb example of a 17th century country house and a very fine, ostentatious one at that.

It would be fair to say, though, that it has not been treated well by the City in recent years. Other - dare I say “sexier” - attractions came along (Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Think Tank, Soho House) and poor old Aston Hall rather managed to get taken for granted. I often found myself wishing that it was in the custody of the National Trust who frankly have more experience of dealing with such important (and fragile) buildings.

Well, after a major injection of Lottery money and a great deal of hard work Aston Hall is now open again and looking better than ever. A great deal of thought has gone into presentation (I loved the “how was it built?” and “what is it made of?” displays) and I revelled in it. There are also more rooms open and the place has a “quality” feel about it.

Aston Hall was one of the first places I was taken on a school trip (in 1973, when I was at primary school). For that reason it’s always had a special place in my heart and I’m very pleased to have an old friend “back”.

Negative points? Only a few niggles.:

  • The staff were, dare I say it, more “enthusiastic” than “knowledgeable”
  • The café and shop had very poor selections of things (a pity that, as admission is free so they need some way to extract funds from visitors!)
  • And there was a distinctly “artificial” attempt to introduce subjects like slavery and Middle Eastern design techniques to make the place seem more “relevant to “today’s Aston”. It is a 17th century provincial English mansion; that’s all it needs to be and that is its story. If we want to look at an international or multicultural city (and plainly we should) then there are better places to tell that story.

All in all though, great. The Hall is only open until 1 November (like most of the branch Museums) but there are openings for Aston Hall by Candlelight from 2 – 12 December) which is always splendid.

Go as soon as you can!

1 comment:

  1. I'm afraid the present Tory administration is no better than its Labour predecessor at sorting the politically correct from the truly relevant - and this comes from someone who has voted for the present leader.